HomeAnswersHow do you fuel your body for cycling?

How do you fuel your body for cycling?

This question is about Cycling and Nutrition
Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, Freelance Writer
Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel sources for working muscles before, during, and after a ride. The longer and harder you cycle, the more carbohydrates you need. The timing of your pre-ride meals determines the composition. Here are some guidelines to help fuel your body for cycling: 

2-4 hours before your ride

Aim to eat a full meal with carbohydrates, protein and fat 2-4 hours before your ride. Carbohydrates should be the most prominent macronutrient on your plate, and some cyclists need 50-100 grams in their pre-workout meal. Eating carbohydrates before a ride tops off glycogen stores and provides readily-available fuel for working muscles when you get on the bike [1]. Some options include:
  • Oatmeal topped with banana, berries, and nut butter  
  • Sandwich on whole-grain bread with turkey, avocado, lettuce, and tomato
  • Rice bowl with tofu, veggies and olive oil based dressing
Caffeine may also be a beneficial part of your pre-ride meal, since it stimulates the central nervous system to boost energy and alertness by blocking adenosine receptors. 30 - 90 minutes before you get on the bike, consume 3-9 mg caffeine/kg, with no more than 400-500 mg caffeine per day (roughly 4-5 cups of coffee) [2].
Nitrates from beetroot juice may also improve cycling performance. The recommended dose of nitrates is 300-600 mg (or 0.1 mmol/kg of body weight), in the form of juice or food, 2-3 hours before exercise [3]. One cup of beetroot juice contains about 250 mg of nitrates.  

15-30 minutes before your ride

Eat a small, easily digestible carbohydrate snack that is low in fiber, protein, and fat to top off carbohydrate stores and minimize the risk of GI distress during your ride. Good options include:  
  • Fruit, like a banana
  • Dried fruit
  • 8 oz sports drink
  • Energy gel
Cyclist in red and gray top eating an energy gel
  1. Mata F, Valenzuela PL, Gimenez J, Tur C, Ferreria D, Domínguez R, Sanchez-Oliver AJ, Martínez Sanz JM. Carbohydrate Availability and Physical Performance: Physiological Overview and Practical Recommendations. Nutrients. 2019; 11(5):1084. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11051084
  2. Jonathan D. Wiles, Damian Coleman, Michael Tegerdine & Ian L. Swaine (2006) The effects of caffeine ingestion on performance time, speed and power during a laboratory-based 1 km cycling time-trial, Journal of Sports Sciences, 24:11, 1165-1171, DOI: 10.1080/02640410500457687
  3. Kerksick, C.M., Wilborn, C.D., Roberts, M.D. et al. ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: research & recommendations. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 15, 38 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0242-y