If you are a professional cyclist, you already know why nutrition is important. You know that ultimate sports nutrition is vital – because without it you will not be able to compete, let alone win. If you are just commuting by bicycle or enjoying cycling in the park over the weekend, the importance of nutrition plays no role. To be able to cycle for about an hour requires no adjustment in your nutrition. However, when going for an extended biking tour and especially for tours longer than one day (check out the page about bicycle touring preparation), there is a real need to adopt ultimate sports nutrition. Now you are ready to read more about why nutrition is important for you!
How Much Energy Does a Cyclist Require?
Because of diversity in weight, fitness, mechanical efficiency, duration of cycling, environmental conditions, and so on, there is no fixed estimate for the calorie demand per hour of cycling.
Nevertheless, it is roughly estimated that the “calorie price” of cycling for one hour is from 300 to 600 calories. (As general information, a well-trained cyclist will require 500 to 600 calories per hour and at times even more.)
Incidentally, nowadays most pulse watches (and even some of the advanced models of bicycle speedometers) can give an estimate for that “calorie price.”
Note: It is important to remember that calories are burned, not just while cycling. There is also an after-effect of “burning” calories once the cycling session has ended, and the body is recovering from the effort, which increases the calorie spending by 10% to 15%. In turn, there is no need to exaggerate eating, but not consuming the required additional calories will result in a feeling of exhaustion.
Cycling Nutrition – Before, During and After the Ride
3 Days Before The Ride
Three days before the journey, nutritional emphasis must be placed on carbohydrates. Under no circumstances should any of the other nutritional elements (proteins, fat, minerals, and vitamins) be avoided. Carbohydrates should comprise 70% of the meal’s calories (approximately 8 to 10 grams for each Kg of body weight). Appropriate dishes include:
The aim is to create enough glycogen reserves.
Just Before The Ride
Option A: Well-balanced and scheduled meals
Three to four hours before cycling, eat a meal that combines carbohydrates and proteins. According to the recommendations of the International Society of Sports Nutrition published in October 2008, it is best to consume 1 to 2 grams of carbohydrates and 0.15 to 0.2 grams of protein for each Kilogram of body weight.
Option B: No scheduled meals
When option A is not possible, it is important nonetheless to have a light meal 30 to 60 minutes before cycling. (for example, a light cheese sandwich or low-fat bar). In any case, in the hour before cycling, it is vital to drink one or two cups of water (at least 200 to 300 ml). Ten minutes before starting to cycle, you should eat a high-nutritional-value carbohydrate such as freshly squeezed juice, dates, or bananas.
Eating While Cycling…
After sitting a few hours on the bicycle saddle without the proper nutrition, you will most probably understand why is nutrition important.
Though eating while exercising is generally not recommended, it is vital to eat after two hours, or maybe even sooner, or you will be exhausted and all your glycogen reserves will be depleted. When cycling for more than two to four hours it is necessary to eat 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates for every hour of cycling!
Liquids in comparison to solids are absorbed (and evacuated) more quickly; hence the use of fluids and jellies is more comfortable while riding. Most jellies contain 17 to 25 grams of carbohydrates and 70 to 100 calories. Many of them also contain electrolytes, a combination of high-value carbohydrates, economic plants, and caffeine.
Cycling and Drinking…
Excessive sweating and the accompanying loss of electrolytes requires extra attention to water and salts regime. To increase the fluid absorption it is best to sip a small amount every 10 to 15 minutes. Drinking excessive water without supplemented sodium may cause hyponatremia, which is a reduction in sodium levels in the blood, also known as “water poisoning“. Hence it is recommended to consume (according to the medical literature) a quarter of a teaspoon of salt (1 gram of sodium) for each liter of water.
It is possible to consume the required salts by adding them to the bicycle water bottle but be aware that it might not taste so good. Each person should try to pick the salt that suits him best. I find it better to drink my water without the supplemented salts and consume the required salts by ingesting salt pills. Additional information on why is nutrition important is available at bicycle hydration.
Did you know...?
Did you know that there are fast and slow-digesting proteins?
Examples of food that contains fast-digesting proteins include whey protein and meat while slow-digesting proteins may be found in milk and eggs. Fast-digesting proteins should be consumed immediately after exercise to repair torn muscle fibers while slow-digesting proteins should be consumed before bed to prevent muscle breakdown during the night.
Nutrition While Cross-Country Biking in Higher Altitudes
Biking in higher altitudes (especially above 1500 meters or 4000 feet) creates a shift in the oxygen supply rate as a direct result of the altitude change. The effect of altitude on sports capabilities is a well-researched theme. Here are the main points that show why is nutrition important:
- The effect of altitude on short-burst effort such as sprints and thrusting is beneficial.
- The effect of altitude on prolonged effort is harmful.
Theoretical background for why is nutrition important: some of the physiological changes resulting from high-altitude biking are elevated pulmonary ventilation and elevation of CO2 concentration. Ascending to higher altitudes generally means colder climates. The combination of these two factors affects the oxygen binding (or oxygenation) of the red blood cells. In any case, the proper amount of drinking and carbohydrate consumption throughout the day will supply the best nutritional support.
Five Rules to Proper Cycling Nutrition
- When dealing with eating and drinking while biking, special attention must be paid to biking safety especially when it comes to eating on the bike.
- Pre-planning is necessary before the biking tour. what, how much, and when you eat. This is not spontaneous eating!
- When biking on mountain terrain, eat only after the ascent.
- Place the food in the pocket of your bicycling jersey or any other accessible place.
- For drinking use a cycling backpack with a tube positioned over your shoulder so you can keep your hands on the bicycle handlebars at all times.
Nutrition After Cycling
Many people do not grasp why is nutrition important after exercising. Well, truth be told, proper nutrition is as important after a long cycling session as during cycling. The goals of proper nutrition after cycling are:
- Restoring fluids as well as minerals (salts).
- Quickly refilling the glycogen reserves.
- Reducing oxidation processes and subsequent oxidation damages.
- Repairing catabolic processes.
- Rebuilding muscle mass.
The Window of Opportunities After Exercising
The window of opportunity for eating to rebuild muscle mass is 30 to 40 minutes after the end of a training session. A cyclist should eat a meal rich in carbohydrates that includes proteins as well (the ratio should be 3-4:1 of protein to carbohydrates). It is best to weigh yourself before and after a biking tour.
Proper Nutrition in the Days Following a Biking Tour
Even after returning from a long cycling session and especially when you are on a biking tour (please read more about why is nutrition important in bicycle touring tips), it is vital to pay extra attention to overall proper nutrition:
- Drink plenty of water (see also bicycle hydration)
- Spread carbohydrate consumption throughout the day.
- Restore vitamins - especially ones that act as anti-oxidants, B complex, and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and sodium.
- Eat food that contains vital fatty acids, such as fish oil, olive oil, and walnuts.
- Eat a meal an hour before bedtime to help refresh your morning with a fuller glycogen reservoir.
If you still ask yourself why is nutrition important, then my best advice to you is to go and have a long cycling tour (at least four hours long) without eating before, during, and after the biking tour. So the next time you are cycling, pay extra attention to proper cycling nutrition, and I guarantee you (from my experience) you will feel the difference.
Where to Buy Cycling Food?
If you are interested in buying cycling food you are invited to visit these trusted online stores:
Buying Cycling Food and Drinks on eBay
Books About Why is Nutrition Important for Cyclists
More information about why is nutrition important for cyclists can be found in several informative books. Take a look at these selected books:
and dance like no one is watching."