Event Essentials: Cycling Nutrition
There’s probably no area of cycling knowledge more plagued by myth, misinformation and confusion than nutrition.
Fortunately we’ve got former Great Britain Cycling Team, Team Sky and EF Education First nutritionist Nigel Mitchell on hand to give you his top ten tips for fuelling your cycling.
1. Keep it simple
Don’t overthink it – you’re just giving your engine fuel. Follow the advice in these tips and in my book, implement and put them into practice in training and, by the time you come to the roll-out of your event, you’ll have your nutritional strategy nailed.
2. Pre-ride breakfast
Before any long ride, you won’t go far wrong with a simple bowl of porridge. Ideally you want to allow 2-3 hours between having your breakfast and riding to allow for digestion but, if you know you’ll be riding at a steady pace to start with, this can be pushed a bit. Porridge pots are a great option if you’re travelling and not sure what’ll be on offer.
3. Short of time?
If you’re facing a really early start, sleep through your alarm or have travelled to an event and aren’t sure what’ll be available for breakfast, then a humble tin of rice pudding can save the day. This is a great option for the crack of dawn start of Stage 1 of London-Paris. Rice is a top on the bike fuel too – race cakes rule the pro-peloton and you’ll find plenty of recipes for them in my book as it’s super easy on the stomach, a great source of energy and also contributes to hydration.
4. On the bike
On long rides, “early, little and often” should be your mantra. You should think that you’re eating for 10-30km down the road and not that moment. This means not waiting until you feel hungry to eat. Right from the start of the ride you should be having something to eat every 20-30 minutes.
5. Real food or gels
You don’t need to be spending a fortune on gels or specialist energy bars to fuel your cycling and your stomach probably won’t thank-you if you do. Real food – such as rice cakes, flapjacks and filled paninis are all great and what you’ll mainly find in the pros musettes.
6. Keep a gel in your pocket
That’s not to say there’s no place for gels. If you find yourself having a bit of a dip, need a boost near the end of a ride or require a lift on a long climb, then a gel can be exactly what you need.
7. Make it easy to eat
Learning how to eat on the bike is a skill and should be practiced. If you’re having to stop every time you need to eat or end up not eating regularly because you can’t stop – such as when riding in a group, then your fuelling and performance will be compromised. Make your food accessible – if you struggle getting it out of jersey pockets, a top-tube bag can be great.
Hotchillee Nutrition partner Nurhu offer a really simple solution as there’s no fiddly packaging to remove.
8. Drink to win
You should be adopting the same “early, little and often” approach to hydration as you do to eating. Aim to take a sip from your bidon every 5-10 minutes and consume about 500-750ml per hour. It makes sense to get some carbs from your drinking, so using an energy drink is a good idea. Powdered commercial products can be convenient on events as you can mix them up with the water at feed stations but, to keep training costs down, a 50/50 mix of water and pineapple juice with a pinch of salt is a great DIY option.
9. Watch your intensity
When riders suffer from cramps or gastric distress, they tend to blame their hydration and nutrition. However, in most cases, it comes down to trying to ride too hard and too fast for their level of conditioning. It’s no coincidence that most of these problems tend to plague riders on event day, when they try and push a bit too hard. Stick to the pacing, fuelling and hydration that you’ve managed and practiced in training and you’ll avoid these issues.
You don’t need to be reaching for commercial post-ride recovery product after every ride. If you’ve fulled well during the ride and can have your lunch within an hour of getting home, then just get showered and keep sipping water to prioritise re-hydration. If your post-ride meal is going to be much longer than an hour, then a recovery drink to tide you over can be a good idea but a banana blended with some milk (or soy milk) will do the job just as well as a commercial product.
The most important thing is to practice all of this in training, tweak it and find what foods work for you. Once you’ve found your fuelling strategy, stick with it on your event and don’t be tempted to try any last minute changes.
By ensuring you fuel well on your training rides, you’ll recover faster from them and get greater physiological adaptation. You also effectively train your digestive system to take on and tolerate fuel.
Remember that “early, little and often” mantra and, if you’re one of those riders who tends to let their fuelling slide until it’s too late, tape a reminder to your stem or set an alarm on your computer to remind you – I’ve had to do this with plenty of pros!
The Cyclist’s Cookbook; brings together 67 of Nigel’s most-loved delicious and nutritious recipes from a hugely successful career at the cutting edge of performance cycling nutrition in an accessible, practical and inspirational celebration of food, cooking and cycling culture for every cyclist.
We put these tips together as a guideline and we hope that they give you a good idea for what to expect on a group ride.
We hope that by taking these on, you’ll be able to have more fun than ever before and relax in the company of some great cyclists and friends.
Within its 244 pages, The Cyclist’s Cookbook covers the fundamental principles of how to fuel your cycling – alongside insights into ingredients, cooking, equipment, and more – The Cyclist’s Cookbook brings together everything that any cyclist could want: easy to make but incredibly tasty everyday meals and snacks; indulgent celebration dinners and treats; pre-ride, on the bike, and post-ride recovery food and drinks, through family favourites, time-crunched, healthy and nutritious ‘fast’ food – and everything in between.