How Often Should You Eat While Cycling?

January 3, 2023

How much food should you take during your cycle ride? This question has been asked over and over again since cycling became a sport.

The answer depends on several factors such as your fitness level, your goals, and your current training schedule.

Cycling requires energy from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Endurance riders usually consume between 2,500 – 3,000 calories per day, whereas sprinters typically burn around 4,000 calories.

Nutritional Principles To Remember When Cycling

The human body needs water to function properly. Water helps keep us healthy, strong, and agile. But, we don’t always drink enough water. In fact, many people aren’t even aware of just how important hydration is to our health.

Hydration affects every system in the body. When we are dehydrated, our metabolism slows down. Our digestive systems slow down, causing stomach cramps and diarrhea.

We lose muscle mass faster because our bodies use water to help transport nutrients into cells. And, without sufficient levels of oxygen, our brains won’t function correctly.

Eat Your Carbohydrates

The standard sports nutrition recommendation of 60-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour during moderate intensity training is based on the fact that most people can only absorb around 1 gram of carbohydrate per minute.

However, there are many factors that influence how well we digest carbohydrates.

For example, some athletes can take in over 2 grams per minute without feeling bloated and gassy. So what does this mean? Well, it depends on whether you’re trying to build muscle mass or lose weight.

If you want to put on lean body mass, you’ll need to eat fewer carbs than you do now. But if you want to shed fat, you’ll need to consume more carbs than you do now to keep your insulin levels low and help you burn stored fats.

Carbs Fuel High-Intensity Workouts

When you’re riding like crazy for hours on end, you’ll want to make sure you’re fueling appropriately. But what about when you’re doing intervals or racing?

In particular, how do carbohydrates affect performance during those high-intensity efforts?

There is a time and place to train with low carbohydrate stores. For example, if you’re just getting into cycling or endurance sports, it might be best to start out slow and easy.

You’ll gain strength over time, and eventually, you won’t need to worry about fuel consumption.

However, when it’s time for interval workouts or competitions, such as stage races, those harder efforts are fueled by carbohydrates, since glycogen depletion is one of the primary limiting factors during those higher-intensity efforts.

In fact, research suggests that people who consume carbs prior to exercise show better performance compared to those who don’t eat anything beforehand.

This is because when you work hard, your body relies heavily on glucose for fuel. Without enough stored glycogen, your muscles become fatigued much faster.

So, while you shouldn’t fear eating carbs during longer rides, you definitely need to think about what you’re consuming during intervals and competitions.

How Do You Fuel Up For Different Cycle Lengths?

If you’ve done more than one hour of exercise the previous day, chances are you’ll want to refuel during your next ride. But what do you eat? How much should you eat? What type of food?

While there’s no magic formula for how much to eat, most people agree that a good rule of thumb is to consume roughly half your body weight in grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of lean mass.

For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you’d eat 75 grams of carbohydrates per pound of lean mass. This amount provides about 50% of your total daily energy needs.

The key word here is “lean.” Muscle tissue contains less than 10% fat and more than 90% protein. Protein takes longer to break down into usable amino acids than carbs, so eating too many carbs will actually slow the absorption process.

The Medium Ride (1-3 Hours)

The medium ride category includes those long training rides where you are working towards a specific goal, such as a race or event.

These rides tend to be longer than tempo sessions, but shorter than extended tours. They are typically around one to three hours in duration.

In terms of nutritional needs, the main focus is to consume enough carbohydrates to fuel the body while maintaining adequate fluid levels.

This is done either by drinking fluids throughout the workout or taking small amounts of calories in the form of food or gel every 15 minutes or so.

You don’t necessarily need to eat a huge meal before you head out; a handful of nuts, a banana, or a piece of fruit will provide plenty of energy.

In addition, eating smaller meals throughout the day rather than having a big breakfast followed by a few snacks will help keep blood sugar stable and prevent crashes.

Another strategy is to take advantage of the fact that many foods contain both carbs and protein. Try adding some lean meat, fish, egg whites, or even cottage cheese to your diet to boost protein intake without affecting overall caloric balance.

The Long Ride (3-6 Hours)

Calorie intake depends on how much energy you expend during exercise. If you’re exercising hard enough to sweat, you’ll burn roughly 250 calories an hour.

For most people, that’s plenty of fuel for a four-hour bike ride. But to make sure you don’t run out of gas, eat a small snack like a sandwich or granola bar every 45 minutes.

If you know your total daily caloric needs, use those numbers to calculate how many grams of carbohydrates you’ll need each hour. Aim for 30-60 grams per hour.

Start with solid food like sandwiches, homemade rice bars, and sports nutrition bars, and save chews and gels for the final third of the ride. After the ride, sit down to a substantial meal, preferably within 60 minutes of finishing.

The Extra Long Ride (6 Hours Or More)

Ultra endurance rides are often longer than six hours. In fact, some races go 12 or 24 hours. Ultra endurance athletes must eat and drink frequently throughout the race.

They do this to maintain blood glucose levels, prevent heatstroke and avoid dehydration. Eating and drinking while riding helps fuel muscles and brain cells for optimal performance.

The key to success is planning ahead. You’ll need to know what foods work best for you and what foods you like to eat.

If you’re hungry, you might find yourself reaching for something that isn’t good for you. This could lead to overeating, which will slow down your progress.

You’ll also need to plan out what foods and drinks to bring along. When you arrive at the starting area, you’ll likely receive some fluids and snacks.

If you plan well, you’ll avoid a lot of trouble. Plus, you’ll save money since you won’t have to buy anything while you’re out there.

Final Thoughts

There’s no right answer to the question “how often should I eat while cycling?” The only way to figure it out is by trial and error. Start small and build up as needed. As always, listen to your body.

If you feel tired, then you may be dehydrated. If you’re thirsty, then you may be losing fluid through sweating.

If you’re not sure whether you’re eating enough, try taking in more calories during training sessions. Then, compare your weight before and after each session. If you lose weight, you may be underfeeding.

If you’re feeling sick or nauseous, you may be suffering from dehydration. Drink plenty of water and other liquids.

When to Eat – Cycling Nutrition

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