Whether it’s an early morning commute, or a four-hour country jaunt, nutrition is key to fuelling any ride. The amount of food and and water required will depend on the type of ride you’re going on. Training for a big ride will require a higher intake than a short commute, but when it’s you powering the wheels, you’ll need to ensure that you’re correctly charged for your journey.
Here are a few hints and tips to help you stay energised and to help you get the most from your ride.
Preparation is key! 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. It is recommended that you drink between 2-3 litres on the days leading up to your big ride.
Don’t forget that you’ll need to drink more as you’re riding 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.
You should also 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 – the basic rule is drink ‘little and often’.
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).