8 Optimal Fuel Sources for Increased Sports Performance & Energy

If you’re an endurance athlete, then chances are, you know just how important nutrition is when it comes to supporting your body before, during, and after training. However, did you know that there are some foods that can directly play a role in how well your body recovers and can help give you that boost of energy you need to power through endurance training? Not all fuel sources are created equal, and some foods help to support the body better than others.

We are going to explore eight optimal fuel sources for increased sports performance and energy, and talk about exactly what the studies show and why you may want to consider adding these foods to your diet!

Sports Performance, Cycling, Triathlon, Running

8 Optimal Fuel Sources for Increased Sports Performance & Energy

#1 Quinoa: Complex carbohydrates play an important role in supporting energy levels when it comes to sports performance. Carbohydrates help to replenish glycogen stores in the body after intense exercise. They also provide a quick source of energy before training or before an athletic event. Quinoa makes for an excellent fuel source before or after athletic training as it’s rich in plant-based protein, racking in eight grams per cup. This makes quinoa a delicious post training carbohydrate to not only refuel glycogen stores but to also help support muscle recovery.

#2 Rolled Oats: Oats are another complex carbohydrate option that can make a great addition to your diet when supporting sports performance and energy. Complex carbs that are rich in dietary fiber can help sustain overall energy levels for much longer periods of time than refined carbohydrates with very little fiber. A bowl of oatmeal in the morning with some fiber-rich fruits like berries can be an excellent pre-training meal.

#3 Avocados: Rich in healthy fat, dietary fiber, and magnesium, avocados make an excellent fuel source for supporting optimal sports performance and energy levels. Athletes can enjoy half of an avocado blended into a post-training smoothie or enjoyed as a quick refuel snack between training sessions with some freshly squeezed lemon juice and a sprinkle of sea salt.

#4 Berries: Berries are super rich in antioxidants to help combat inflammation, and are also rich in dietary fiber. Berries can also be a delicious fuel source during training or can be blended into your post-workout shake. A study looked at blueberries and their impact on exercise performance time and inflammatory markers in the body. The outcome was promising, proving that blueberries may help boost exercise performance while also decreasing inflammatory markers. Try enjoying blueberries regularly as a healthy snack or added to smoothies or on top of a bowl of quinoa flakes, yogurt, or oatmeal.

#5 Sweet Potatoes: If you’re a sweet potato fan, keep enjoying them because they are rich in complex carbohydrates to help restore your body’s glycogen stores, and are also rich in electrolytes potassium and magnesium. Sweet potatoes make for a delicious snack or side dish and can be enjoyed with healthy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado to make them an even better pre or post-training fuel source.

#6 Wild Caught Salmon: Intense training can cause inflammation in the body if you aren’t mindful of the foods you are nourishing your body with. With intense exercise, it’s important to consume a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods to help combat any inflammation put on the body through intense athletic training. Wild-caught salmon happens to be a great anti-inflammatory food option that is also rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and protein to help support your body’s energy levels before, during, and after training.

#7 Coconut Oil: Coconut oil makes a great addition to your athletic training diet plan for many reasons. Not only does coconut serve as an excellent fat and fuel source, but the medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil travel to the liver and are used as an immediate source of energy to fuel the body. Studies have also found that lauric and capric acid, both of which are found in coconut oil, are two of the primary fatty acid fuel sources for aerobic metabolism and for supporting athletic performance.

Coconut oil also helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K. It’s essential for endurance athletes to consume enough healthy fats to help the body absorb and utilize these important vitamins.

Lastly, coconut oil may benefit the endurance athlete due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Since intense athletic training can strain the body’s muscles and joints, you will want to do everything you can to reduce that inflammation. A study also found that virgin coconut oil holds analgesic effects, making it a great natural way to help combat joint and muscle pain that is often associated with endurance athletic training.

Try adding coconut oil to your sports performance diet by adding a tablespoon to your post-training smoothie or shake, or try adding it to your cup of coffee for an added energy boost.

#8 Cherries: This tart fruit can make an ideal fuel source for endurance athletes, and can easily be incorporated into the diet. Cherries can be beneficial for athletes for a couple of different reasons. For one, studies have found that cherries can help support better sleep which is an integral part of recovering from intense exercise. Cherries contain melatonin, one of the hormones that helps support a good night sleep. In addition to supporting better sleep, cherries also hold impressive antioxidant benefits, making them a great food choice to help athletes fight off inflammation. Inflammation can be a big cause of muscle and joint pain in endurance athletes, so adding foods to help combat some of that can be super beneficial. Lastly, cherries can help support the immune system, an important part of supporting your body during intense athletic training. Long-term intense endurance training can put stress on the immune system, so it is important to combat that with optimal nutrition. By supporting your body with powerful immune-boosting foods like cherries, you can help reduce your risk of getting sick after being run down from big athletic events.

Sports Performance, Cycling, Triathlon, Running

The Takeaway

So, let’s sum this up. What foods should you be adding to your diet to increase sports performance and energy, and how can you go about enjoying more of these foods on a regular basis?

Here are some takeaway points to help you get started.

  • Enjoy a bowl of oatmeal with fresh berries and a drizzle of raw honey as a pre-training meal.
  • Enjoy quinoa instead of refined carbohydrates like white pasta and white rice. Add quinoa to salads, or enjoy with some dark leafy greens and a wild-caught salmon filet.
  • Enjoy a sweet potato with a drizzle of coconut oil as a quick refuel option after intense training.
  • Add more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet to reduce inflammation and pain and help you train better and longer! Add things like cherries, berries, and coconut oil to your diet.
  • Add a half of a sliced avocado to a post-training shake or smoothie for added fat, fiber, and magnesium to help reduce muscle cramps and support energy levels.

