Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

Cycling nutrition is a specialized area of dietary planning and intake tailored to meet cyclists’ unique energy and recovery needs. It encompasses everything from macronutrient distribution, hydration, and timed micronutrient intake, to the careful selection of foods and supplements that support stamina, muscle function, and recovery. The benefits of proper cycling nutrition include enhanced performance, faster recovery, reduced risk of injuries, and a more enjoyable riding experience.

A medical issue published in 2022 on Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, led by Ph.D. Namrita Kumar Brooke announced that in the cycling event, “Athletes should match daily carbohydrate intake to energetic requirements of training and recovery. Male and female athletes should closely monitor energy availability throughout the season with the guidance of a qualified nutrition professional.”

A holistic cycling nutrition plan is not just about what a cyclist consumes immediately before, during, or after a ride. For optimal long-term health and performance, cyclists must focus on their day-to-day diet, ensuring a balanced intake of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Pre-ride nutrition typically emphasizes carbohydrates for fueling muscles, paired with moderate proteins and fats. During the ride, the focus shifts to easily digestible energy sources like energy gels or bars, and maintaining hydration. Post-ride, it’s crucial to replenish glycogen stores and facilitate muscle recovery with a mix of carbohydrates and proteins. Beyond these, supplements might be considered, based on individual needs, while a well-rounded diet remains central to meet nutritional requirements consistently.

However, improper cycling nutrition can have adverse consequences. Overloading certain nutrients, skipping meals, or relying heavily on supplements can result in reduced performance, muscle cramps, and longer recovery times. There are numerous myths in the world of cycling nutrition, leading to misconceptions about what’s beneficial and what’s not. For instance, while moderate caffeine intake can act as a stimulant and boost performance, excessive consumption can lead to dehydration. It’s essential for cyclists to differentiate between fact and fiction and approach nutrition with an informed perspective.

In this article, we will explain what is cycling nutrition, macronutrients, micronutrients and hydration for cycling, the benefits of nutrition for cycling or racing, basic principles, cycling nutrition plan, proper diet for long-term health, and risks of improper cycling nutrition intake.

Table of Contents

What is cycling nutrition?

Cycling nutrition is the tailored dietary regimen specifically designed to cater to the energy, recovery, and physiological needs of cyclists. It encompasses the careful intake of macronutrients—primarily carbohydrates for fuel, proteins for muscle repair and recovery, and fats for sustained energy. Additionally, micronutrients, such as essential vitamins, minerals, and even antioxidants like caffeine from coffee, play crucial roles in optimizing performance and ensuring overall health. Hydration is fundamental, with choices ranging from plain water to specialized electrolyte drinks that help maintain the body’s salt balance during prolonged cycling sessions. This approach to cycling nutrition ensures that cyclists function at their peak, recover efficiently, and stay healthy in the long run.

Benefits of cycling nutrition

The benefits of cycling nutrition are enhanced performance, optimal recovery, increased energy levels, improved gut health, reduced risk of injuries, and prolonged endurance.

  • Enhanced performance: Proper cycling nutrition provides the necessary fuel for the body, leading to improved athletic outcomes.
  • Optimal recovery: Post-ride nutrients aid in muscle repair and reduce fatigue.
  • Increased energy levels: Consistent energy availability boosts stamina and keeps fatigue at bay.
  • Improved gut health: A balanced diet can promote a healthier gut microbiome, aiding digestion and nutrient absorption.
  • Reduced risk of injuries: Adequate nutrition strengthens muscles and joints, decreasing the likelihood of injury.
  • Prolonged endurance: The right nutrients help cyclists sustain longer periods of activity without exhaustion.

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

What is the relationship between cycling nutrition and cycling performance?

The relationship between cycling nutrition and cycling performance is symbiotic because proper nutrition fuels the body to achieve its optimal performance, while improper cycling nutrition can lead to decreased energy, muscle fatigue, and reduced endurance, thereby compromising an athlete’s output on the bike.

Macronutrients for cycling

Macronutrients for cycling are the primary nutrients required in large amounts by cyclists to fuel their bodies and optimize performance. These include carbohydrates, which serve as the body’s primary energy source during intense activities; proteins, crucial for muscle repair and recovery; and fats, which provide sustained energy for longer rides. 

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

A balanced intake of these macronutrients ensures continuous energy, delays fatigue, and aids in post-ride recovery. However, an imbalance or improper timing of consumption can result in decreased performance, muscle cramps, or gastrointestinal issues.

Sports Nutritionist Asker Jeukendrup from Loughborough University England in his book Food, Nutrition and Sports Performance III 2013 mentioned that to enhance endurance performance, it’s vital to consume carbohydrates and fluids both before and during exercise, ensuring high muscle glycogen levels and proper hydration


Carbohydrates or carbs are macronutrients composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms, primarily found in foods like grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. Serving as a primary energy source, carbohydrates fuel daily activities, including the intense demands of cycling. They are categorized into simple carbohydrates, such as glucose and fructose, which are found in fruits and sweets, and complex carbohydrates, like starches and fibers, found in foods such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables. Proper carbohydrate intake supports sustained energy and peak performance, especially vital in cycling where muscle glycogen is rapidly depleted.

Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition(BJN) 2022 written by Andy J. King and Rebecca C. Hall from Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research, Australian Catholic University found that cyclists training indoors often fail to meet recommended carbohydrate (CHO) intake guidelines; hence, athletes should prioritize consuming sufficient CHO before and during sessions to optimize performance and glycogen storage.

