Whether you cycle to work, mountain bike on the weekends or are a complete cycling super fan, supporting your body with a suitable diet is key.
Find out what to eat before, during and after cycling, as well as what type of diet supports cycling the best.
All cyclists need a diet that gives them enough energy to power through their rides so they can enjoy it, not just endure it.
Cyclists also need to make sure they are nourishing their body with enough protein, vitamins and minerals to make sure their bodies perform and repair as best they can.
A typical cycling diet plan will include:
But does it matter when you eat these foods, or how much of them you eat? Are some foods, drinks and snacks better for before / during / after your cycling? Let’s find out.
As you cycling veterans may already know, when you take up cycling as a hobby, you can often feel more hungry than usual.
This should come as no shock when you find out that the average person will burn between 450 and 750 calories every hour they cycle.1 So it’s no wonder cyclists may be raiding the snack cupboard or piling up their plates more than usual!
There’s are many healthy and unhealthy ways to satisfy these extra calorie needs. Yes, eating a huge pizza and all the sides after a long bike ride may be very satisfying to both you and your body, but maybe don’t try it after every meal! The body tends to get sick of a junk food-heavy diet…
Healthy meals can be satisfying and delicious too! As well as satisfying your body’s extra calorie needs, healthy meals provide so much more. Plates full of fruits, veggies, complex carbs and protein will have a better macronutrient spread with lots more vitamins and minerals.
It does really depend on what type of cycling you’re doing.
If you are planning an easy-paced ride for about an hour/hour and half, eating a balanced diet throughout the days should be fine. Low-fat, carb-heavy meals are perfect for getting you fuelled up before a ride. Save the protein and healthy fats for later.
Top tip: wait at least an hour and a half after any meal before cycling as having a ‘full stomach’ could make you feel a little queasy/uncomfortable.
This is going to be different for everyone, as each person has a different calorie need depending on their height, weight, sex, genetics and lifestyle.
If you’ve started cycling out of nowhere, you will probably have to increase your calories unless you want to lose weight (which can include muscle).
The NHS recommends that men need around 2500kcal a day and women need 2000kcal, so keep these figures in mind and listen to your own body.2
You will soon find out if you are eating too little calories because you will feel fatigued from your cycling and struggle to recover.
Endurance cycling is a whole new kettle of fish! Normal cycling becomes endurance cycling when you ride over 60 miles in one trip, according the Endurance Cycling Organization.3
You will need to eat more in general if you’re training for these events, or around the events if you are already in good enough condition.
There’s a section below about what to eat when you’re cycling long distance with a maths equation to find out how many carbs you need and what snacks provide them.
There are no fast or easy rules about eating and drinking before cycling, except that cycling long-distance on an empty stomach first thing in the morning is a bad idea waiting to happen!
Different things will work for different people, like:
This can be influenced by multiple different lifestyle factors and goals. For example, the cycling commuter may only have time to quickly scoff a banana before pedalling of to work, whereas someone with a huge day-long cycle will have to make sure they have enough fuel in their bodies before setting off on the first leg.
Here are some FAQs about what you should eat/drink before you cycle.
Planning to cycle when you get up in the mornings? Knowing what to eat beforehand can be tricky.
If you have 90 minutes to spare before your cycle, then a few of these light-yet-effective breakfasts could do the trick:
If you plan on having a full English in the morning, a big stack of pancakes, or any big meal, it’s probably best to wait 2-4 hours before you ride – maybe save this for a Sunday, eh!
If you don’t have that sort of time in the morning (especially when you’ve got a job to get to) read the next FAQ.
If you have an hour or less before you cycle, a light, easily digested, carb-loaded snack will probably be a better choice than a complete meal. Some good examples include:
Here is a cycling energy bar that’s been specifically designed to keep your energy up while riding your bike, and also makes a great speedy breakfast.
Yes, oats are full of carbs and are generally well-tolerated by most people. Try to eat it more than 90 minutes before your cycle though.
Not necessarily. But, it probably won’t feel good trying to do an intense or long bike ride with no fuel to power you with.
If you really can’t tolerate food before cycling, there is the option to eat a carb-heavy meal the night before. This way, your body saves some of these carbs in the muscles as glycogen ready for you to tap into in the morning.
There are a few types of foods you should try and cut back on in the few hours before your ride. This is because they can be associated with digestive discomfort and could ruin your cycle. Make sure to limit:
Same thing goes for you drinks. Some beverages are more likely to upset your stomach while you’re cycling.
The most important thing to drink before cycling is … you guessed it: water!