Optimal nutrition is such a key component of athletic training, and can really make a difference in your overall energy and performance levels. Use the power of nutrition to your advantage to fuel your body right and avoid ever feeling depleted. Try adding these foods to your diet to help combat exercise-induced inflammation, support the immune system, and provide your body with foods that will support optimal sources of energy so that you can get the most out of every single training session.

There is, of course, always a caveat with nutrition, and it’s up to the athlete to figure out what works best for them. I advise keeping a food diary and inputting how each food/s make you feel, any adverse effects, etc. You also need to figure out which food/s work best for you in terms of budget, preparation time, ease of eating (don’t eat a burrito in your car!), and of course any potential allergic reactions. Just like anything else, practice = perfect! Over time, and with experimenting with various foods, you’ll find what works best for you, your body, and your athletic performance.


  1. Quinoa VS Rice: Which Foods has More Nutritional Value? UPMC. https://share.upmc.com/2018/04/quinoa-vs-brown-rice-nutrition/
  2. Park, Kwak, Seo, Kim (2018) NCBI. Assessing the Value of Blueberries Intake on Exercise Performance, TAS, and Inflammatory Factors. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6124147/
  3. Thomas Campbell MD. (2014) T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. How Sweet is a Sweet Potato? Pretty Sweet! https://nutritionstudies.org/how-sweet-is-a-sweet-potato/
  4. Lyudinina, Ivankova, Bojko (2018) Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Priority use of Medium-Chain Fatty Acids During High-Intensity Exercise in Cross-Country Skiers. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-018-0265-4#Sec12
  5. Intahphuak, Khonsung, Panthong (2010) NCBI. Anti-inflammatory, Analgesic, and Antipyretic Activities of Virgin Coconut Oil. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20645831
  6. University Health News Daily. Tart Cherry Juice Sleep Solutions: Beat Insomnia with This Natural Remedy. https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/sleep/the-tart-cherry-juice-sleep-solution-tart-cherry-juice-benefits-include-beating-insomnia/
  7. Linda Wallenfels (2016( The Benefits of Tart Cherry Juice for Endurance Atheletes. https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/the-benefits-of-tart-cherry-juice-for-endurance-athletes/
  8. Karl Riecken (2015) Training for Endurance Sports and Your Immune System. https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/training-for-endurance-sports-and-your-immune-system/

The Ketogenic Diet and Its Effects on Endurance Performance

You often hear about the Ketogenic (keto) diet when people are trying to lose weight; often times a significant amount of it. People will often boast about how they lost 10-15 lbs within the first month on the keto diet. For those who are accustomed to eating high-carbohydrate diets, this is normal and perhaps even expected. This is mostly the result of the release of excess glycogen and water that carbs often hold onto. Without the carbs, less water and glycogen is stored in the skeletal muscle tissue. 

But how does this affect one’s endurance performance? Is this an effective dieting methodology to utilize to prepare for competition? Is it an effective nutritional intervention whatsoever?

It’s Not So Simple

There are several studies out there that support the notion that it doesn’t make a difference where it counts. You’ll figure out what I mean by that in a minute.

In a study that tested ultra-marathoners and triathletes, they found out that after performing both a maximally graded incline treadmill test along with a 180 minute submaximal run at 64% of VO2 max, there were no differences between the high-carbohydrate and low-carbohydrate diet groups in the level of muscle glycogen in the muscle after exercise and even 2 hours post-workout [1]. 

Now, this occurred while the energy utilization completely differed between the two groups. In the low-carb group, fat oxidation (the process of fat being released into the bloodstream to be burned for use) was over 2x higher than in the high-carb group.

Okay, well they may have performed similarly, but the low-carb group lost more fat, right? Well again…

It’s not so simple!

Keto Diet

Effects on Body Composition

You’d probably be surprised to find out that following a low-carb keto diet won’t make you lose fat any faster either! To this date, all studies comparing keto diets to standard moderate carb diets, with protein and calories equal between the groups, have shown no fat loss advantage [2]. Researchers postulate that favorable fat loss advantages are often seen in those who follow the keto diet because they also inadvertently increase their protein intake [3].

However, there does seem to be an advantage that the keto diet has that standard diets don’t; it effects appetite regulation. Study after study has shown that individuals often unconsciously reduce their calorie intake when following a strict keto diet, as dietary fats have a greater effect on hunger than carbohydrates do, independent of protein consumption [4]. Because of this, it may be a smart move to utilize this type of diet if you constantly battle with hunger while dieting.  

Should You Even Bother?

Well. that’s a tough question. Because there’s actually some compelling research out there to prove that utilizing it to an extent may enhance performance. 

Without getting too deep into the physiological mechanisms of keto, basically, keto uses an energy source called ketones (once you’re adapted to the diet) instead of glucose for energy. Glucose, when converted to glycogen, is what is normally used for energy from carbohydrate. However, in its absence, it utilizes the next best thing; ketones, also known as ketone bodies. 

These ketones have become available in many sports supplements in the form of salts; often referred to as exogenous ketones. Researchers believe that while utilizing a moderate carb diet, supplementing with these salts may help to increase glycogen replenishment after exercise and help to promote skeletal muscle recovery [5]. In this scenario, we get the “best of both worlds” and we theoretically have energy coming from multiple sources, increasing our efficiency and output. 

But don’t get too excited just yet. These keto supplements are still relatively in their infancy stages on the supplement market. Therefore, more evidence is needed in order to make this a more definitive claim. 

Keto Diet

It Just Doesn’t Seem Meant To Be…For Now

With the current research we have out right now (which is surprisingly limited in athletes), the general trend seems to fall towards a negative impact in several training variables. These include heart rate, level of perceived effort, and overall training quality [6]. This seems especially evident when performing at higher levels of intensity, as one reaches closer to the muscle glycogen utilization threshold, where carbohydrate loading techniques would often be employed.

