The Lowdown on Cycling and Food
Cycling and food… they seem to go hand-in-hand. I know I’m incredibly hungry after an exhausting bike ride or workout. This can be especially true for the competitors out there! Check out these amazing nutrition tips from one of our favorite experts!
Cycling and Food: Eat like you mean it
It’s no mystery that nutrition and diet has a direct effect on your riding experience. If you’ve ever experienced a “bonk,” you know this is true.
“Bonking” is when you haven’t eaten enough going into a ride or don’t eat enough during a ride and rather suddenly, you feel as though you’ve hit a wall.
You feel nearly unable to continue and are in a deficit of carbohydrates and sugar. Imagine bonking as a “low fuel indicator.” What you eat affects your performance on the bike.
Obviously, there are no set rules, magic formulas or secrets to eating correctly for riding. Everyone is different, doing different types of riding and have a variety of goals. To detail my tips for eating on the bike, we first need to separate the generic phrase “healthy eating” into three categories. Let’s break down our cycling and food tips!
Eating for weight lose
Most commonly, when I hear of someone wanting to “eat healthy,” they are referring to eating with the intent to lose weight. Losing weight and bike riding go hand in hand. The trick is eating an appropriate amount to your activity level.
If you are serious about it, one of the best ways to go is to use a calorie counter. There are many handy apps out there that give a great idea how many calories are in the food you eat and how many calories you burn during a given exercise.
The tough part with riding and trying to lose weight is making sure you eat enough to avoid “bonking”, but not eating any more than what you need. With that, it’s important to be aware of weight-loss and diet foods.
Weight loss and diet foods typically try to be low calorie and/or low sugar. Bicycle nutrition products are the opposite. They are usually jam-packed with calories and sugars. This is because, on the bike, it’s hard to eat as you exercise and riding puts you into a calorie deficit.
When eating for weight loss while keeping up with riding, I would argue that your time on the bike is not the time to follow your diet. The times off the bike are the times you need to focus and eat only what you need.
You need those sugars when you are riding especially during high-intensity riding. However, when you aren’t riding, excess sugar should be avoided.
Eating for health
Cycling can be a great part of a healthy lifestyle. Many people refer to “eating healthy” as eat a wholesome and clean diet, not necessarily with the intent of losing weight. Usually, this means avoiding processed foods and trying to eat more organic and natural food.
If you are trying to avoid the crud and want something of quality to eat while riding, nutrition products from Skratch Labs, Hammer and Honey Stinger should be your first stop. They taste great and usually have an assortment of flavors that are often organic, non-gmo, and vegan. If you’d like to make some of your own food to take on your rides, check out Skratch Lab’s YouTube channel for some great ideas.
Eating for performance
Eating for performance is a difficult thing because it often varies from the other types of “healthy eating.”
Often time, wholesome and clean diets are very high in fiber. For a healthy lifestyle, this is very important, but before bike rides, you need to avoid fiber as much as possible. Your body often has digestion difficulties during workouts. Add in fiber and you have a recipe for disaster.
What do you do if you want to eat well and perform well? Just approach it a bit differently. For example, most would say that a healthy lifestyle eating would exclude white rice from your diet. Eating alternatives like quinoa that is lower in carbs and lower on the glycemic index or brown rice that is less processed is the way to go.
But both are higher in fiber than white rice. If you are headed into a hard workout or race or event, before and during your event, white rice is a good option. It goes down easy, it’s processed and has less fiber and it’s a simpler carb that will give you some energy for the start of the ride.
That said, if you aren’t riding that day or you are making dinner, default back to a healthy lifestyle eating and skip the white rice.
This leads me to my next point in eating for performance: timing. There is a delicate balance of how much you eat and what you eat in proximity to when you ride. My rule of thumb is to be done with my meals 2 hours before riding.
Due to this, morning events can be difficult. If I won’t have an opportunity to eat a meal in the morning 2 hour prior to my ride, I will eat a larger the night before, eat light that morning and bring extra food on the ride. Once into the 2 hour pre-ride window, I make sure I still eat snacks up to 45 minutes before I ride.
For me, ½ of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is my limit. A Clif Bar or another energy bar will also do the trick.
Starting an event hungry is not a good idea, but going in overloaded is almost worse. This will take practice to figure out a system. Although shorter ride (1.5 hours or less) you won’t likely need to take food with you if you’ve timed your meals correctly, anything longer will probably require you to bring food to eat.
Performance nutrition products work really well for this as its made to be portable and is designed to have the calories and nutrients you need in a small bar, chew or gel.
But sometimes you just want to eat real food. One of my favorites to bring with me is a banana. It’s portable, tasty and has all sorts of the nutrition you need on the bike. I try to eat every 15-30 minutes because if you wait until you are hungry, it’s too late.
Don’t try to eat a whole Clif bar every 15 minutes, but a couple of bites will work just fine. I’m usually not as focused on my nutrition during a race. To help me remember to I hit my lap button on my Garmin every time I eat then each lap represents the interval since I last ate. (Know how long to wait to workout after a meal?)
Cycling and Food: Wrap-Up
If you aren’t sure what food to buy for your next ride, check out our assortment on AMainCycling.com. We carry the best and most popular nutrition brands and products. Try a few to learn what works for you and your favorite flavors.
It’s all about finding the cycling and food approach that fits your goals and needs!