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Nutrition for Cyclists

30 January, 2014 0 comments

Nutrition for Cyclists


Nutrition for Cyclists

Whatever type of sport you participate in, whether as a serious competitor or as a casual hobbyist, if you set out to lead a healthy lifestyle you will definitely reap the benefits and cycling is no different. Whether you are preparing for one of the cycling worlds toughest races or just going out for a ride with family or friends, what you fuel your body with can have an impact on your performance and enjoyment. You only have to see one of the documentaries about the Sky racing team to see how seriously they take their nutrition. Nigel Mitchell is the head of nutrition at Team Sky and British Cycling explains how he works with the teams, where he has to help riders lose weight without losing fitness. “Power to weight ratio really matters on the road, so you need to get the guys as lean as you can and keep them as functional as you can.”

He has to help riders that make the switch from track racing to road racing and that involves a change in the dietary requirements, when they end up losing unnecessary upper body muscle.

“We really focus on protein and quality, so its omelette as well as porridge in the mornings. We really push salads and fruit because of their vitamin content. But on the bike it's carbs all the way, so you have to make sure they keep getting the fuel in when they train,  so they will take in 30 – 60 grams of carbs in an hour”. 

You do not have to go to their extremes, but just being aware of what is going to improve your cycling is going to enhance your performance more. For your body to be able to perform efficiently, especially during any physical exercise, it needs to be fuelled correctly. That means eating the right things at the right times while keeping your nutrition balanced. The energy in your body is fuelled by the components of your diet, namely the protein, carbohydrates and fats that you consume.  Lets break down these dietary components and see why they are important.



Carbohydrates or carbs, are the main source of the bodies energy supply and should make up about 60% - 70% of your calorie intake. For a sport such as cycling which can test your endurance limits, it is best to go for a high carb diet. Carbs are categorised  into two main groups, complex carbohydrates  which are high in fibre and breakdown into glycogen slowly, so the energy they release into your body is longer lasting, which is ideal for an endurance sport like cycling.

The second type of carbohydrates are called simple carbs. These are fast acting and release energy into the body more quickly and give your body a short burst of energy, so you should not rely on simple carbohydrates alone if you are going on a long ride. The best course of action is to consume a mix of both complex and simple carbohydrates in your diet, but the majority of your diet should contain more complex carbs than simple ones because they regulate the bodies insulin levels better and your energy is released more evenly.



Proteins are made up of amino acids and are the building blocks of every cell and tissue of the body and they are what helps the body repair itself after any type of intense exercise. When you are putting your body under physical  stress the muscle and the fibres break down and are in need of repair. This is what the proteins in your diet help do. When your body repairs itself it actually bonds back together bigger and stronger than they were before. A cyclist should be looking to consume between 15& - 20% in their diet.



Most people assume that any thing fats should be considered unhealthy and not eaten, but this is far from the truth if you are eating the correct types of fats. They actually help your body convert the food eaten and convert it into glycogen and then help store the energy in the body. Your diet should contain between 20% - 30% of the right kinds of fats. The type of fats you should avoid are hydrogenated and saturated fats.


What to eat

The number one rule when deciding what to fuel your body with is to keep it as natural as you can. You want to stay away from all processed food if you can. It is often quoted advice but it is true, when you do your food shopping, try just going around the outside departments in the supermarket, that way you stay away from all the processed goods such as pies, cakes and the ready meals.

The carbohydrates you consume can come from a range of sources, but remember it is better if the majority of your carb intake should be of the complex variety. These include fruit and vegetables such as apples, bananas, broccoli and spinach. Wholemeal bread and pasta, which are better for you than white bread or pasta as they are simple carbohydrates. If you are considering eating cereals then oats are a brilliant choice, especially as a great breakfast to start your day.

Your protein intake can can come from foods like lean meats, eggs, dairy products, nuts and vegetables. Meat is a great source of protein, but make sure that it is lean as if it is too fatty it will be hard for your body to break it down. There are certain fats are we should avoid but there are fats in certain foods that are really beneficial to our health and well being and an essential source of energy.   Nuts, olive oil and oily fish have a high content of good fats. They are high in essential fatty acids and are a good source of fat soluble vitamins like A,D,E and K.

Obviously it is important to keep hydrated when you are riding and there really is nothing better for that than just plain water. If you become dehydrated you can suffer a substantial loss in your performance, so you need to make sure you are drinking enough. If you are on a long ride you should be looking to drink around 150ml every 15 – 20 minutes.

So I hope that gives you some ideas about how to plan your nutrition so that you feel the benefit in your cycling whatever level you ride at.

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