On the other side of the coin, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here either. Some researchers have trouble understanding why some people are “high-responders” and “low-responders” to the keto diet. For example, a few of the individuals that were a part of a group of ultramarathoners appeared to perform better while on the keto diet. Researchers believe this to be because ultramarathons are more slowly paced than standard marathons, they rely more on fat stores, therefore, making it the superior fuel source [1]. But again, like with all things in research, this necessitates further examination. 

The Bottom Line

I hate to leave you all like this, but that is what I must do. I must leave you with an inconclusive ending.

There’s still much research to be done in this field. There simply haven’t been enough tests conducted and hypothesis’ tested in order to get an in-depth grasp of keto’s mechanisms on performance. But for now, it seems to be leading in the direction that carbs are still king. 

You may hear even more conflicting evidence in places such as social media, with advocates touting how great it is for performance. But remember, what works for them may not work for you. Hey, some people have actually performed better with it. Sometimes, you must treat yourself as your own test “subject” in order to see how these things affect you personally. Therefore, at least you can give yourself some data to work with!

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  1. Volek, J. S., Freidenreich, D. J., Saenz, C., Kunces, L. J., Creighton, B. C., Bartley, J. M., . . . Phinney, S. D. (2016). Metabolic characteristics of keto-adapted ultra-endurance runners. Metabolism, 65(3), 100-110. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2015.10.028
  2. Aragon, A. A., Schoenfeld, B. J., Wildman, R., Kleiner, S., Vandusseldorp, T., Taylor, L., . . . Antonio, J. (2017). International society of sports nutrition position stand: Diets and body composition. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1). doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0174-y
  3. Soenen, S., Bonomi, A. G., Lemmens, S. G., Scholte, J., Thijssen, M. A., Berkum, F. V., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S. (2012). Relatively high-protein or ‘low-carb’ energy-restricted diets for body weight loss and body weight maintenance? Physiology & Behavior, 107(3), 374-380. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2012.08.004
  4. Sumithran, P., Prendergast, L. A., Delbridge, E., Purcell, K., Shulkes, A., Kriketos, A., & Proietto, J. (2013). Ketosis and appetite-mediating nutrients and hormones after weight loss. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 67(7), 759-764. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.90
  5. Evans, M., Cogan, K. E., & Egan, B. (2016). Metabolism of ketone bodies during exercise and training: Physiological basis for exogenous supplementation. The Journal of Physiology, 595(9), 2857-2871. doi:10.1113/jp273185
  6. Burke, L. M., & Hawley, J. A. (2002). Effects of short-term fat adaptation on metabolism and performance of prolonged exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise,34(9), 1492-1498. doi:10.1097/00005768-200209000-00015

Triathlon: Swim, Bike, Run… and Eat?

As an endurance athlete myself, and working with triathletes, I always say that the fourth part of a triathlon is optimal nutrition. Without fueling your body with what it needs, your body may not perform as well as it could, and you run the risk of burning yourself out, both mentally and physically.

While many athletes are incredibly driven when it comes to their athletic training schedules, getting serious about the foods you put in your body is just as important.

In this article, we are going to talk about why fueling your body right is just as important as the training aspect of getting your body in peak shape for a triathlon.

Triathlon, Nutrition

The Importance of Nutrition for Endurance Athletes

When it comes to fueling your body for a triathlon, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. Nutrition for endurance athletes really encompasses what you will eat before, during, and after training. For triathletes, this is super important simply because of how rigorous training for a triathlon can be.

When you train for a triathlon, you are training for multiple different athletic events such as swimming, cycling, or running that will all occur during the triathlon. As you can imagine, your body is going to need some additional fuel to power through these athletic events. Not only will nourishing your body with the right foods help to support exercise endurance, but a healthy and balanced diet can help keep you healthy and reduce the risk of becoming depleted in certain nutrients.

Nutrition for athletes training for a triathlon is also very important for recovery. Since training can be hard on the muscles and joints, it’s important to fuel the body with clean protein sources to help nourish those tired muscles and promote optimal recovery. The body will also require adequate amounts of carbohydrates to help restore depleted glycogen stores.

Nutritional Guidelines for Triathletes

To help support energy reserves, it’s important for endurance athletes to get enough carbohydrates to support energy demands, protein to help repair worked muscles, and healthy fats to support energy and satiety. Adding a variety of fruits and vegetables to the diet can also help ensure that athletes are getting a wide variety of vitamins and minerals to help them stay in tip-top shape.

Here are some general macronutrient requirements to keep in mind when training for a triathlon.

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are essential for the endurance athlete, and they will serve as an immediate fuel source both during training and during the actual triathlon. It’s important to make sure that you are consuming enough complex carbohydrates as carbohydrate depletion can lead to things like fatigue, poor concentration, and poor athletic performance. It’s important to nourish your body with enough carbohydrates to help restore those glycogen stores that may have been depleted during athletic training. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 6-10 grams of carbs per kg of body weight per day. The actual amount you will want to get will depend on your physical fitness level and how long you train. Your body will require closer to the higher end of that range the longer you train and the more active you are each day.

Quality is also super important as you don’t want to consume just any type of carbohydrate. Strive to enjoy complex carbohydrates from things like fruits, veggies, and other fiber-rich options like rolled oats, quinoa, sweet potatoes, or brown rice.

Protein: Protein is going to play an essential role in supporting muscle recovery throughout training and even before, during, and after the triathlon. The general guideline for low to moderate endurance athletic training is about 1.0 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day. For very intense endurance training, that recommendation goes up to 1.6 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day.