How many carbs per hour for cycling?

The amount of carbs per hour for cycling a cyclist should consume is between 30-90 grams of carbs per hour of cycling, the accurate amount depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise, as well as individual factors such as metabolism and how well-trained the cyclist is. This is because carbohydrate consumption aids in maintaining blood glucose levels, thereby preserving muscle glycogen and potentially improving performance. Here are general recommendations:

  • For rides less than 1 hour: Carbohydrate intake is generally not needed.
  • For 1-2 hour rides: 30 grams of carbs per hour.
  • For 2-3 hour rides: 30-60 grams of carbs per hour.
  • For 3+ hour rides: Up to 90 grams of carbs per hour, preferably from multiple sources to improve absorption and utilization.

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

It’s essential for each cyclist to personalize and test these recommendations in training, as individual needs can vary.

What are the top 10 carbohydrate foods for cyclists?

The top 10 carbohydrate foods for cyclists are bananas, oats, pasta, rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, whole grain bread, energy bars, fruits like berries and apples, and isotonic sports drinks.

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

What are carbohydrate foods to avoid for cycling?

The carbohydrate foods to avoid for cycling are sugary sodas, pastries, candies, white bread, fried starchy foods, sugary cereals, processed snacks with high-fructose corn syrup, and overly sweetened energy gels or drinks.

What do carbohydrates do to your body as a cyclist?

Carbohydrates as the primary energy source for working muscles play a crucial role for cyclists by fueling their rides, replenishing glycogen stores in muscles, supporting quicker recovery, and optimizing endurance and performance during prolonged activities.

Why do cyclists eat rice cakes?

Cyclists eat rice cakes because they provide a digestible source of carbohydrates that can be easily consumed and metabolized for energy during rides. Rice cakes are particularly popular for mid-ride fuel due to their portability and the quick energy they provide. When made with added ingredients like fruits or nuts, they can provide a balance of nutrients. To eat them properly during a ride, cyclists often wrap individual portions in foil or plastic, making them easy to access and consume without slowing down.

What is carb loading in cycling?

Carb loading in cycling is the strategy of increasing carbohydrate intake in the days leading up to an event to maximize glycogen stores in muscles, enhancing endurance and performance during prolonged activities.

What is carb cycling?

Carb cycling is a dietary approach where carbohydrate intake fluctuates on a daily or weekly basis, often used to optimize fat loss and muscle gains while maintaining physical performance.

What is low-carb training for cycling?

Low-carb training for cycling is a training approach where cyclists intentionally limit their carbohydrate intake to enhance fat metabolism and improve endurance performance.


Proteins are essential macronutrients composed of amino acids that play crucial roles in building and repairing tissues, including muscle tissues damaged during cycling. They are vital for enzyme and hormone production, support immune function, and aid in transporting molecules throughout the body. Important sources of protein for cyclists include lean meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, beans, lentils, and nuts. 

In cycling, proteins support muscle recovery, growth, and adaptation, especially after intense training sessions. There are various types of proteins based on their amino acid composition, with complete proteins, like those from animal sources, providing all the essential amino acids the body needs for cyclists.

Research led by Professor of Nutrition David S. Rowlands from the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health, Massey University, New Zealand found that post-exercise dietary protein, when combined with a high-carbohydrate recovery regimen, enhanced cyclists’ sprint performance by 4.1% on the day 4 of high-intensity training sessions compared to a carbohydrate-only approach.

How much protein do cyclists need?

The amount of protein cyclists need for cycling ranges from 0.8 to 1,7 grams oer kilogram of body weight per day, the amount varies based on the volume and intensity of their training, their specific goals, and overall diet, because protein aids in muscle repair, recovery, and growth. Here are general recommendations:

  • Recreational Cyclists: 0.8 to 1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
  • Endurance Cyclists: 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
  • Strength-training Cyclists or those in intense training phases: 1.5 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

How much protein can you absorb in one hour as cyclist?

The protein a cyclist can absorb in one hour varies based on several factors, but in general, the human body can utilize about 20-25 grams of protein from a single meal or intake. It’s important to note that the body can “absorb” almost all the protein consumed. However, the rate at which it can use protein for muscle synthesis and repair is limited to this mentioned range per meal for most individuals. Consuming more than this amount in a single sitting won’t necessarily provide additional benefits for muscle recovery or growth, and the excess protein will be used for energy or other bodily functions.

What are the top 10 protein foods for cyclists?

The top 10 protein foods for cyclists are lean chicken, turkey, fish (like salmon and tuna), eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, quinoa, beans, lentils, and whey protein powder.

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

Why protein is important for cyclists?

Protein is important for cyclists because it aids in muscle repair and recovery, supports the growth and maintenance of lean muscle mass, helps in strengthening the immune system, and provides a source of energy during prolonged exercise, especially when carbohydrate stores are depleted.


Fats in nutrition are essential macronutrients that provide a concentrated source of energy, assist in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and support cell structure and function. In cycling, fats play a vital role in longer, lower-intensity efforts when the body taps into fat stores once glycogen is depleted. 

Primary sources of dietary fats include oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, fatty fish, and dairy products. It’s crucial to differentiate between healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and unhealthy fats like trans fats and excessive saturated fats. Consuming the right types of fats can aid in sustained energy during rides and promote overall health.

