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I’m not just your average fly-fishing enthusiast turned cycling aficionado – I’ve navigated the complex world of sports nutrition and I’m here to help you do the same. When it comes to achieving peak performance on the saddle, understanding the fuel your body needs is paramount.
Your pre-ride meals and snacks should strike a balance between carbohydrates, protein, and fat to ensure you can go the distance. Today, I’m taking you through the ins and outs of what to eat before cycling, and why it matters.
Why eat before cycling?
For those of you asking “Why bother with a pre-ride meal?”, let me shed some light. When you consume food before cycling, you replenish your glycogen stores. This allows you to kick off your ride with a near-full tank of this crucial energy source.
The types of food you eat, and when you eat them, influence how swiftly your body converts the food into energy.
To get this right, focus on a combination of carbohydrates for energy, protein to strengthen your muscles, and some healthy fats to keep you satiated and energized during your ride.
Fueling Your Ride: What to Eat?
I can’t stress this enough: to perform at your best during a cycling ride, proper fueling is key. I recommend a hearty carbohydrate-rich meal the night before, followed by a high-carbohydrate breakfast for any ride lasting less than 3 hours.
Complex carbohydrates like pasta, rice, or oatmeal should be your go-to, with a side of protein-rich foods like eggs or chicken breast. Fruits and vegetables add vital micronutrients and fiber to your diet, helping you to stay sharp and focused.
One thing to avoid is foods with added sugars, such as pancakes with syrup, as they can lead to an energy crash mid-ride. Opt instead for bananas, a fantastic source of quick-release carbohydrates and perfect for a last-minute energy boost.
Timing it Right: When to Eat Before Cycling
The timing of your pre-ride meal is just as crucial as what’s on your plate. For intense weekend rides, aim to have a large breakfast around three hours before setting off. This meal should contain approximately 1.5 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of your body weight.
Alongside carbohydrates, ensure this meal has a good mix of protein and healthy fats. Foods that tick these boxes include quinoa, eggs, chicken breast, and low-fat milk.
Portion Control: How Much to Eat Before Cycling?
Deciding how much to eat before cycling can feel like a balancing act. You don’t want to overeat and feel sluggish, but neither do you want to under fuel and run out of energy.
For rides shorter than an hour, a small carbohydrate and protein snack should suffice. For longer rides, you’ll need to load up on carbohydrates the evening before and follow up with a high-carbohydrate breakfast.
Breakfast and Lunch Suggestions
As the saying goes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and it’s particularly true for cyclists. Opt for carbohydrate-rich foods like bread, rice, or oats, complemented by protein from eggs or chicken breast.
For lunch, the same rule applies. High-carbohydrate, protein-rich meals will keep your energy levels consistent.
Remember to avoid foods with high added sugar content and focus instead on complex carbs like oatmeal, whole wheat toast, or trail mix
Before you pedal off, consider your snack options. A granola bar, banana, or a handful of trail mix can work wonders in providing quick energy. Keep sugary snacks at bay, and instead, focus on complex carbohydrates and protein for sustained energy throughout your ride.
Supplements to Consider
While whole foods should be your primary source of nutrients, certain supplements can give your performance a boost. Omega-3s, protein powder, electrolytes, tart cherry juice, caffeine, and creatine are great for energy levels, endurance, and recovery time.
Always remember, everyone’s body reacts differently to food around exercise, so experimentation is key. Allow around 2-4 hours before your ride for food to digest properly.
With these tips in mind, you’re ready to eat smart and ride hard. Happy cycling!