Fats: It’s important to get enough healthy fat in the diet for a couple of reasons. For one, fats serve as another great energy source. Although the primary and immediate fuel source for athletes is carbohydrates, the carbohydrate stores in the body are limited to approximately 2,000 calories. During an intense athletic event like a triathlon, your body is going to need fat to help prevent the body from completely burning through and using up those carbohydrate stores. Since there are plenty of fat stores in the body, consuming enough healthy fats during training and as a regular part of a healthy diet can help ensure that your body is going to have the nutrient stores it needs throughout a triathlon. 

Triathlon, Nutrition

What About Nutrition DURING a Triathlon?

Since a triathlon involves three different endurance training events, it’s important to know that as you progress through each stage of the triathlon, your body requires different energy as well as nutritional needs.

One of the most important things to remember is to stay adequately hydrated and to replace those lost electrolytes you will be excreting through sweat. Staying hydrated can also help prevent cramps as you go through each event.

In addition to hydration, you also want to make sure that you are fueling your body with the right foods before the triathlon begins. You will want to enjoy your pre-event meal about 2-2.5 hours before the race starts, and aim for 1-2 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight. It is also recommended that you stick to foods you have enjoyed in the past to avoid introducing anything new that could potentially cause stomach upset. Stick to something fairly bland like oatmeal and fruit. NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY!

During the triathlon, you will also need to continue to fuel your body to support energy demands. It is recommended that athletes consume 30 grams of carbohydrates per hour. Consuming healthy sources of carbohydrates throughout training is essential since carbohydrate stores in the body are limited. To make sure the body doesn’t run out, you can snack on things like sports granola bars or fruit. Just be sure to choose a food source that is free from any artificial ingredients and avoid anything with artificial sweeteners to avoid potential stomach distress.

After the triathlon is over, it’s time to support your body and replenish glycogen stores and nourish your tired muscles with the right foods. You will also want to rehydrate right away. Strive to consume a protein and carbohydrate-rich meal after the event with about 20-25 grams of protein.

The Best Foods to Fuel Your Body Right

So, we know that fueling your body right is an essential part of training and participating in a triathlon, but there is more to eating enough carbs, protein, and fat. Quality also matters, as quality is king when it comes to how well your body will perform.

Here are some great options when it comes to fueling your body with the right foods.

Healthy Carbohydrate Options

  • Rolled oats
  • Brown rice & brown rice pasta
  • Sports bars that are free from artificial ingredients
  • Fruits
  • Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes

Healthy Protein Options

  • Grass-fed meat
  • Wild-caught fish
  • Eggs
  • Unsweetened Greek yogurt
  • Nuts & Seeds

Healthy Fat Options

  • Avocados
  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts & Seeds
Triathlon, Nutrition

The Takeaway

To help break this all down, here’s a reference on how you can fuel your body right when training for a triathlon.

  • Support your body with enough complex carbohydrates getting 6-10 grams of carbs per kg of body weight per day.
  • Aim to get 1-1.6 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day.
  • Consume enough healthy fats each day to help support energy levels and prevent burning through your carbohydrate stores too quickly.
  • Enjoy a carbohydrate-rich meal about 2-2.5 hours before the triathlon with 1-2 grams of carbs per kg of body weight.
  • Consume about 30 grams of carbohydrates per hour during the triathlon.
  • Enjoy 20-25 grams of protein with some complex carbohydrates after the event to help support muscle recovery and to replenish glycogen stores.

Optimal nutrition is such a key piece to athletic training. Getting the right balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat is a critical part of making sure your body is nourished and can make a massive difference in how well you train. Strive to make nutrition a key part of your training plan, and use it as a tool to help you get the most out of your training, be at your best on race day, and recover more efficiently!

If you’re looking to learn more about sports nutrition, create flexible, sustainable, and indefinite habits when it comes to healthy food choices, and have a knowledgable Coach in your corner throughout the process, check out our Nutrition Coaching program.

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Zwift: How to Fuel for a Long Ride

When it comes to long Zwift rides, and endurance training, one of the most commonly overlooked factors is recovery, and more specifically, nutrition.  Too much emphasis is placed on the physical work, and the amazing resource of proper nutrition and its ability to boost performance goes untapped.  Any athlete can slog through a long ride, but it takes true discipline to maximize performance a with pinpoint dietary intake.  Research has shown drastic performance differences between athletes that have the discipline to maintain a nutrient delivery protocol compared to those who don’t.  If taking your cycling to the next level is something that interests you, and/or you are getting ready to break your Zwift ride-time record, then keep reading below!

Intra-Ride Fueling

As you set out for a long Zwift training ride or race, you should be focused on ingesting foods and fluids that will support your glycogen stores.  Research has shown that for extended bouts of high intensity exercise, ingesting ~30–60 grams of carbohydrates per hour via a 12 fluid ounce 6-8% carbohydrate-electrolyte solution, every 10-15 minutes is the most effective means of supporting glycogen stores (3).  Simply stated, you need to ingest close to 15 grams of carbohydrates every 15 minutes—with a drink being the efficient method of delivery and easiest on the digestive system.

Not all sports drinks are created equal however.  Traditional ones are littered with unnecessary dyes, chemicals, and saturated with sugar, but it is super simple to make your own!  For a basic homemade drink, try mixing one to two tablespoons of honey, lemon juice (or any citrus), a pinch of sea salt, and a splash of coconut water into 10 ounces of water.  Get creative and make a drink that meets your digestive and taste preferences by adding in other ingredients.  The simpler the mixture, the less “extra” ingredients your body will have to digest.  Other great sources of sweetness for your homemade drink are maple syrup or pure organic fruit juice mixtures.  I personally prefer an apple/pear juice mixture with pomegranate, YUM!

