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  Latest update: 4/16/2023

Developing your own nutrition program

(Training, Pre-event, during the ride, and post-event)

The following basic nutrition plan for the competitive athlete is based on an understanding of the principles of the physiology of nutrition covered elsewhere.

To review, the most important of these concepts include:

Having a plan and then sticking to that plan is the formula to ride at your best. It has been shown that if you wait until you feel you need to drink or eat, you are already behind the curve - and then will never catch up. So you should aim for at least 1000 ml of fluid per hour and, if you are riding more than 2 hours, 90 grams of carbohydrate supplementation as well. You can read more on replacement at Sports Drinks.


The following comments are intended for maximizing glycogen stores for competitive events and long distance recreational rides. They are NOT meant as a general prescription for 1 to 2 hour weekend outings. Specific recommendations based on type of ride can be found elsewhere.

First, let's review a few tips that can be of benefit in a nutritional training program.

BASELINE TRAINING DIET (the weeks and days before the event)

PRE-EVENT INTERVAL (4 days to the event)

Your pre event nutrition will be a key factor in avoiding RED-S or the Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport. To do so will mean estimating your Caloric needs for a competitive event (or day's training) and then actively replacing them to avoid the fatigue associated with chronic glycogen depletion.

Although a good breakfast will keep you headed in the right direction, a well planned pre ride nutrition program is key to avoiding RED-S.

You can estimate how many Calories you will need. For the first 90 minutes, they all are supplied from internal muscle and liver glycogen stores. But for longer rides you will need additional supplemental carbohydrate Calories from snacks on the bike (or on their way toward the muscles from a pre ride meal working its way through the digestive tract), or risk bonking.

Let's review the physiology behind choosing what to eat and the four most significant factors that impact an athlete's digestion.

  1. Solid versus liquid - liquids are emptied from the stomach more quickly than solids.
  2. Fat content of the food - fat slows the digestive process and delays the availability of any Calories in the food to the muscles.
  3. Sugar concentration - especially in liquids, a sugar content of more than 10% will slow stomach emptying. (The use of complex carbohydrates, due to the decreased osmotic effect, will offset this to some degree and offers an alternative strategy to maximize Caloric intake to offset the metabolic needs of exercise.)
  4. Physical activity level of the cyclist - the mechanical activity of digestion is slowed by any vigorous activity, usually starting at 70% VO2 max. Except in short, all out events, this is rarely an issue, and it is much less so for cycling than for running where the additional component of mechanical stimulation of abdominal contents from the sport itself slows digestive tract functioning.
The optimal food for a rapid, high energy boost during a ride is a semi-liquid or liquid carbohydrate with minimal if any fat. On the other hand, an endurance athlete, competing at a lower VO2 max., might prefer complex carbohydrates with some fat added to improve taste (generally in a solid form), to slow emptying from the stomach and even out absorption over a longer period of time.

4 days prior to the event

4 hours prior to the event

Based on (paper 1 and paper 2.)

Assuming maximized glycogen stores, nutrition in the 4 hour pre-race interval could give you an edge. A meal high in carbohydrates to top off glycogen stores is essential for all riders. It is the amount of fat in the meal that could change your results.

Free fatty acids (FFA), absorbed from the fat, inhibit glycogen breakdown and thus availability of glucose to supply ATP for muscle cell energy. Energy metabolism shifts from more efficient glucose pathways towards less efficient fat energy production. Being less efficient (fewer ATP produced per molecule of oxygen available than from glucose) total ATP production falls off and the level of maximal exertion possible with pure glucose metabolism alone decreases.

For moderate exertion rides (60 - 80 % VO2max), some fat in the pre-ride meal is not a problem and actually might be of benefit IF carbohydrate (glucose) gels or drinks are started just as you get on the bike. In this scenario the FFAs spare internal glycogen stores which may allow longer multi hour rides before the inevitable exhaustion from depleted glycogen occurs.

But for optimal performance at higher % V02max, a time trial for example, the inhibition of glucose release from glycogen would theoretically limit the number of glucose calories available per minute to power the muscle cells and thus maximal performance.

A carbohydrate loading protocol, followed by a relatively high-fat meal 4 hours prior to exercise and beginning your gel /energy drink supplement program just as you get on the bike is the ideal approach for the majority of riders.

4 minutes prior to the event



All questions and suggestions are appreciated and will be answered.

Cycling Performance Tips
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