What to Eat Before, During and After Bicycling?

Nutrition plays an important role in the health and performance of people who enjoy bicycling. So, what should you eat before, during, and after you bike? Continue reading to find out.
What to Eat Before, During and After Bicycling?

Last update: 27 July, 2021

Bicycling is a rather demanding activity so those who bike require an extra supply of energy to achieve their goals and have optimal performance. Have you ever wondered what to eat before, during, and after pedaling? People have many doubts in this regard.

First of all, consider that nutritional preparation before any physical activity is essential to prevent fatigue. This is the sudden loss of strength caused by the depletion of glycogen reserves in the liver and muscles, for example. You must also pay attention to what you eat during and after pedaling.

As stated in an article in Sports Medicine, a wide variety of foods and nutritional products are available to meet the needs of physically active people. Specifically, they should ensure adequate intake of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

What to eat before bicycling?

Eating well before pedaling a bike is the key to good performance and avoidance of chronic fatigue. However, nutrition varies according to your level of bicycling.

Thus, an amateur cyclist – who only uses a bike to stay in shape – doesn’t require special diets, beyond ensuring an optimal intake of nutrients — like anyone else.

Of course, they should also be concerned about hydration and eating a meal shortly before starting the activity. Fasting isn’t recommended, as this activity depletes glycogen reserves and there’s a risk of fainting. An isotonic drink is a good option on a particularly hot day.

However, professional bicyclists or those who wish to meet certain objectives must modify their diet. In particular, they must increase their consumption of carbohydrates, preferably complex ones, such as pasta, rice, and whole grains.

This is because these foods provide a progressive supply of energy. Specialists advise consuming them as early as two days before the activity. This is so as to store enough glycogen to meet the energy demand.

A person eating pasta.
Pasta is a source of complex carbohydrates, which is an energy source for muscle cells.

Other general recommendations

  • Eat between seven and 12 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body mass starting 24 hours before cycling if the sessions last less than 1.5 hours
  • In addition, eat a light dinner the night before a race to facilitate digestion – opt for lean meats and grilled fish with vegetables
  • Then, eat breakfast about two hours before the training or cycling race, you may include bread, cookies, juices, and yogurt (the time is important so as to complete digestion before the activity)
  • As far as hydration is concerned, you must ensure an adequate intake of water two hours before exercise; add a piece of fruit, such as a banana, to reduce the risk of dehydration due to loss of electrolytes

What to eat during a bicycling race?

Nutritional needs don’t stop throughout the race. Also, amateur athletes have no special requirements, as they won’t be bicycling for long hours or at high intensity.

Even so, it’s a good idea to carry along energy bars, a banana, and nuts. These foods will provide energy. Also, be sure to carry water to replenish fluids and avoid dehydration.

Professional cyclists should eat in small quantities during training. This is to avoid binge eating and digestive difficulties that alter performance. Some foods they can eat are:

  • Energy or muesli bars
  • Carbohydrate gels
  • Cakes
  • Fruits such as bananas and apples
  • Dried fruits
  • Fruit porridges
  • Sugary soft drinks (only in case of fainting, since they provide sugar and caffeine)
  • Cheese cubes
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Regarding hydration, drink up to a quart of water per hour in small intakes every 15 minutes. You should complement it with an isotonic drink — commercial or homemade.

The home preparation of the latter consists of mixing a quart of mineral water with a little orange juice, two tablespoons of honey, and a small amount of iodized salt or baking soda.

What to eat after bicycling?

A person drinking water.
Isotonic drinks can be commercial or homemade while respecting the proportions of the ingredients.

Don’t neglect your nutrition after the race is over. The body enters a phase of recovery from the effort made and also begins to prepare for future rides.

As we mentioned above, amateur cyclists only need to eat a healthy and balanced diet. The intake of complex carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats, and mineral salts is key to avoid inconveniences such as injuries, muscle pain, or glucose drops.

Eat your meals between 30 and 40 minutes after exercise. It isn’t good to do so on an empty stomach as the body must recover the nutrients lost during the activity. Therefore, you must also drink water and isotonic drinks as supplements.

Nutrition after high-demanding cycling sessions is somewhat similar. The common recommendation is to eat carbs about 30 minutes after physical activity. A snack, such as a sandwich with ham and cheese is a good option, as it provides carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

Of course, have a more complete meal, with foods such as pasta, rice, fish, white meats and vegetables if possible. As for hydration, drink water, isotonic drinks, or natural juices.

Personalized nutrition, the best option

Cyclists may have different nutritional needs, according to the mileage of the route, heart rate, physical condition, and body weight, among other factors. Therefore, the above tips might be helpful but it’s best to follow a personalized nutrition plan.

It’s possible to design a diet according to all the moments of training or competition with the help of a nutritionist or an expert in sports nutrition. They should be able to direct your diet according to your objectives.

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