Speaking of Hydration

Hydration is an often overlooked nutrient during endurance training, especially when riding indoors in a hot environment with limited air circulation and evaporative cooling.  Like glycogen stores, being hydrated is something that cannot occur from one day of increased intake.  It takes multiple days of strategic water intake to properly saturate the cells.  If ingested too quickly, the body will signal the need to expel water which will take vital minerals with it during the elimination process (1).  In the days leading up to your long Zwift ride or race, sip water continually throughout the day, accounting for 50-75% of your body weight in ounces at a minimum.  The amount of water needed is exceptionally higher if you train multiple times a day.

The effects of exercise induced dehydration on endurance performance are well documented with several studies showing that a 2% reduction of body weight can lead to higher levels of perceived exertion, increased core temperature, and increased cardiovascular strain (5).  To avoid the detrimental effects of dehydration, aim to match intake with water loss.  This may require more frequent drinking and should occur before the sensation of thirst arises.

Thirsty Yet?

If an athlete waits for the sensation of thirst to arise before drinking, then important physiological factors have already occurred.  Thirst is triggered by a monitoring system whose job is to maintain a homeostatic level of blood plasma.  There is an ideal value of hydration in blood plasma, and if this value dips below a specific level, the body releases hormones that will pull water from urine and the salivary glands in an effort to boost hydration of blood cells and introduces that terrible ‘dry mouth’ feeling.  These hormones, notably Antidiuretic hormone (ADH), will also shunt off blood flow from the extremities (i.e. legs!) and force it into the core (4).  This sequence of events can reduce your overall power output as blood is needed to provide oxygen and nutrients to those big ole quads.  Therefore, it is important that you are drinking continually throughout the ride and drinking before the sensation of thirst arises!

Avoid Palate Fatigue

Eating the same foods over and over can induce a reluctance to eat or even make some foods unpalatable.  Luckily, there is a huge variety of options out there if you are creative enough.  Dates are an excellent carbohydrate source and naturally have a mushy texture that allows for easy snacking.  They also act as an excellent “adhesive” for creating your ideal in race nutrition.  Try mashing up a handful of dates and rolling them out with a rolling pin, so that you have a date “sheet” or “foundation” about a half inch thick .  Add in some extra flavor layers that suits your digestive abilities.  A solid choice is a thin layer of nut butter, and a thinly sliced layer of a water packed fruit such as honeydew or pineapple.  Once you are satisfied with the contents, roll up the entire sheet and cut the sheet into bite sized chunks suitable for easy access and digestion.

Skip the Fats

Fats have a huge importance in an endurance athletes diet, but when it comes to long Zwift rides, it is best to skip fatty foods like nuts, seeds, oils, and large amounts of peanut butter and its variations.  Riding at high intensity and ingesting fats increases the potential for GI distress and a feeling of nausea. 

Optimize Your Protein Intake

Protein plays an important role in both pre-fuel and post-fuel nutrition for endurance athletes. Proteins play a massive role in the various functions of our body! It has been found that including some protein into your training may be able to help boost fitness performance. However, it is also important not to overdo your protein intake as this can lead to digestive distress. 

Here are some general protein guidelines to follow:

  • During Training: ½-¾ grams of protein/lb. of body weight per day during your training period. The Meal Before Your Event: Two to three hours before your event, strive to get 10-20 grams of high-quality protein in.
  • During Your Event: If you are exercising or training for longer than four hours, it is recommended that you get about five grams of protein per hour to help support performance and replenish your body. 
  • Recovery: Right after your event, you will want to replenish your body by getting about 10-20 grams of protein from a post-workout meal. 


Hopefully the information above has given you to the ammunition to build better dietary habits to boost performance over your next long Zwift ride.  Hydration, nutrient intake, and timing are essential if you wish to take your rides to the next level.  Remember, any athlete can slog through a workout, but it is the disciplined athlete that will maximize every detail to enhance performance!

Why ‘Counting Calories’ is a Complete Waste of Your Time (usually)

In order to become a great athlete, you must train like one, right? Well, yes, but that’s only part of the equation. In fact, I’d say it’s less than half of it. You might have heard the old adage “It’s 30% training and 70% nutrition that makes you win the battle”. I believe this to be 100% true (see what I did there?).

What we put into our bodies has a direct effect on our performance and body composition, in conjunction with our training. Calories, carbs, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, the whole 9 yards; these all play a vital role in the optimization of our training and achieving the body composition we’re seeking. However, if you’re counting Calories and plateauing, you are wasting your time and not creating an energy deficit… Here, we’ll go into the body composition aspect a bit more, and go ‘against the grain’ speaking about:

  • Calorie Counting: Why it’s a complete waste of time (in our opinion).
  • Energy Deficit & Energy Surplus.
    • The Effects of Dieting.
  • Intuitive Eating.

Calorie Counting: Should You Even Do It?

Ahh yes, counting some good ole’ calories. As an athlete, you know you should be doing it. You know it’s going to get you where you want to go. Or will it?

Research that has been released within the last couple of decades appears to doubt the efficacy of meticulous calorie counting. One study that monitored cyclists during the Tour de France event discovered that the relationship between energy expenditure (energy output) and food intake (energy input) was closer after 3-5 days rather than 1-2 days [1]. In other words, the variation of input vs. output didn’t matter as much in terms of weight loss after a day or two compared to a longer duration of time (almost a week long). Therefore, the concept of weight loss or gain should be viewed over the periods of weeks and months, rather than hours and days. The long-term is what matters the most.

Also, there is a significant psychological factor that plays a part in calorie counting that should be considered. One study found that constantly counting calories as opposed to simply eating intuitively (an eating style that promotes “listening to your body” through physiological signals such as hunger and satisfaction) promoted greater incidences and severity of eating disorders [2]. Now, as athletes, it can be assumed that incidences of this would be less than they are in a younger population such as the one in the aforementioned study (which was a college population). However, eating disorders are a very serious matter and should not be taken lightly, especially for the athlete. If an athlete were to develop any type of eating disorder, not only would it negatively hinder their performance, but also would negatively impact their overall health, as it would put them in danger of fatal or near-fatal incidences such as electrolyte imbalances and malnourishment.

