Nutrition ‘fuel’ during a ride

Carbohydrate is the primary source of fuel to your body during exercise at moderate to high intensity exercise. Carbohydrate is provided by glucose in the blood stream or glucose stores from the liver and muscles (known as glycogen). This is a limited source of fuel for the exercising muscles and as a result, you fatigue when your glycogen stores are depleted. Muscle fatigue reduces your ability to cycle at high intensities fast or for longer distances.

The aim of eating on the bike is to limit the depletion of “fuel” (glycogen) stored in your muscles and liver. Glycogen stores can support exercise for rides lasting 60 to 90 minutes hour. Preserving glycogen stores for rides longer than 60 to 90 minutes is key in maximizing performance. The “golden rule” is to supply your body with 30 to 60g of carbohydrate per hour on the bike. A good nutrition strategy would be to start early on in the ride and continued throughout to avoid the onset of fatigue and then having to play ‘catch up’ for the rest of the ride. Carbohydrates can be provided by foods, drinks and gels which you should experiment with during training sessions to know what works best for you. The following examples provide 20-25g carbohydrate each. You should aim to have to 2 to 3 of the options per hour to supply the necessary 30 to 60g carbohydrate per hour.

  • 1 average sports bar
  • 1 sports gel
  • 1 dried fruit bar
  • 75g nougat
  • 4-5 jelly babies
  • 1 thick slice of banana bread/ fruit loaf
  • 1 large banana
  • 45g dried fruit
  • ½ honey/ jam sandwich (1 slice bread)
  • 1 marmite sandwich (2 slices bread)
  • 4 provita’s with marmite
  • 6 salty cracks
  • 4 boiled baby potatoes
  • ±375ml ‘sports’ drink (6-9% carbohydrate)
  • ±375ml diluted apple/ grape juice (50:50)
  • ±375ml diluted coke (75:25)

* Remember: you need to select the options that suit your taste preference and that will be practical to consume on the bike. Always test your snack options during training rides to ensure practicality and stomach comfort.

Fluid during rides

The key is to drink enough fluid to match your sweat losses which is different for each individual cyclist and the environmental conditions. A guideline is to drink approximately 150-200ml every 10-15 minutes, drink more if it is hot, humid or if your sweat rate is high. Start drinking early on in the ride and regularly in amounts that are comfortable.

The longer the ride, the greater the risk for developing dehydration, which can impair performance. This is critical on race day but also a disadvantage to a good training ride. Measure your fluid losses by weighing yourself immediately before and after a cycle and take into account the fluids you have consumed during the ride. 1kg weight loss is the equivalent of 1L sweat losses. Try to drink enough fluids to match your fluid losses. For example if you finish a ride underweight by 1kg, you should aim to increase the frequency or volume of your fluids. 

Fluid Losses = Weight before exercise – Weight after exercise + Volume of fluid consumed during exercise 



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