A classic Research led by Julia H. Goedecke from the Medical Research Council, University of Cape Town Medical School, South Africa found that “Ingestion of a high-fat diet (HFD) for as little as 5 to 10 days significantly altered substrate utilization during submaximal exercise but did not attenuate the 40-km time-trial performance.”

How much fat should a cyclist eat per day?

The amount of fat a cyclist should eat per day ranges from 20% to 40% of total daily caloric intake, the exact amount depends on their total caloric intake, training regimen, and individual metabolic factors, because fat serves as a crucial energy source, especially for long-duration, low to moderate intensity rides. Here are general recommendations:

  • Recreational Cyclists: 20-35% of total daily caloric intake should come from healthy fats.
  • Endurance Cyclists: 25-40% of total daily caloric intake, especially if they are undertaking long, slow training rides where fat is a primary energy source.
  • Cyclists in High-Intensity Training Phases: 20-35% of total daily caloric intake, with an emphasis on consuming adequate carbohydrates for energy.

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

What are the top 10 healthy fat foods for cyclists?

The top 10 healthy fat foods for cyclists are avocados, nuts (like almonds, walnuts, and cashews), seeds (such as flaxseeds and chia seeds), olive oil, fatty fish (like salmon, mackerel, and sardines), coconut oil, dark chocolate, Greek yogurt, eggs, and cheese.

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

Why healthy fat is important for cyclists?

Healthy fat is important for cyclists because it provides a dense source of long-lasting energy, aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, supports cell structure and function, protects vital organs, and helps maintain optimal hormonal balance, all of which are essential for sustained endurance and recovery in cycling.

Micronutrients for cycling

Micronutrients for cycling are essential vitamins and minerals required in small amounts that play crucial roles in energy production, muscle contraction, bone health, and immune function among cyclists. These include vitamins such as B-complex, D, C and E, and minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. 

Proper intake of these micronutrients ensures optimal performance, faster recovery, and reduced risk of injuries. Deficiencies of micronutrients in cycling can lead to decreased energy, muscle cramps, weakened bones, and compromised immunity, hindering a cyclist’s performance and health.


Vitamins are essential organic compounds that the body requires in small quantities to support various physiological functions, especially in activities like cycling. They are vital micronutrients that aid in energy production, cell repair, and overall health. The necessary vitamins for cyclists are listed below.

  • B-complex vitamins: These play a crucial role in converting food into energy, aiding in red blood cell formation, and ensuring proper muscle function. Fundamental for cyclists during long rides, they can be found in foods like whole grains, beans, peas, nuts, eggs, and dairy products.
  • Vitamin D: Vital for bone health, it assists in the absorption of calcium, supporting strong bones and reducing the risk of fractures. Natural food sources include fatty fish (like salmon and mackerel), fortified foods, mushrooms, egg yolks, and beef liver.
  • Vitamin C: An antioxidant that aids in tissue repair and immune function, it can help cyclists recover faster from intense rides and reduce muscle damage. It’s abundant in foods like oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, and kiwi.
  • Vitamin E: Known for its antioxidant properties, it protects cells from damage and can support faster recovery post-rides for cyclists. Food sources include nuts (especially almonds), seeds, spinach, broccoli, and vegetable oils.

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks


Minerals are inorganic micronutrients required by the body in small amounts to support a range of physiological functions, especially in activities like cycling. They play critical roles in bone health, energy production, muscle contraction, and oxygen transport. The necessary minerals for cyclists are Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Zinc, Potassium and Sodium.

  • Calcium: Essential for strong bones and proper muscle function, it helps cyclists maintain bone density and prevent fractures. Rich food sources include dairy products (like milk, cheese, and yogurt), green leafy vegetables (like kale and spinach), fortified foods, sardines with bones, and tofu.
  • Magnesium: Playing a vital role in muscle contraction and energy production, magnesium can help prevent muscle cramps and fatigue in cyclists. Foods rich in magnesium include nuts (especially almonds), seeds, whole grains, bananas, avocados, and dark chocolate.
  • Iron: Crucial for oxygen transport in the blood, it ensures that muscles get the oxygen they need during cycling, aiding in endurance and preventing fatigue. Foods high in iron include red meat, poultry, fortified cereals, beans, lentils, and spinach.
  • Zinc: Essential for immune function, cell repair, and energy metabolism, it supports cyclists’ recovery and resistance against illnesses. Zinc-rich foods include oysters, beef, chicken, dairy products, nuts, and whole grains.
  • Potassium: Aids cyclists by supporting muscle contraction and helping regulate heart rate and fluid balance
  • Sodium: is vital for cyclists as it maintains fluid balance, prevents dehydration, and assists in nerve function and muscle contractions.

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

What is the recommended amount of minerals per day for cyclists?

The recommended amount of minerals per day for a cyclist varies based on the specific mineral, individual needs, intensity, and duration of training, because minerals play crucial roles in muscle function, bone health, energy production, and fluid balance. Here are general daily mineral recommendations for adult athletes including cyclists:

  • Calcium: 1000-1300 mg. Essential for bone health and muscle contraction.
  • Magnesium: 310-420 mg for men; 320-400 mg for women. Supports muscle function and energy production.
  • Iron: 8 mg for men; 18 mg for women. Vital for oxygen transportation in the blood.
  • Zinc: 11 mg for men; 8 mg for women. Supports immune function and energy metabolism.
  • Potassium: 3,500-4,700 mg. Helps with muscle contraction and maintaining fluid balance.
  • Sodium: Varies significantly based on sweat rate and duration of exercise, but for those engaged in intense or prolonged cycling, 500-700 mg per hour of exercise can help replace losses and maintain fluid balance.

