Eat well - Nutrition on the Bike

Cycling for a longer distance or duration takes training and endurance. What you put into your body has a profound effect on your performance that day. If you are planning on riding for two to five hours, you need to have a plan.

It's not just about crushing your PR for a century. Nutrition can play a role on whether or not you can actually finish what you set out to accomplish. What you eat while on your ride can be the difference between having the ride of your life, or a bad experience that will question your very reason for living.

There are three important steps to nutrition on your bike ride:

  1. What you eat before your ride
  2. What you drink    and 
  3. What you eat while on your ride.

Pre-Ride Meal
Oats with Berries by Vegan Feast Catering
via Wikimedia Commons
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And this is doubly so before a big ride. You are essentially setting your body up to burn carbohydrates and fat for the rest of the day.

Plan to eat 30 to 60 minutes prior to exercise. You need something that is easily digestible. Steak and eggs or a breakfast sausage and beans are a great source of energy, but your body won't to be able to star digesting such a meal in 60 minutes.

Instead, eat a whole grain bagel with almond butter, or a bowl of coarse oatmeal. These complex carbohydrates are going to help you with the start of your ride. Such a meal won’t sit at the bottom of your stomach when it comes to step two of your plan.

Experiment with the timing and the types of food that work best for you. Do this on regular training days - not when you need to be in top shape.

Hydration on the bike
Water drops by Ineke Huizing
via Wikimedia Commons
“Hydrate or die” is the slogan for CamelBak for a good reason. Staying hydrated on the bike is the number one way you can increase your performance in any endurance sport.

You will not feel the effects of dehydration until it is too late. Dehydration can cause painful muscle and stomach cramps and cut your ride short. Thirst is a delayed response, so don't wait to get thirsty. You are losing moisture both in the heat of summer and in the cold of winter.

There are multiple methods to hydration. Some riders drink a little every 10 minutes while riding. Others go for 15 minute intervals. Don't tally the total amount you drank, but you should drink a liter every 1.5-2 hours.

If you are exercising for less than an hour, your body does not need anything more than plain water. If you are going out for that 100 kilometers century, you are going to need something more.

Avoid energy drinks, especially carbonated drinks. Use water on sports hydration mix, which provides electrolytes and has a nicer taste.

Eating on the bike
Honey and bagels by Scott Bauer
via Wikimedia Commons
After a good breakfast you are out on that epic ride. You are keeping yourself hydrated and feeling great. You just need to stay fueled while cycling.

The big ride is not the time for dieting or cutting calories. You need fuel that can burn fast and easy. A lot of people choose gels or sports bars, which are calorie-dense with easily digestible carbs and add some protein for the day.

The downside of the gels and bars is that their taste becomes quite disgusting after a day or two. It's great to be able to eat real food on a long ride. There are many books which give a lot of ideas for a compact real food you can take with you, like The Feed Zone. 

Let’s hear from you. So how do you stay fueled for long rides? What has worked for you in the past? What excites you to try in the off season? Is there a drink you like to carry in your water bottle during the winter riding months? Let me know in the comments below!

This is a guest post by Gerald Rhodes. Gerald is an avid cyclist, author and chef from Boulder, CO. He helps people reach their fitness goals through cycling, and he publishes his experiences on
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  2. This is a great post. Thank you for the food ideas as well as the reminder about hydration. I will definately put these to good use

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