Nutrition plays a key role in supporting all areas of cycling, including weekly mileage, sportives, recovery and training adaptations. Matching the correct nutritional intake to the individual requirements of these situations can result in optimal performance. The main goals of performance nutrition are:
- To provide fuel for the work required in training
- To promote recovery and drive training adaptations following sessions
- The maintenance of the optimal power-to-weight ratio
- To fuel for and recover from your sportive
In partnership with Ben Samuels, Performance Nutritionist at Science in Sport, we’ve put together our Cycling Nutrition Guide, supporting you through training and race-day.
Key Consideration: Fuel for Training
When riding in a sportive there is no doubt that carbohydrate will be the preferred fuel for performing on the day. To prepare for this you should practice your sportive nutrition strategies in training. However, as a cyclist we must consider the role of fat in fuelling performance. The percentage contribution of carbohydrate and fat to overall energy production is largely determined by exercise intensity and duration. As a result, nutrition for training should be based on the specific session you have and the desired training effect, with a well-designed training week including the following sessions:
- Low-intensity or recovery spins with restricted carbohydrate availability
- High-intensity intervals fuelled by carbohydrates
- A key race-day session where the full fuelling plan for your sportive is practised
Your high-intensity intervals, hard turbos and hill-climb sessions will be carbohydrate dependent, meaning that you need carbohydrate in the working muscle to use as energy. Depending on the timing of this session, including a carbohydrate source with your meals during the day and topping up with a snack (banana or GO Energy Bar) 60 minutes before the session is advised. Whereas easy miles and recovery spins can be fuelled using our own body fat stores before breakfast is a good time to do these rides. Having a coffee or a GO Caffeine Shot before you get on the bike can lower the perception of effort and make the session feel easier.
Key Consideration: Train as you Race
It is important to have a nutrition plan going into your chosen sportive and testing this out in training with one ‘train as you race’ session per week is essential for the following reasons:
Pre-ride meal: Breakfast acts as a key meal on the day of a sportive, to top up energy stores and ensure you are fully fuelled for the start line. Your breakfast should reflect this and include normal breakfast food: cereals, toast, bagels, jam, fruit juice. Breakfast should be 2-3 hours before the start to allow for full digestion and prevent any chances of gastrointestinal distress while riding. Test your sportive breakfast in training to ensure it works for you.
On the bike: Your body can only store enough carbohydrate for 90-120 minutes of hard riding, therefore, eating as you go is key. Aim to take in 60 g of carbohydrate per hour from a range of sources. Fuelling should start in the first hour – if you wait until you are tired to start eating this is often too late.
Hydration: Your fluid requirements will be dependent on sweat rate, aim not to lose greater than 2-3% body mass as a result of sweat loss.
Recovery: Hard racing depletes muscle glycogen stores, causes muscle damage and results in fluid loss. Your recovery nutrition should, therefore, focus on both carbohydrate and protein intake to replenish muscle glycogen and repair muscle damage. Fluid and electrolytes should be provided to aid rehydration.
Below is an example nutrition guide for your ‘Train as you Race’ session:
Hydration: Start riding in a hydrated state. Drink 5-10 ml/kg in the 1-3 hours pre-ride. For example, a 70 kg rider would have 350-700 ml of fluid to pre-hydrate.
Energy: Your pre-ride meal should be 2-3 g.kg of carbohydrate. For a 70 kg rider, this would be 140-210 g of carbohydrate 2-3 hours pre-ride. Include high carbohydrate foods such as cereal, toast, bagels, jam, rice, pasta and fruit.
Recovery: Ensure that you rest well between rides as this is where adaptations take place. Overtraining is common in endurance athletes. Aim to get the same amount of sleep throughout your training period.
During your rides
Hydration: Work out how much you are sweating (per hour) and try not to lose more than 2-3% of your body mass through sweat loss. Include electrolytes to promote hydration.
Energy: Aim for 60 g of carbohydrate per hour from a range of sources. An hour of fuel could be:
1x banana & 1x Isotonic Energy Gel
1x GO Energy Bar & half a banana
3 x Isotonic Energy Gels.