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

It’s essential to note that these recommendations can vary based on individual needs, and excessive intake can be harmful

Hydration for cycling

Hydration for cycling is the process of ensuring adequate fluid intake to maintain optimal body function, performance, and recovery during and after cycling. It includes the consumption of water and electrolyte drinks that replace essential salts lost through sweating. 

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

Proper hydration aids in thermoregulation, maintains blood volume, and prevents dehydration, ensuring that the muscles function efficiently and reducing the risk of cramps. On the positive side, optimal hydration can enhance endurance, delay fatigue, and speed up recovery. Negatively insufficient hydration can lead to dehydration, impairing performance, causing dizziness, increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses, and potentially leading to severe health complications.

Research led by Nicole Moyen from Stanford University USA showed that during a 161 km ultra-endurance cycling event, dehydrated participants experienced increased Fatigue and Pain, suggesting that dehydration may negatively influence mood state and perceptual ratings in such arduous activities.


Water is an essential component of life and plays a pivotal role in cycling. It aids in temperature regulation, helps transport nutrients and oxygen to cells, supports joint lubrication, and assists in removing waste products from the body. 

In cycling, maintaining proper hydration is crucial to optimize performance, prevent cramps, and reduce the risk of heat-related issues. The benefits of adequate water intake for cyclists include improved endurance, reduced fatigue, and better recovery after intense rides. Proper hydration aids in maintaining cognitive function and focus, which is vital for making split-second decisions on the road or trail.

Electrolyte drinks

Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge and play a vital role in maintaining physiological balance within the body. Electrolyte drinks in cycling are specially formulated beverages that contain these minerals, primarily sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Their purpose is to replace the electrolytes lost through sweat during prolonged or intense physical activity. 

Electrolyte drinks aid in preventing muscle cramps, maintaining proper fluid balance, and supporting nerve function. The benefits of electrolyte drinks for cyclists include improved hydration, quicker recovery, prevention of electrolyte imbalances, and enhanced overall performance, especially in conditions where excessive sweating occurs.

How much fluid should you drink when cycling?

The amount of fluid you should drink when cycling depends on various factors such as intensity, duration, weather conditions, and individual sweat rate. Generally, cyclists should aim to consume 500-750ml of water or electrolyte drinks per hour, adjusting based on specific needs and conditions.

What are good electrolyte drinks for cyclists?

Good electrolyte drinks for cyclists are Gatorade, Powerade, Nuun Hydration Tablets, Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix, GU Hydration Drink Mix, Osmo Nutrition Active Hydration, Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel, Hammer Nutrition HEED, Elete Electrolyte Add-In, and Precision Hydration.

How do you get electrolytes naturally as cyclists?

You can get electrolytes naturally as cyclists by consuming foods and beverages rich in key minerals such as bananas (potassium), spinach (magnesium), dairy products (calcium), seeds (magnesium), nuts (sodium and magnesium), oranges (potassium), sweet potatoes (potassium and magnesium), and by drinking coconut water which is packed with potassium and sodium. Additionally, maintaining a balanced diet with whole grains, lean proteins, and fresh vegetables can ensure a regular intake of these essential minerals.

Cycling nutrition plan and diet

Cycling nutrition plans and diets are specifically designed to fuel and recover the body based on the demands of the ride and the individual needs of the cyclist. Pre-ride nutrition focuses on ensuring adequate energy stores, often prioritizing complex carbohydrates and a small amount of protein. During cycling, the nutritional needs differ: for short rides, staying hydrated might suffice; for medium rides, cyclists may need easily digestible carbohydrates; long rides necessitate a balance of carbs, some proteins, and electrolytes; while ultra-rides demand sustained energy sources, hydration, and regular intake of carbs and electrolytes. Post-ride cycling recovery emphasizes protein for muscle repair, carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores, and fluids with electrolytes to rehydrate and restore balance.

Basic Principles of Cycling Nutrition

The basic principles of cycling nutrition are energy Balance, carbohydrate prioritization, protein Intake, healthy fats, hydration, electrolyte balance, micronutrient awareness, timing, dietary individuality, and avoidance of processed foods.

  1. Energy Balance: Ensure you consume enough calories to match the energy you expend during cycling, supporting both performance and recovery.
  2. Carbohydrate Prioritization: Carbohydrates serve as the primary energy source, especially during high-intensity rides; therefore, their intake should be adjusted based on the intensity and duration of the ride.
  3. Protein Intake: Consuming adequate protein supports muscle repair and growth, especially vital after intense or long-duration rides.
  4. Healthy Fats: While carbohydrates are the primary fuel, fats can serve as an energy source for longer, lower-intensity rides, and support overall health.
  5. Hydration: Maintaining proper hydration is crucial to support thermoregulation, muscle function, and overall performance.
  6. Electrolyte Balance: Especially during longer rides or in hot conditions, replenishing electrolytes can prevent cramping and support muscle function.
  7. Micronutrient Awareness: Essential vitamins and minerals play crucial roles in energy production and muscle function, and deficiencies can impair performance.
  8. Timing: The timing of nutrient intake, like carb-loading before an event or consuming protein post-ride, can optimize performance and recovery.
  9. Dietary Individuality: Recognize that individual needs can vary based on genetics, metabolism, and specific training demands, thus, adjustments might be needed.
  10. Avoidance of Processed Foods: Whenever possible, prioritize whole foods over heavily processed options to gain maximum nutritional benefits and sustain energy levels.