Energy Deficit & Energy Surplus

It’s pretty simple; you need to eat in a calorie (energy) surplus in order to gain weight and you need to eat in a calorie (energy) deficit to lose weight. Not that hard, right? Well, it actually isn’t that simple.

The Effects of Dieting

There are several hormones that are involved in regulating your hunger levels. Your body was built to survive, not necessarily thrive. Because of this, it wants to protect you, even if that means costing you your performance.

The two primary hunger hormones; leptin and ghrelin, both act as opposites to one another to regulate appetite. Leptin acts to reduce food intake and increase energy expenditure (happens when you’re full) and vice versa with ghrelin (acts when you’re hungry). Time and time again, it has been shown that calorie restriction results in a rapid reduction in levels of leptin and energy expenditure, thus, an increase in appetite (due to increases in ghrelin) [3].

Surprisingly, one systematic review of weight loss studies illustrated that between ⅓ and ⅔ of dieters actually regained more weight than they initially lost! [4]. This is where the term “yo-yo dieting” comes from.

Okay, So What’s The Answer Then?

So if counting calories and dieting isn’t the answer, then how do we get into the shape we need to for our events if our bodies are just going to fight us back? Just a second, it may be simpler than we actually thought.

We need to think outside the scope of just counting calories. We know that caloric intake over the short-term is unlikely to have a significant impact on our weight. We should only look at our short-term nutrition for the benefits of our training sessions, such as pre- and post-training nutrition. We also know that an energy deficit over the long-term is what will get us where we want to go. But how do we get there?

Food Density and Volume

We need to take into consideration two factors about food; density and volume. A foods’ density is its caloric content, while its volume is how much space the food takes up, more specifically the space it takes up in your stomach. Foods such as fruits and vegetables have a much greater volume: density ratio than higher calorie foods such as fatty meats, pastries, butter, sugar, etc.

Knowing this, we can implement these high volume, low-density foods into an intuitive eating plan. Low-energy and high-density foods tend to have higher levels of water, fiber, and protein content. In fact, those who eat a majority of these types of foods in their diets result in feeling fuller for longer compared to those who ate mostly high-density foods [5]. I’d say a good rule of thumb is to use what’s called the “80/20 rule”; 80% of the time you stick to high-volume and low-density foods and the other 20% of the time you can eat more dense foods such as oils, nut butter, etc.


Give intuitive eating a shot. In today’s day and age of constant tracking; both with our nutrition via calorie-counting apps such as MyFitnessPal and training through wearable technologies, it may seem to be “going against the grain”, which it is. But we have solid evidence to back up why intuitive eating may be the better strategy. So try it, and let us know what happens!

If you’re looking to learn more about sports nutrition, create flexible, sustainable, and indefinite habits when it comes to healthy food choices, and have a knowledgable Coach in your corner throughout the process, check out our Nutrition Coaching program.

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  1. Saris W. H. M. (1997). Limits of human endurance: Lessons from the Tour de France. In Kinney J. M., Tucker H. N., editors. (Eds.), Physiology, stress, and malnutrition: Functional correlates, nutritional intervention (pp. 451–462). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott-Raven.
  2. Romano, K. A., Becker, M. A., Colgary, C. D., & Magnuson, A. (2018). Helpful or harmful? The comparative value of self-weighing and calorie counting versus intuitive eating on the eating disorder symptomology of college students. Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, 23(6), 841-848. doi:10.1007/s40519-018-0562-6
  3. Oetjen, E. (2012). Long-Term Persistence of Hormonal Adaptations to Weight Loss. Yearbook of Endocrinology, 2012, 22-23. doi:10.1016/j.yend.2012.03.060
  4. Mann T., Tomiyama A. J., Westling E., Lew A. M., Samuels B., Chatman J. (2007). Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer. American Psychologist, 62, 220–233.
  5. Buckland N. J., Stubbs R. J., Finlayson G. (2015). Towards a satiety map of common foods: Associations between perceived satiety value of 100 foods and their objective and subjective attributes. Physiology & Behavior, 152, 340–346.

7 Nutrition Guidelines for Endurance Athletes

A huge part of prepping your body for endurance training involves fueling your body with nutrient-dense foods and eating the right foods at the right time. More times than not, nutrition is the last thing looked at when training for an event. So much focus goes into the physical training, that nutrition is often an afterthought. However, the truth is that nutrition plays an equally important role since how well your body performs ultimately depends on how well nourished your body is.

If you are an endurance athlete looking for some solid guidelines to follow to nourish your body for optimal athletic performance, keep reading.

Here are seven nutrition guidelines all endurance athletes need to know.

7 Nutrition Guidelines for Endurance Athletes

#1 Know How to Eat to Fuel Training:

Knowing what foods to eat and when to eat them is an essential part of fueling your body properly prior to training. Endurance athletes are prone to depleting glycogen stores. Glycogen is a type of glucose that is stored in the body, (mostly in the liver and muscles) that is used for later use when it is not needed immediately. Endurance athletes can quickly deplete these glycogen stores if they are not balancing their diet properly before training. This can lead to fatigue and poor fitness performance.

What you consume before training will make a huge difference when it comes to how well you perform and how long you are able to maintain your energy. It is recommended that endurance athletes properly hydrate, and consume a carbohydrate-rich meal a few hours before training or event. These carbohydrates will help to replenish glycogen stores and keep your blood sugar levels stable prior to exercise. A general rule of thumb is to consume 0.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight.