Hydration: For rehydration, aim to replace 150% of the fluid volume lost during the ride. Always make sure to weigh yourself before and after your training rides.
Energy: Carbohydrate is one of the most important nutrients in recovery as we will have used energy on the bike. Include a carbohydrate source in your post-ride recovery shake and have a carbohydrate-based meal 2-3 hours post-ride.
Recovery: Post-ride recovery starts straight off the bike. Kick-start the recovery process with a carbohydrate-protein mix such as REGO Rapid Recovery. Follow this with a mixed meal 2-3 hours later.
Key Consideration: Carbohydrate Loading
Our body has limited carbohydrate stores to use as energy on the day of your sportive. To maximise storage, carbohydrate intake can be increased in the 24-48 hours before race day. To do this, increase the carbohydrate portion size with each meal, use carbohydrate snacks between meals and drink carbohydrate drinks during the day. Aim for 8-10 g of carbohydrate per kilo body mass per day of your carb-load. The below plan provides an example of how a cyclist could load with about 550g of carbohydrate:
Breakfast: 2 cups of cereal, two slices of white toast, thick spread of jam and a glass of fruit juice (250g carbohydrate)
Mid-morning: GO Energy Bar Mini (26g carbohydrate)
Lunch: 2 toasted bagels, choice of filling (90g carbohydrate)
Afternoon: 500 ml GO Electrolyte, 1 medium banana (56g carbohydrate)
Dinner: 2 cups of cooked white pasta, chicken breast, tomato-based sauce, 2 slices of garlic bread (130g carbohydrate)
Snack: 1 tin of rice pudding + 250 ml fruit juice (95g carbohydrate)
Key Consideration: Pre-Race
Breakfast: have your normal sportive breakfast 2-3 hours before your start time. You should practice this in training through your ‘train as you race’ session, including cereals, toast, jam, fruit juice. Travel, race-day stress and logistics can cause other distractions on the day of your sportive, so knowing what you’re going to eat and being comfortable with this is going to get you to the start line in the best shape!
Hydration: the morning of your sportive have 5-10 ml of fluid per kilo body mass (350-700ml for a 70kg rider) in the 3-hour window before starting. This can be split between coffee and fruit juice with breakfast and GO Hydro as you travel to the event.
Snacking: A pre-race snack can be used as a final carbohydrate source, having a banana or GO Energy Bar Mini 30-60 minutes before getting on the bike.
Key Consideration: During the Sportive
Focus should be on hydration and energy during the ride. Having a nutrition plan going into the sportive, that you have practised in training, will give you the best chance to enjoy the day. The tables below provide an example nutrition plan for a sportive:
Hydration: Aim not to lose more than 2-3% of your body mass via sweat loss. This usually means consuming 500 ml of fluid per hour depending on sweat rate, temperature and humidity – drinking additional fluids as needed. Water alone is not enough, include an electrolyte tablet in the bottle to replace those lost in sweat or a carbohydrate/electrolyte powder to meet both hydration and energy needs.
Energy: Aim for 60 g of carbohydrate per hour from a range of sources, fuelling from the first hour. Alongside fluid intake, an hour of fuel could be:
1x banana & 1x Isotonic Energy Gel
1x GO Energy Bar Mini & half a banana
3x Isotonic Energy Gels
A good strategy is to consume solid foods during the flatter, less intense parts of the route and gels during more intense sections and climbs. Use caffeine gels before a key climb and/or towards the last hour of the race.
Key Consideration: Recovery
Hard riding depletes muscle glycogen stores, causes muscle damage and results in fluid loss. Your recovery nutrition should, therefore, focus on both carbohydrates and protein. REGO Rapid Recovery can be used within 30 minutes of finishing a race to provide carbohydrates and protein to kick-start the recovery process. Follow the below points for your post-sportive recovery:
- REGO Rapid Recovery shake immediately post-ride
- A carbohydrate-based meal with protein and vegetables within 2-3 hours of finishing
- Replace 150% of fluid lost in the 2-4 hours post-ride