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

How to balance calories and nutrition in cycling?

To balance calories and nutrition in cycling, you can understand your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), calculate calories burned during cycling, allocate macronutrients based on their caloric values (carbohydrates at 4 calories/g, proteins at 4 calories/g, and fats at 9 calories/g), stay hydrated with water and electrolyte drinks, weigh yourself before and after riding to see the body weight deficit, use nutritional apps for tracking, adapt intake based on training intensity, listen to your body’s signals, and consult a sports nutritionist for tailored advice.

  • Understand your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): This is the amount of energy expended while at rest. Online calculators can estimate your BMR based on factors like age, height, weight, and gender. Your total daily caloric needs would be a combination of your BMR and the calories burned during cycling and other activities.
  • Calculate Calories Burned During Cycling: On average, cycling burns between 400-700 calories per hour, depending on intensity and the cyclist’s weight.
  • Allocate Macronutrients: As a general guideline for cyclists, you can calculate calories from food as below.

Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram. They should constitute about 60-65% of a cyclist’s diet, especially before long rides.

Proteins: 4 calories per gram. Aim for 15-20% of daily caloric intake.

Fats: 9 calories per gram. Constitute about 20-25% of your diet. Opt for healthy fats like avocados, nuts, and olive oil.

  •  Stay Hydrated: Water has 0 calories, but it’s crucial for performance. Electrolyte drinks can vary in calorie content, so it’s essential to read the label. These drinks are beneficial during longer rides or hot conditions to replace lost salts.
  • Weigh Yourself Before and After Riding: Based on the lost weight from cycling, you can adjust your water and food intake.
  • Use Nutritional Apps: Tools like MyFitnessPal or Strava can help you track your caloric intake and burn, ensuring you stay on track.
  • Adapt Based on Training Intensity: On more intense training days or longer rides, you’ll need more carbohydrates to fuel your ride. On rest or low-intensity days, focus on proteins and healthy fats for recovery.
  • Listen to Your Body: Hunger, energy levels, and recovery can signal if you’re balancing your nutrition correctly.
  • Consult a Sports Nutritionist: They can provide personalized recommendations and help create a plan that aligns with your cycling goals.

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

How long does it take for calories to be absorbed?

It takes approximately 2 to 6 hours for calories to be absorbed because the digestion and absorption rates depend on the type of nutrient (carbohydrates, proteins, or fats), the complexity of the meal, and individual factors like metabolism and gut health. Simple carbohydrates are digested and absorbed quickly, often within 20 minutes to 2 hours, while complex carbohydrates, proteins, and especially fats take longer. Once absorbed, these nutrients are converted to energy or stored for future use.

Pre-ride cycling nutrition plan

The pre-ride nutrition plan refers to the specific food and drink intake in the hours leading up to a cycling session. It’s designed to maximize energy stores and prepare the body for the physical demands of the ride. Pre-ride nutrition plans for cycling differ by timing, including 3 to 4 hours before cycling, 60 to 90 minutes before the ride, and 10 to 20 minutes pre-ride.

Why pre-ride cycling nutrition plan is important? Because fueling properly before a ride ensures that glycogen stores in the muscles and liver are optimized. This allows cyclists to maintain their energy levels, delay the onset of fatigue, and prevent low blood sugar, which can lead to dizziness or lightheadedness.

TimingWhat to EatWhat to Drink
3 to 4 hours before your rideGrilled chicken, brown rice, steamed vegetables500ml of water, with the option of herbal teas or a small glass of a sports drink
60 to 90 minutes before your rideBanana with a small spoon of almond butter250ml of water or sports drink. Optional: a cup of black coffee
10 to 20 minutes before your rideEnergy gel, a handful of energy chews, or a couple of datesA few sips of an electrolyte drink

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

During cycling nutrition plan

During a cycling ride, the body continuously utilizes its energy reserves, and replenishing these reserves becomes crucial, especially for longer durations. Proper nutrition during a ride can significantly enhance performance, delay the onset of fatigue, and improve recovery. The timing and type of nutrition vary depending on the length of the ride. For instance, short rides might not demand as much fuel as longer ones, while long rides necessitate sustained energy intake. It’s essential to balance between providing enough nutrients for sustained energy while avoiding overconsumption which can lead to gastrointestinal issues.

  • Short Rides (up to 60-75 minutes): These rides are usually at moderate intensity and do not significantly deplete glycogen stores, so substantial refueling is often not required. However, staying hydrated is essential.
  • Medium Rides (1-3 hours): As the duration extends, there’s a higher demand for energy. Carbohydrates become crucial to maintain performance, and consistent hydration with electrolyte replacement helps counteract sweat losses.
  • Long Rides (3-6 hours): These rides involve considerable exertion, making it vital to have a mix of quick and sustained energy sources. Regular intake of both solid foods and liquids ensures consistent energy and proper hydration.
  • Extra-long Rides (6+ Hours): During ultra-endurance efforts, the body is under prolonged stress, so it’s essential to provide it with a mix of carbohydrates, some proteins, and fats. Regular hydration with electrolyte drinks helps maintain electrolyte balance and energy levels.

