Cycling nutrition for longer rides

Cycling nutrition for longer rides

Inspired by our sponsorship of Cure Leukaemia’s epic 500km bike ride, ‘London 2 Paris: Inspiring the Revolution', we have been thinking about how you should fuel such a ride.

During Cure Leukaemia’s London to Paris ride, participants will find themselves cycling 80 miles a day for 4 days. That’s no mean feat.

Nutrition needs to be high on your agenda if you are going to be taking on a challenge of this size, or indeed any longer distances on your bike.

It goes without saying that cycling is hard work, as a cyclist, the fuel you put into your body is a massive factor in the performance you will get out of it.  As it demands all of your physical energy, you must eat in order to restore calories burned, otherwise your body will weaken and you could end up straining your muscles and putting yourself at a risk of an accident.

With this in mind, we have looked at nutrition for longer rides, below you will find some handy tips on what to eat, what to drink and when to refuel.

Breakfast

When people say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, they are not wrong. If you are going to be cycling great distances during the day, it is crucial that you get a good breakfast inside you before you do so.

Make sure your breakfast is carbohydrate based as this will help to replenish your liver glycogen stores, don’t neglect the protein though as this will help to repair your muscles.

Foods you should be eating include porridge, toast and bagels. If choosing porridge, sweeten this with honey for extra energy or add a banana for extra carbs. While taking inspiration from the French, a 2-3 egg omelette will provide you with the protein you need. While this may seem a little excessive, if you are going to be spending all day in the saddle, you will soon realise it is what you need.

So that it is properly digested before you get on the bike, you should ideally aim to eat this between 1 and half hours to 2 hours before you will be riding.

Also, don’t be afraid to have a coffee or two. This will give you a lift and has been proven to help your body utilise fat as a fuel. For best results, try not to drink any coffee for at least 7 days before your ride. Doing this will ensure you get the most benefit from it without being over reliant on it!

Before the ride

If breakfast feels like it was too long ago and you’re still feeling hungry, grab a banana. With a mid glycaemic index (GI), they will give you those essential carbs which will be released at an optimum rate for your ride.

Hydration

Between waking up and getting out on the bike, you should aim to try and drink 500ml to 1 litre of fluid.

If you want to accurately determine how much fluid you need to be drinking whilst on the bike, the best way to do this is by conducting the 60-minute sweat test. Having hydrated well throughout a normal day, weigh yourself without your clothes and then note your weight down. Once you have done this, go out on your bike and ride at your normal race intensity for 60 minutes and don’t drink anything. Once home, dry yourself off and weigh yourself without clothes again. The difference between the two weights in grams will equate to the total fluid losses in millilitres, which will give you an idea of how much you should be drinking each hour. Most cyclists find that they lose 500-1000ml of fluid an hour.

Whilst on the bike, look to start drinking water every 10-15 minutes that you are riding. While you may think this sounds too early, this water is fuel for later on in the ride.

To replace the vital minerals that you lose through sweat, you should be drinking fluids containing electrolytes.

During the ride

Whilst riding you should be looking to refuel every 60 minutes or so. Studies show that consuming between 30g and 60g of carbohydrates per hour of riding is optimum. To gain this essential fuel, look to be consuming carbohydrate drinks, energy gels and bars. In addition to this, cereal bars, fruit bars and nuts and seeds are all good things you can quickly grab and won’t be too heavy to eat whilst riding. Otherwise, some alternatives are below…

Alternative forms of energy

Beetroot juice – it may not taste fantastic and it stains everything (we mean everything!) but the nitrites in beetroot juice have been proven to help open blood vessels in the body and increase blood flow and oxygen.

Jelly Babies – don’t just dismiss these as sweets for kids, they have a high GI which means they are carb loaded, but unlike other high GI foods like pasta and bread, they are rapidly digested – which means instant energy. And of course, they are also easy to carry.

Raisins – A natural alternative to the many types of expensive energy jelly beans available on the market, raisins are small, easy to eat and are packed with the energy you need to compete. To test their abilities, researchers from the University of Davis in California had men run for 80 minutes and then complete a 5K time trial whilst being fuelled by water, water and carbohydrate-based energy beans, and water and raisins. Proving you don’t need to spend out for energy, the raisins performed just as well as the jelly beans.

Dioralyte – Dioralyte isn’t just a cure for diarrhoea, it’s much more than that. While these sachets of powder are designed to replace salts and nutrients lost through illness, they are also great for replacing the glucose and minerals you sweat away whilst cycling. What’s great about them is not only are they small and easy to carry, they are also cheaper than most sports nutrition powders and you can find them in most chemists.

Cola – While often labelled as bad for your health and linked with tooth decay and obesity amongst other things, cola can in fact be beneficial to your ride. If you are somewhere where you can’t buy any other type of energy drink, as it’s high in sugar, salts, carbohydrates and caffeine, cola will be your next best option. However, as fizzy drinks aren’t recommended for consumption whilst exercising, it’s best that you leave it to go flat before drinking.