Step 1. Carb loading
Carbohydrates are your body’s best source of fuel, so you want to make sure you’ve given it a plentiful supply before rolling over the start line.
For the 48 hours before the event, base all of your meals around carbohydrates and have carbohydrate snacks throughout the day. Breakfast can be cereals, bread, fruit, and yogurt. For lunch, go with sandwiches, jacket potato, pasta salad, and/or wraps. And for dinner, try to eat something rice-based, pasta, or lean meat with potatoes. Treat yourself with yogurt and fruit for desert.
Energy drink, dried fruits, and cereal bars can all be used for snacks throughout the day.
Step 2. Race day morning
Have a good carbohydrate-based breakfast two hours before the start. Your aim should be to have at least two servings from the following list: cereal with toast and jam, porridge with fruit juice, and cereal bars and yogurt.
Step 3. Mid-ride refuel
Your body stores energy as glycogen in the liver or muscles, but these supplies only last for roughly 90 minutes of exercise. To stop your energy levels depleting, you want to constantly top up on fuel throughout the ride. Don’t worry about the first 45 minutes, but from there you need to ingest around 60g of carbs every hour (the maximum amount an average body can absorb).
Sports energy drinks, gels, bars, or other easy-to-digest carb snacks are great for maintaining your energy stores, as they’re designed for easy digestion and quick absorption. If you’d rather go the traditional route, cereal bars, small wrap sandwiches with low-fat fillings, and dried fruit are all excellent alternatives.
Step 4. Avoid temptation
Feed stops are often filled with tempting things to eat, but be aware that these are not always ideal ride food. Foods such as cake, biscuits, pastries, crisps or sandwiches containing cheese and/or containing mayonnaise may taste great, but they’re high in fat and will sit heavy in your stomach, taking time to digest. This can make your following 10-15 miles after the stop quite uncomfortable.
Step 5. Post-ride recovery
After your ride you need to replace muscle glycogen by eating carbohydrate, and protein to help repair muscle damage. High glycaemic index carbs are best, so we’re talking scrambled eggs on white toast, rice with chicken and vegetables or tuna pasta.
Should I eat before an early morning ride and if so, what should I opt for?
You should eat where possible before your morning ride; especially if it is a longer session (1 hour in duration) or a high-intensity session. The body uses carbohydrate stores (quickly broken down to energy) for high-intensity work, and if cycling having not eaten breakfast you may not be able to maintain the quality of exercise. Due to the body’s position on the bike, riders generally find it easier to tolerate food closer to cycling, though you should try a few strategies and see what works best for you.
Here are two morning situations to plan for:
The early riser – if you wake up 2 hours before your cycle, good options include:
Straight out of bed – if you prefer to get straight out on the bike, the following, quickly-digested, options are good options for you:
If you can’t tolerate any food before your ride, or prefer not to eat, try increasing the carbohydrate portion of your evening meal the night before, as this will be stored in the muscles (as glycogen) ready for your morning session.