#2 Understand Your Nutritional Demands During Exercise:

Endurance athletes also need to be cautious of how their body can quickly deplete those glycogen stores during long periods of activity. It’s for this reason, that fueling your body during exercise also plays an important role in how well you perform and how much energy you are able to sustain.

Evidence shows that 0.7g/kg/hour of carbohydrate consumption during exercise has very positive performance benefits. This equals out to be roughly 30-60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise.

#3 The Role of Healthy Fats to Promote Exercise-Recovery:

Many athletes get hung up on how many carbs and how much protein to add to their diet, that fat often gets forgotten and put to the wayside. However, fats play a very important role in exercise recovery as well. Fat serves as an excellent energy source and can help you maintain your ideal weight. If you don’t add enough fat to your diet, you may run the risk of losing too much weight, and not being able to maintain adequate energy levels for your endurance training.

You will want to consume healthy fats and make sure you are getting enough essential fatty acids, and consume enough fat to help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins in your diet. Some great source of essential fatty acids include wild-caught salmon, walnuts, flax, and chia seeds.

#4 Enjoy a Balanced Diet:

Many endurance athletes feel the need to supplement to help support their nutritional needs. However, this has not been found to be true if endurance athletes are maintaining energy levels and their ideal weight by getting a wide variety of whole foods in their diet. Athletes who restrict their diets, or are simply not eating enough variety, on the other hand, may require vitamin and mineral supplements to help support their body optimally.

Keep in mind that food should always come first before any type of supplement as the vitamins and minerals from food sources are going to be better absorbed and better utilized than if you were to solely rely on supplementation.

#5 Optimize Your Protein Intake:

Protein plays an important role in both pre-fuel and post-fuel nutrition for endurance athletes. Proteins play a massive role in the various functions of our body! It has been found that including some protein into your training may be able to help boost fitness performance. However, it is also important not to overdo your protein intake as this can lead to digestive distress.

Here are some general protein guidelines to follow:

During Training: ½-¾ grams of protein/lb. of body weight per day during your training period.

The Meal Before Your Event: Two to three hours before your event, strive to get 10-20 grams of high-quality protein in.

During Your Event: If you are exercising or training for longer than four hours, it is recommended that you get about five grams of protein per hour to help support performance and replenish your body.

Recovery: Right after your event, you will want to replenish your body by getting about 10-20 grams of protein from a post-workout meal.

#6 Enjoy Endurance Training Superfoods:

Superfoods can make a great addition to any healthy diet, and enjoying certain foods during your training or even after an athletic event or during race day can certainly support exercise performance.

Some great options for athletes include: Nuts, flax and chia seeds, avocados, dates, coconut, bananas, sweet potatoes, quinoa, rolled oats, dark leafy greens.

All of these foods are incredibly nutrient-dense and can provide the body with energy and essential vitamins and minerals.

#7 Monitor Hydration Status:

While the foods you eat play an essential role in your body’s ability to maintain optimal health for fitness performance, hydration is just as important. Staying on top of hydration is one of the most vital parts of fueling your body before, during, and after training as dehydration can be detrimental to overall health, but it can also interfere with exercise performance.

When it comes to endurance athletes the general rule of thumb of drinking eight glasses of water per day isn’t such a great guideline. Endurance athletes need more than that since we are so active and lose a ton of fluid through sweat. For this reason, we need to replenish what we lose.

Everyone will be slightly different in terms of how much they will need to drink, but you will learn what your body needs if you pay attention to signs and symptoms that your body may require more hydration. Watch out for things like dizziness, nausea, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and the color of your urine. Yes, the color of your urine is a great indicator of how hydrated you are! You definitely don’t want dark colored urine, as this indicates the need for additional water. Pay attention to all of these signs, and up your water intake if you notice any of these red flags.

Endurance athletes will also need beverages that contain some form of carbohydrate as well as electrolytes during training as well as competition. You will want to make sure you are drinking during the period of exercise as opposed to just before and after to make sure you are staying well hydrated and to prevent total electrolyte depletion. Many studies have found that proper hydration will boost performance, so make sure you are hydrating adequately to feel your best.

With that being said, too much of a good thing isn’t always the right answer either. Too much water consumption can lead to hyponatremia as well as sodium depletion. To help prevent this, it is recommended that endurance athletes rebalance the fluid lost through intense exercise with water that contains 4-8% of a carb solution as well as electrolytes.

The Takeaway

The bottom line is that nutrition matters, and it matters in a big way. Your overall athletic performance will depend on how well fueled your body is, so focus on quality and remember to fuel and refuel when your body needs. Hydration is also key, so stay on top of hydration to support better performance and endurance.

Follow these seven nutrition guidelines to further improve your endurance training and feel your best both during and after training!

If you’re looking to learn more about sports nutrition, create flexible, sustainable, and indefinite habits when it comes to healthy food choices, and have a knowledgable Coach in your corner throughout the process, check out our Nutrition Coaching program.

Subscribe to the GC Coaching Blog


  1. Pre-Event Nutrition Game Plan. US. Human Kinetics. https://us.humankinetics.com/blogs/excerpt/pre-event-nutrition-game-plan
  1. Carlsohn A. Recent Nutritional Guidelines for Endurance Athletes. German Journal of Sports Medicine. https://www.germanjournalsportsmedicine.com/archive/archive-2016/issue-1/recent-nutritional-guidelines-for-endurance-athletes/#l37  
  1. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002822309000066?via%3Dihub
  1. Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/nutrition-for-endurance-athletes-101/
  1. Von Duvillard, Braun WA, Markofki M, Beneke R, Leithauser R. Fluids and Hydration in Prolonged Endurance Performance. (2004) NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15212747

MAKING RACE WEIGHT: Strawberry Chicken Salad

This is one of my favorite salads to make in the Spring and Summer when the temperature starts to rise and the strawberries are in season.  It is easy to make, protein dense, low in calories, and always delicious.