Finding the magic balance of being hydrated enough to start your ride off strong, but not having that ‘wavy’ full feeling in your belly or needing to pee 5 minutes later can be a little difficult. We’re confident you will figure out what works for you, though.
Pre-workout drinks, isotonic drinks and moderate amounts of caffeine can also help keep you hydrated while giving you that initial boost to get going. However, they may make you need the toilet, so maybe plan a wee break along your route.
Here’s one of the best pre-workout for cycling powders:
Milk can be a good think to drink before you cycle as it is full of carbs and sugar. If you are sensitive to dairy, though, it’s not a good idea to chug a glassful before you get on your bike – that’s asking for trouble really!
Sure, why not! Any exercise is the morning is good if it suits you and your lifestyle.
Getting out for a cycle in the morning can help kick-start your metabolism and get feel-good endorphins flowing to set you up nicely for the day.
If you are going on rides that last over an hour, you should definitely consider bringing some drinks and ways to refuel throughout your cycle.
Here are some FAQs about what you should eat/drink during your cycle.
Love a carb fest? Good! You may have picked the right sport.
In order to perform your best in cycling, you need to make sure your muscle glycogen levels are kept topped up on longer rides. This is what supplies energy to your hard-working muscles, hello quads and glutes! If you don’t refuel with carbs, your energy levels will dip and pumping those legs will seem much harder, some even start to feel empty and shaky.
Get your calculators out, there’s some maths to do to figure out what you should be eating
The British Cycling Organisation recommends that you should plan to have 0.5-1g of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight each hour you cycle, depending on the intensity. They say you should aim to spread that over 2-3 ‘micro feeds’ every 20-30 mins of your ride.
To give you an example of how this looks, let’s use an 80kg rider as an example. If they were going for a 2-hour bike ride, they would need a total of 80-160g of carbohydrates, which would translate into roughly 4 snacks containing 20-40g carbs. Here are some examples:
One of the best energy bars for cycling is:
And one of the best energy gels for cycling is:
Yes! Bananas are one of the best foods for cyclists.
Your typical banana contains around 25-30g of carbohydrates, making great for before, during and after your bike rides. They also contain potassium, which can help rebalance electrolytes in the body – which is why people also recommend them for hangovers!
It depends how long your ride is. If you only plan on riding for under an hour, plain old water should do the trick. However, longer rides or those in hot conditions are going to need some extra electrolytes.
Our bodies lose electrolytes when we sweat, and as they are responsible for normal cellular function, they must be replaced. Drinks that contain electrolytes like sodium, calcium, magnesium and potassium.
If you’re going on a longer ride, you will also need to replenish your glycogen stores with carbohydrates. It makes sense to combine all of these aspects in a sports drink or gel, so you get the carbs, electrolytes and hydration all in one drink.
If your cycle is 60 minutes or less, plain water should be enough to keep you hydrated. If you’re cycling for longer, consider a sports drink with carbs for energy and electrolytes for hydration.
You should aim for around 500ml of fluid per hour of cycling, doubling this if the ride is intense or it is very warm.
Water should work for rides under one hour, but you should consider an energy / sports / isotonic drink for longer rides.
Follow the various tips above, and most importantly – listen to your body. Keep drinking the fluid of your choice and hydrate before you become dehydrated.
Sports drinks, isotonic drinks and even plain old energy drinks are a great alternative for those who don’t like to eat much or at all during their long cycles. They can still replenish your glycogen stores and provide quick energy for your muscles, with less chance of digestive discomfort.
Look for sport or energy drinks with around 40g of carbs per 500ml.
As soon as you put your bike away and sat down to relax, you’re probably going to be feeling pretty peckish, especially if it was a long bike ride. But what is best to eat and drink after cycling?
It’s all about allowing your body to recover after your ride, so you need to feed it what it needs to return to its normal physiological state.
Cycling recovery drinks come in handy to replenish your carbohydrate and hydration stores quick-time, but you should consider real food.
Snacks and meals high in carbohydrates and protein are best for around 30 minutes into your recovery, e.g. beans on toast and an electrolyte drink or a bowl of muesli with a protein shake.
This protein shake could play a part in your recovery:
Eggs are a great source of protein, so combine them with a carb source like toast or noodles, and you have yourself a cycling recovery meal!
Yes, of course, but make that the bare minimum.
As we have already discussed, replenishing electrolytes and glucose, as well as protein is the aim. This combination is what is going to help your body to recover after long bike rides.
As soon as you’re finished if you like, it doesn’t really matter. Hopefully you will have kept yourself hydrated throughout the ride so you won’t feel like guzzling loads down after you’ve finished.
Last updated: 05 May 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.