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Cycling: Eating for Endurance

Nutrition plays a key role in attaining peak performance when training for, or competing in, an endurance event. Consuming adequate calories and choosing the proper fuel source before, during, and after your activity can help you perform your best and reduce your recovery time.

Before You Ride

A pre-exercise meal should be consumed 2 to 4 hours prior to the start of training or competition. Carbohydrates are the main energy source for the working muscle and the brain. A proper pre-exercise meal can help top off the body's carbohydrate stores, maintain normal blood glucose during exercise, and delay fatigue.

  • Your meal should focus on carbohydrates and contain 2 to 4 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight depending on individual tolerance.
  • Choose familiar foods that are high in carbohydrates, low to moderate in protein, and low in fat.

A pre-exercise lunch example includes a turkey sandwich, a piece of fruit, one serving of pretzels, and one cup of skim milk.

During the Ride

During exercise, adequate carbohydrate consumption helps maintain blood glucose levels and allows the body to continue to use carbohydrate—the preferred fuel—as its fuel source.

  • Events that last between 1 and 2 ½ hours: 30-60 grams of carbohydrate should be consumed every hour
  • Events lasting longer than 2 ½ hours: Up to 90 grams of carbohydrate can be consumed every hour

These carbohydrates may come in the form of solid foods, sports drinks, or sports gels.

Post Ride

After exercise, adequate carbohydrate consumption replenishes carbohydrate stores and prepares athletes for the next exercise session.

  • If the next training event or competition is less than 8 hours away, 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight is recommended every hour for the first 4 hours after exercise.
  • If the next training event or competition is more than 8 hours away, simply follow daily carbohydrate recommendations.

For athletes participating in high-intensity endurance events:

  • About 6 to12 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight per day are recommended depending on the length and intensity of that day’s exercise.
  • Protein is important after exercise. About 20 to 30 grams of protein should be consumed within one-hour post-exercise to aid in muscle recovery.
  • Endurance athletes should aim to consume between 1.2 and 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day.