Nutrition is key to fuelling any bike ride whether it’s an early morning commute where a tea or coffee will help to get you going, or a four-hour country jaunt that calls for the right hydration and carbohydrate intake.
People sometimes say a bicycle is the ‘horse that eats no hay’, but of course it’s you powering the wheels, so you need to fuel up correctly for your journey. Here are a few rules and tips on staying energised that will help you get the most from your ride.
If you’re embarking on a big ride such as a sportive or club training run, make sure you’re well hydrated a day or two before. You should aim to drink between at least 2-3 litres over the course of the preceding days (the European Food Safety Authority recommends a regular daily intake of 2.5 litres per day for men and 2 for women*).
On the ride, you’ll need to drink more to compensate for water loss by sweating, so make sure you have at least two 500ml bottles with you. Some people double up with a water bladder in a backpack (but that is quite a bit of weight!). Aim to take 2-3 gulps of water every 10-15 minutes, and if you’re doing a ride that’s more than 60 minutes, a sports drink is a good idea. If you have a longish commute, carrying water is advisable.
It’s also important to rehydrate after a ride, even if it’s just a 20-minute commute to the office. It’s very easy to forget to drink water but your body will thank you – and ‘little and often’ works as a basic rule.
Commuters won’t need to eat any differently if their ride is under 90 minutes. Most of us shed 40-50 calories per mile depending on our weight and speed. Watch out, though, if you think a five-mile ride has earned you a croissant you’re wrong – it’s double the calories you’ve just burned!
For longer rides, a solid meal the night before is a good idea but avoid eating too much or too late. Breakfast is important, ideally an hour or two before you set off, and again not too heavy a meal. Slow-release carbs like porridge are ideal, or you could up the protein with eggs on toast.
On the ride itself, real food, such as sandwiches and fruit, is best as it’s more nutritious than refined sugar-filled snacks. Avoid energy gels unless you’re racing and need to save weight or for an emergency when you really are beginning to ‘bonk’ (suffer glycogen debt). ‘Energy’ foods can give you stomach cramps and if you overdo them can even make you crash.
As with hydration, recovery from your ride is important and tucking into something healthy like a piece of fruit and a pasta dish later is recommended.
If you’re aiming to become a cycling maestro, eating and drinking correctly will reap big rewards. But, as a rule of thumb, follow these two simple rules on a long ride…
Eat before you’re hungry (about every hour).
Drink before you’re thirsty (every 10-15 minutes).