What to Eat on Ride Day

Amateur cyclists have one major thing in common with the elite athletes of the Tour De France: food, or should we say, fuel.

cycling food

What to eat on a ride day is just as important for the enthusiast, or even the leisure cyclist on holiday, as it is to an athlete on race day. While the professional will be following a nutrition plan, meticulously tailored to exactly which stage they’re competing in, many cyclists are just guessing when it comes to what to eat before and during a big ride. 

Now, of course, the calorie expenditure of the two levels of rider is very different. A Tour rider will typically burn through 5-7,000 calories in a day. In comparison, a non-pro, average weight female might burn 500 calories an hour on a moderate-intensity ride, with a 75kg male burning 600 calories an hour. As a result, the two groups have different needs as to how many calories they consume as fuel. But the similarities lie in what – and when – they need to eat to get those calories.

Federal Cafe Girona

Breakfast

A quick bowl of cornflakes and coffee will give you just about the worst start to your ride. While the coffee is a diuretic and will dehydrate you if you don’t sip water throghout the day, the caffeine at least gives you energy for endurance. 

The cereal, however, as well as coming with the cramp-inducing lactic effect of cold milk, offers its carbs in the form of quick-release glucose so is no good for a long ride. You also want to avoid high-fibre cereals because fibre absorbs water and the fluid retention can be uncomfortable.

Instead, eat hot porridge, preferably 90-120 minutes before the ride to give your body time to digest it. Other Tour de France-worthy breakfast fuels are wholegrain bread, pancakes or plain pasta, muesli or rice pudding.

Cycling cafes Girona

Lunch

Here, in Girona, Spain, the land of the cheap and delicous 3-course menu del diá plus wine and bread, it’s tempting to plan a scenic ride followed by a big lunch and the ride home. But your body won’t be as appreciative of the paella as you were. 

As your body attempts to digest lunch, blood goes to the organs, competing with the blood needed to power your leg muscles. You’ll feel heavy and sluggish at best, and suffer gastric problems and nausea at worst.

It’s far better for you to forgo lunch entirely. Instead refuel at regular intervals along the way with small carb hits from easily digestible gels during the early part of the ride and protein bars after 3-4 hours.

Post-ride and dinner

HC Cycling cafe GironaYour focus now should be on recovery not a celebratory blow out, even though you might have burned 3,000 calories or more. A protein shake will help you recover and rehydrate. But if you’ve guaged your fuel intake correctly during the ride, you should be hungry but not starving now. So you can wait for a proper meal rather than whatever you can grab to eat. A healthy dinner with meat or fish for protein and carbohydrates is key to recovery. 

But also, if you’re cycling again the next day, you’re eating for the ride ahead to set up glycogen stores and, crucially, a good night’s sleep.

 

Cycling food

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