Below is an example of a cycling nutrition plan during riding.

Ride DurationWhat to EatHow Often to EatWhat to DrinkHow Often to Drink
Short Rides (up to 60-75 minutes)Not typically needed. If you do, energy gel or a banana.Only if feeling fatiguedWaterEvery 20 minutes, a few sips
Medium Rides (1-3 hours)Energy gels, energy bars, bananasEvery 30 minutesElectrolyte drinkEvery 15-20 minutes, around 150-200ml
Long Rides (3-6 hours)Energy gels, energy bars, bananas, sandwiches with lean proteinEvery 20-30 minutesElectrolyte drink and waterEvery 15 minutes, around 150-200ml
Extra-long Rides (6+ Hours)Energy gels, energy bars, bananas, sandwiches, fruits like oranges or melon slicesEvery 15-20 minutesElectrolyte drink, water, and possibly a carbohydrate solution drinkEvery 10-15 minutes, around 150-250ml

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

Post-ride recovery nutrition plan for cycling

Post-ride recovery nutrition is pivotal in replenishing depleted glycogen stores, repairing muscle tissue, and rehydrating the body. Your muscles are most receptive to storing glucose as glycogen within the first 30 minutes to 2 hours after your ride, making this window crucial for nutrition intake. The type and length of the ride will dictate your nutritional needs.

Ride TypeWhat to EatWhat to DrinkWhen to Eat & Drink
After a Short Ride (up to 60-75 minutes)A banana with a tablespoon of almond butterWater (500 ml to 1 liter)Within 30 minutes to an hour post-ride
After a Medium Ride (1-3 hours)Quinoa salad with grilled chicken, veggies, and olive oil dressingElectrolyte drink or water with salt and sugarWithin the first 30 minutes to an hour post-ride
After Long Rides (3-6 hours)Pasta or rice with lean protein (chicken or tofu) and steamed veggiesElectrolyte drinks followed by waterImmediately for drinks and within the first hour post-ride for food
After an Extra-long Ride (6+ Hours)Smoothie with fruits, protein powder, and almond milk, followed by a hearty mealElectrolyte drinks followed by waterSmoothie immediately post-ride and meal within 1-2 hours

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

Cycling Dietary Plans and Long-Term Nutrition

Cycling diet plans and long-term nutrition are more than just preparing for single rides; they represent a comprehensive approach to fueling the body for consistent performance and health over extended periods. Such strategies recognize the symbiotic relationship between consistent training and sustained nutritional habits. 

Over the long term, it’s about immediate energy for rides and building and maintaining muscle, supporting endurance, and ensuring overall physiological well-being. A balanced intake of macronutrients – carbohydrates for sustained energy, proteins for continuous muscle repair, and fats for long-term energy reserves – is crucial. Moreover, a focus on micronutrients ensures that the body’s metabolic processes are optimized, immune function is bolstered, and potential deficiencies that can hinder performance or recovery are preempted. By prioritizing both macro and micronutrients, cyclists can ensure peak performance, quicker recovery, and a foundation for enduring health and fitness.

Special cycling diets

Special cycling diets cater to diverse nutritional needs and preferences, encompassing vegan, vegetarian, female and male cyclists, each with distinct dietary inclusions, exclusions, and considerations. Below is the comparison chart among special cycling diets.

Type of CyclistDiet DescriptionIncludeAvoid
Vegan CyclistsExclusively plant-based, void of any animal products.

Carbohydrates from whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables; 

Proteins from lentils, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, seitan, soy, nuts, seeds, quinoa; 

Fats from avocado, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, olive oil; 

Essential nutrients like B12 fortified foods, calcium from fortified plant milk, iron from legumes and leafy greens.

All animal-derived products.
Vegetarian CyclistsExcludes meat, but might have dairy, eggs, and/or honey.

Carbohydrates from whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables; 

Proteins from dairy, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains; Fats from dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, oils; 

Essential nutrients with iron from legumes and leafy greens.

All types of meat, poultry, and fish.
Female CyclistsTailored for menstrual cycle considerations, bone health, and iron levels.Calcium-rich foods like dairy or fortified plant milk, iron-rich foods (especially during menstruation), adequate calories for hormonal balance.Extremely low-calorie diets and over-restricting any food group.
Male CyclistsTypically similar to female cyclists but minus the menstrual considerations.Protein-rich foods for muscle recovery, sufficient calories for energy.Overconsumption of alcohol, processed foods, and over-restricting any food group.
Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks
Special cycling diet for type 2 diabetes

For cyclists with type 2 diabetes, it’s essential to maintain stable blood sugar levels before, during, and after rides. This means prioritizing a balanced intake of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, while monitoring and adjusting based on blood sugar readings and the intensity/duration of the ride.

What to Eat:

  • Complex Carbohydrates: Whole grains, legumes, and non-starchy vegetables provide a slow and steady energy release. Examples include quinoa, brown rice, lentils, and leafy greens.
  • Lean Proteins: Helps stabilize blood sugar and provides necessary muscle repair. Options include chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, and legumes.
  • Healthy Fats: Sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil can support prolonged energy during longer rides.
  • Low-Glycemic Fruits: Berries, apples, and pears offer a natural sugar source without rapidly spiking blood sugar levels.
  • Hydration: It’s essential to stay hydrated, but choose beverages with no added sugars. Water, unsweetened tea, and electrolyte drinks without added sugars are good choices.

