The best diet for a cyclist has been studied endlessly. Even though we are riding more for fun than for performance, it is important to consider a good diet before embarking on your ride. Everyone is different, but you’ll probably find that you’ll need to consume a lot more calories during long rides. Stop and snack frequently while riding to ensure that your body gets a consistent supply of fuel. From before you get on your bike until the end of your ride, the food that you eat will affect your performance on the bike.
Basic Food Intake:
- 65-70% of your calories from carbohydrates, such as whole grain pastas, potatoes, bread, cereal, fruits, and vegetables.
- 15-20% from fats. No more than 10% of your fat should be saturated. Look for foods with healthy fats, such as avocado, olive and canola oil, almonds, flax seeds.
- 10-15% from lean proteins, such as fish, poultry without skin, tofu, tempeh, seitan, lowfat or nonfat cheese or yogurt.
Vegetarian and even vegan diets are great alternatives, as long as you combine your legumes and whole grains to make complete proteins. When cycling, eat and drink constantly, even when you don’t feel hungry or thirsty.
Consuming liquids and solids before, during, and after a ride prevents dehydration and exhaustion; ensures the consistency of your glucose (simple sugar) levels, which feeds your brain and muscles; and greatly increases your ability to perform that day and the next.
Before a Ride
Don’t get on your bike immediately after eating, because the body shifts fluid away from muscles and into the gastrointestinal tract during digestion. You want that energy in your muscles to give you the power to ride. The ideal time for riding after eating is about:
- Half hour after a light snack
- 1 hour after a light meal, heavy snack, or meal replacement drink
- 2 hours after a regular meal
By eating early enough before riding, you will allow enough time for the energy to move from your stomach to your muscles, where you want it. Aim for a pre-ride meal that is:
- High in carbohydrates – whole grains
- Small – according to the amount of food that you feel comfortable eating
- Eaten with fluids.
Sample Pre-Ride Breakfasts
- ½ cup orange juice
- 1 cup dry whole grain cereal or ½ cup dry oatmeal
- 1 medium banana
- 1 cup milk or ½ – ¾ yogurt (fat keeps you feeling full longer, but lowfat or nonfat dairy is also an option)
- whole grain pancakes, topped with fresh fruit, maple syrup or honey
- ½ – ¾ cup yogurt
- ½ cup juice
Try to drink 2 to 3 cups of cool plain water one hour before, and 1 to 2 cups about 15 minutes before starting (you should be urinating frequently, and your urine should be clear).
During a Ride
Once you get going on the bike you will need to continue to provide fuel for your body. Experiment with easy-to-eat items during your training rides but remember not to try anything new on the day of the BIG ride. Find out what you enjoy most and stick with it.
Try different energy bars and sports drinks prior to the ride itself. This is a personal choice. Make sure whatever bar/drink you consume is easily digested and tolerated by your body. In order to avoid a drag in energy, plan to eat about 30 – 60 g of carbohydrates for every hour you are on the bike. What does this mean?
- 1 – 2 bananas (depending on size)
- 1 – 2 energy bars (depending on quantity of carbohydrates)
Other good snacks: energy bars, pretzels, fresh and dried fruit, nuts, and trail mix. Don’t skimp on the carbohydrates, complex carbs will provide a sustained energy source and simple carbs will give you instant energy, which is essential on a long distance ride. Some simple carbs are: juice, white bread, cookies and many granola bars that have sugar as a primary ingredient.
Everyone is different, but you will probably find that you will need to consume a lot more calories during long rides. Stop and snack frequently while riding to make sure that your body gets a consistent supply of fuel. On a long distance ride, you typically burn 300 calories every 10 miles, and it is very important to replace these burned calories.
Do not rely on salads, low calorie food and diet food while on a ride – your body has turned into a calorie burning machine, and you need to feed it!
After a Ride
When you get off the bike for the day, don’t consume a heavy meal in the first hour after your ride. Enjoy a snack or light meal about 30 minutes after riding. This is the time when your muscles are craving nutrients to help repair them for the next ride (or the next day!). Make sure to choose a nutritious snack that contains a good source of lean protein to rebuild muscle and complex carbohydrates for brain energy. Here are a few examples:
- 1 hard boiled egg
- 1 cup of 1 percent milk, or nonfat/ lowfat yogurt
- 1 apple with 1-inch cube of low-fat cheese (or 1 tablespoon peanut or almond butter)
- 2 slices of whole wheat bread with 2 thin slices of turkey (optional mustard)
- 2 slices whole wheat bread with banana and peanut butter or almond butter or hummus
Make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals to keep your immune system strong. Eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are the best ways to get your nutrients, but you may want to take a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement to ensure you are getting adequate amounts.
Finally, get a good night’s rest so you can get up and do it all again tomorrow morning!
Even if you don’t feel like you’re sweating, you’re always losing fluids while riding, and if you don’t replace them you risk dehydration which can lead to very serious problems. If you are not urinating much while you ride, you are not taking in enough liquids. Alternate servings of water with servings of electrolyte replacement drink during strenuous exercise.
You may want to have both a bottle of water and one of energy drink on your bike. Drink not for what you need immediately but what your body needs in reserve.
If you wait until you are thirsty to drink, you have waited to long. Adequate hydration is essential for a healthy ride.
Exercise performance suffers with as little as 2 percent loss of body weight due to dehydration. Drink at least 2 cups of water about 2 hours before you get on your bike. Whether you feel thirsty or not, drink 1/2 cup of fluids for every 10-15 minutes you are on the bike.
Here are a few tips to follow when you are training:
- Weigh yourself before you ride and when you get home. The difference is water loss (sorry but you can’t lose fat that quickly!). Ideally, you should intake enough fluids during the ride so that your body weight remained relatively unchanged. If you did lose weight, consume 2 cups of water for every pound of body weight you lost during the ride. Note how much you did drink and on your next ride increase this amount by the number of cups you drink by that number.
- Decide the best way to drink while on your training rides; try out different water bottles or camel packs. The one you find the most comfortable and accessible is the one that you should always use.
- Check the color of your urine. It should be very light yellow. If your pee is dark, you haven’t been drinking enough. If your urine has little to no color, you are adequately hydrated.
- Make sure you monitor further fluid intake since there is also the risk of over-hydration – hyponatremia. This can also cause fainting because you dilute too much of your system’s ions and electrolytes. Try adding an electrolyte supplement to your water and eat salty snacks.
- Sports drinks! Beverages such as Gatorade or Powerade have electrolytes that otherwise evaporate in your sweat and carbohydrates to keep your energy level up. Experiment with different flavor drinks to find the one that you like the most, the more you enjoy it the more likely you will drink enough. Look for drinks that have sodium (Na) and potassium (K) and are relatively low in calories; however do not choose no- calorie drinks as adequate energy is essential for long rides.
If riding in hot climates, such as on the Israel Ride, you need to compensate by increasing your fluid intake. Don’t let how sweaty you feel be your guide. Continue to drink ½ cup of fluid every 10 – 15 minutes (2 cups/hour). Choose a sports drink (not just water) to ensure adequate carbohydrates and electrolytes. Remember to check your urine and don’t wait until you are thirsty.
Water Bottle Alert
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a synthetic estrogen chemical which is a key component in the production of polycarbonate plastics. BPA is found in thousands of consumer products, including plastic bottles and canned goods. BPA can confuse the body’s endocrine system, causing developmental and behavioral problems and reproductive disorders. Here are some suggestions for great BPA-free water bottles to bring with you on your ride!