What to Avoid:

  • Sugary Beverages: Sodas, sweetened teas, and some sports drinks can cause rapid blood sugar spikes.
  • Refined Carbohydrates: White bread, white rice, and pastries can cause quick blood sugar fluctuations which aren’t ideal for endurance activities.
  • High-Sugar Snacks: Candy bars or snacks laden with simple sugars can lead to rapid spikes and subsequent crashes in blood sugar.
  • Excessive Caffeine: While some caffeine can be beneficial, excessive amounts can impact blood sugar levels.
  • Alcohol: It can lower blood sugar levels, increasing the risk of hypoglycemia during or after a ride.

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

Additional Notes:

Before embarking on any ride, cyclists with type 2 diabetes should check their blood sugar and adjust their meals or medication accordingly. It’s wise to carry a fast-acting carbohydrate source, like glucose gel or tablets, in case of hypoglycemia. Always consult with a healthcare professional or nutritionist when creating a cycling nutrition plan, especially for those with medical conditions like type 2 diabetes.

Supplement and performance enhancement for cyclists

Supplement for cyclists to enhance performance is a contentious area, but when used correctly, certain supplements can provide benefits, complementing a balanced diet and potentially aiding in training adaptations, recovery, and performance. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most commonly discussed supplements in the cycling community:

  • Creatine Monohydrate: Helps increase short-burst power output, useful for sprinters or short, intense efforts.
  • Beta-Alanine: Can buffer acid in the muscles, potentially improving performance in events lasting 1-10 minutes.
  • Caffeine: A stimulant that can enhance endurance performance, reduce perceived effort, and improve concentration.
  • Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs): Might aid in muscle recovery and reduce muscle soreness post-ride.
  • Sodium Bicarbonate: Acts as a buffer against acid build-up in muscles, potentially beneficial for time trialists or other high-intensity efforts.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Anti-inflammatory properties can support recovery and overall joint and heart health.
  • Vitamin D: Important for bone health, especially for cyclists who train indoors or in locations with limited sunlight.
  • Iron: Essential for endurance athletes, especially those prone to deficiency, as it helps transport oxygen in the blood.
  • Protein Powders: Can aid in muscle recovery, especially when whole food options aren’t readily available post-ride.
  • Antioxidants (like Vitamin C and E): Can support immune function and recovery, although they should be taken in moderation as excessive amounts can hinder cycling training adaptations.

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

It’s essential to note that while these supplements can provide benefits, they are most effective when used in conjunction with a balanced diet. Over-reliance on supplements at the expense of whole foods can lead to nutrient imbalances. Always consult with a healthcare professional or nutritionist before starting any supplementation regimen.

Cycling food for nutrition supplement

Cycling food for nutrition supplement is about harnessing the power of whole foods to achieve many of the cycling benefits typically associated with isolated supplements. Whole foods can provide a range of nutrients in their natural context, often with better bioavailability and synergy than their processed counterparts. Here’s how you can derive the previously mentioned supplements from food sources:

  • Creatine Monohydrate: While the concentrations in foods are lower than in supplements, red meats and fish like salmon and tuna contain creatine.
  • Beta-Alanine: Present in protein-rich foods, including lean meats like chicken, turkey, and beef.
  • Caffeine: Naturally found in coffee beans, tea leaves, and certain fruits like guarana.
  • Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs): Found in protein-rich foods such as lean meats, dairy products, quinoa, and soy.
  • Sodium Bicarbonate: Baking soda is a common source, but bicarbonate is found in foods like spinach, potatoes, and beans.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fatty fish (like salmon, mackerel, sardines), chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts are rich sources.
  • Vitamin D: Fatty fish, fortified dairy products, mushrooms exposed to sunlight, and eggs contain vitamin D.
  • Iron: Found in red meats, spinach, lentils, fortified cereals, and tofu.
  • Protein Powders: Instead of processed powders, whole foods like lean meats, dairy products, legumes, and nuts can provide necessary protein.
  • Antioxidants (like Vitamin C and E): Fruits and vegetables, especially berries, citrus fruits, nuts, and seeds, are abundant in antioxidants.
Is nutrition different for off-road riding?

Yes, nutrition for off-road riding is different because of the unique demands placed on the body due to varied terrains, technical challenges, and the frequent bursts of power required like in FTP cyclingfc. But while there are distinct nutritional needs for off-road cyclists, the foundational principles of cycling nutrition remain similar. 

Off-road riding needs more immediate energy sources to handle the quick, intense efforts often demanded by the uneven terrain, making easily digestible carbohydrates crucial. While road cycling, especially on longer rides, might emphasize sustained energy, making a balanced intake of carbs, fats, and proteins essential. However, despite these nuances, both disciplines prioritize hydration, macronutrient balance, and recovery.

Is fast food good for cycling nutrition?

Yes, fast food can be suitable for cycling nutrition only when consumed in moderation and chosen wisely to meet specific nutritional needs. While fast food often gets a bad rap for its high calorie, salt, and fat content, some options can be integrated into a cyclist’s diet, especially for immediate post-ride recovery or when healthier food options aren’t readily available.

  • KFC: Opting for grilled chicken over fried can provide a good source of lean protein. Paired with a side of green beans or coleslaw, it can offer a balance of macronutrients.
  • McDonald’s: A grilled chicken sandwich or a salad with grilled chicken can be a decent choice. Their fruit and yogurt parfait can serve as a lighter option with a mix of carbohydrates and protein.
  • Typical Fast Food: Many chains offer salads, wraps, or grilled meat options. When choosing sides, baked potatoes, side salads, or fruits are usually better than fries or onion rings.

What are the risks of improper cycling nutrition?

The risks of improper cycling nutrition are dehydration, bonking (hitting the wall), reduced recovery, muscle cramps, gastrointestinal problems, compromised immune function, and long-term health issues because adequate and appropriate nutrition is pivotal for optimal performance, recovery, and overall health.

  • Dehydration: Insufficient fluid intake can lead to decreased blood volume, resulting in increased heart rate, reduced cooling, and decreased nutrient delivery to muscles.
  • Bonking (Hitting the Wall): A sudden and severe drop in energy due to depleted glycogen stores can drastically reduce a cyclist’s ability to continue or perform.
  • Reduced Recovery: Without proper post-ride nutrition, especially protein and carbohydrates, muscle repair can be slowed, increasing the risk of injury.
  • Muscle Cramps: An imbalance of electrolytes, often caused by dehydration, can lead to painful muscle contractions.
  • Gastrointestinal Problems: Consuming the wrong foods or drinks, especially during intense cycling, can lead to stomach cramps, nausea, or diarrhea.
  • Compromised Immune Function: Consistently failing to meet nutritional needs can weaken the immune system, making cyclists more susceptible to illnesses.
  • Long-term Health Issues: Persistent neglect of proper nutrition can lead to chronic health issues such as weakened bone density, hormonal imbalances, and cardiovascular problems.

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

Common cycling nutrition myths

The common cycling nutrition myths are that carbs are the enemy, protein intake should be extremely high, fat is detrimental for performance, supplements are a must for every cyclist, fasted rides are always better for fat burning, hydration is only about drinking water, there is an optimal macronutrient ratio, red wine can make you better, cycling can ruin your teeth, skipping breakfast will make you slimmer, homemade sports drinks are just as good as branded ones, coffee makes hard rides less daunting, and caffeine boosts weight loss.

  1. Carbs are the Enemy: Carbohydrates are a primary fuel source for high-intensity cycling. (False)
  2. Protein Intake Should be Extremely High: While essential for recovery, excessive protein won’t necessarily result in more muscle or better performance. (False)
  3. Fat is Detrimental for Performance: Dietary fats are essential for long-term energy and cellular function, especially during longer rides. (False)
  4. Supplements are a Must for Every Cyclist: Not all cyclists need supplements; a balanced diet can provide necessary nutrients. (False)
  5. Fasted Rides are Always Better for Fat Burning: Fasted rides can increase fat oxidation, but they’re not always efficient or safe for all types of training. (Partially True)
  6. Hydration is Only About Drinking Water: Hydration involves replenishing lost electrolytes. (False)
  7. There is an Optimal Macronutrient Ratio: Macronutrient needs can vary widely based on individual physiology and training demands. (False)
  8. Red Wine Can Make You Better: While red wine has antioxidants, it won’t necessarily improve cycling performance. (False)
  9. Cycling Can Ruin Your Teeth: Proper dental hygiene and limiting sugary sports products can prevent dental issues. (Partially True)
  10. Skipping Breakfast Will Make You Slimmer: Breakfast fuels your body; skipping it can negatively affect metabolism and performance. (False)
  11. Homemade Sports Drinks are Just as Good as Branded Ones: Homemade drinks can be effective, but they might not always match the precise formulation of branded ones. (Partially True)
  12. Coffee Makes Hard Rides Less Daunting: While coffee can act as a stimulant, its effects can vary among individuals. (Partially True)
  13. Caffeine Boosts Weight Loss: While caffeine can increase metabolism, relying solely on it for weight loss is not effective. (Partially True)

Cycling nutrition: what is it, plan, diet and risks

Does Cycling Have a Drinking Problem?

Yes, cycling might have a drink problem when riders excessively rely on alcoholic beverages post-ride to “unwind” or celebrate, because consistently consuming alcohol can impair recovery, lead to dehydration, and affect overall health. 

But, moderate and responsible consumption, particularly in social settings, might not pose significant risks and can be a part of many riders’ routines. It’s crucial to balance enjoyment with the understanding of alcohol’s impact on performance and recovery.

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Cycling Performance?

Alcohol affects your cycling performance by impairing muscle recovery, decreasing endurance, disrupting sleep patterns, leading to dehydration, and reducing the body’s ability to store glycogen, which is essential for energy during rides. Additionally, even moderate consumption can impact decision-making, balance, and coordination, which are crucial for safe cycling.

The video by Dylan Johnson on YouTube digged even deepr: How Much Does Alcohol Affect Your Cycling Performance?

Is caffeine good for cyclist?

Yes, caffeine is good for cyclists only when consumed in appropriate amounts, as it can enhance endurance, alertness, and reduce perceived effort. Lack of caffeine may not necessarily hinder performance but won’t provide the aforementioned benefits. Too much caffeine can lead to jitters, increased heart rate, digestive discomfort, and sleep disturbances; typically, a dosage of 3-6mg per kilogram of body weight is recommended for performance benefits without adverse effects.