Strawberry Chicken Salad

What you will need

  • 1 head of romaine lettuce
  • 2 heads of butter lettuce
  • 8-10 strawberries
  • 1 pound of chicken (I used thigh meat #tasty)
  • Dressing: Apple cider vinegar, olive oil, honey

Prepare the chicken


  • Brown the chicken on medium-high heat on both sides (approx. 1 minute per side)
  • Then, once browned, turn the heat down to low and cover.  Let sit for 10 minutes
  • Then, remove from the heat and let sit another 10 minutes
    • I have not found a better way to cook chicken that keeps it so juicy and tender!
  • Or, if you are pressed for time just purchase a rotisserie chicken and strip it

Prepare the salad


  • Slice the strawberries
  • Rough chop the romaine lettuce
  • Rough chop the butter lettuce
  • Combine the romaine lettuce and butter lettuce in a large bowl and toss to mix

  • Then once the chicken is cooked, pull or cut into bite sized pieces

Prepare the dressing


  • Use an old water bottle/other container
  • Combine:
    • 2 tbsp of olive oil
    • 1 tbsp of vinegar (I used apple cider)
    • 2 tbsp of honey
  • Mix very well!  The honey takes some time to mix with the oil and vinegar

Put it all together


  • ENJOY! 🙂

This makes 4-5 servings so it is a perfect recipe to make on a Sunday and have it for lunch for the week.

Recipe courtesy of: Skratch Labs.  Check them out for all things sports nutrition!

For more information on GC Coaching and how we can help you improve your fitness, please visit www.gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

MAKING RACE WEIGHT: Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Greens

The following is one of my favorite recipes to make if I am trying to cut weight as it is filling and nutritious, but does not have a huge amount of gut-busting Calories.  Plus, it is super easy to make!  ENJOY!

Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Greens

What you will need


  • 2-3 lbs spaghetti squash
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cups of dark leafy greens (spinach and kale are my favorites)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-2 lbs of sausage (your pick here, I used chicken for this go round), taken out of their casing
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil (in last years water bottle, of course!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Prepare the spaghetti squash

  • CAREFULLY cut the top off of the squash
  • CAREFULLY cut the squash in half
  • Scoop out the insides and remove the seeds
  • Place the cut and scooped halves upside down on an oiled baking sheet and place in a 375 degree pre-heated oven for 40 minutes


Get the other fixings ready

  • As the spaghetti squash is cooking…
  • Place the diced onion and minced garlic in a medium-high preheated pan with 2 tbsp olive oil and let cook until the onions have some color to them
  • Take the sausage out of their casing and crumble them into the pan, heat until cooked through
  • Add your greens and let it steam on top until cooked
  • Stir it all together, add salt and pepper to taste, and voila you have your flavor for the dish


Turn the squash into “spaghetti” and mix everything together

  • Remove the squash from the oven, let cool for a little bit, and pick it up with an oven mitt
  • Scrape the inside of the squash with a fork
  • Place the “spaghetti” in a large bowl
  • Add the other fixings and stir well
  • ENJOY!

For more information on GC Coaching and how we can help you improve your fitness, please visit www.gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

What Should I Eat After my Ride?

Eating the rights thing at the right time after a ride is crucial to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to recover.  This post will cover what the science says as well as what I do after my rides to ensure I start my next workout topped up on energy!


Nutritionists have been all about “nutrient timing” lately, for good reason, as your body is more apt to accept certain macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat) at different phases post-workout.  I have also implemented nutrient timing into my recovery plan with great results.  The way I see it, there are 3 phases of nutrient timing…


Phase I is between 30-45 minutes post-workout and some have coined it the “opportunity window” or “carbohydrate window”.  My wife coined it the “Prevent Shayne from getting hangry window” ;-).  Basically, this phase is when your body is ravenous and ready to accept carbohydrate and protein.  The best type of carbohydrate and protein to take during this time are rapidly absorbing ones, so think of high glycemic carbohydrates and whey protein.  You should also think of replenishing your water and electrolytes lost during this period; make sure you finish what is in your bottles from your ride too!

Phase II – The Hunger Phase

Phase II usually occurs for me about 1 hour post-workout and is when my body begins to tell me it is hungry.  This phase can last from 1-3 hours and is usually where athletes struggling to lose weight run into trouble.  This phase will usually coincide with a main meal of the day for me (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) so I will already have something planned to eat.  However, if I am driving home after a race I will be sure to pack something nutritionally dense so I don’t succumb to the million fast-food places I drive by.  In this phase, think of nutrient dense foods that also have a good amount of calories and fiber/fat to keep you satiated for longer.

Phase III – Status Quo

IF you did a good job with phase I and II, all systems normal.  Resume normal eating patterns.

BUT, if you are still ravenously hungry and elbows deep in a bag of Doritos, STOP!  Obviously you did not do a good job in Phase I or II and your body is still trying to tell you it needs more nutrients.  Now, the next few situations have ZERO science behind them (I think) and are just what I have seen in my own experiences…

Situation A: Headaches: If you have a headache post-ride that comes on all of a sudden and is not related to tight neck muscles, or dehydration, try and eat a carbohydrate dense food that is mid-high glycemic.  This works for me and will usually get rid of my headache quick.

Situation B: Lethargy: If you are just feeling meh after a ride, try and eat something with a decent amount of healthy fat/protein in it.  Your body still needs to accomplish its daily activities and if the gas gauge is on “E” you will feel like garbage.

What do I do?

Phase I

I immediately down Ultragen as soon as I walk in the door.  Then, if it was a particularly hot day, I will step on the scale (with my kit on!) and see how much water weight I lost through sweat.  I will then consume 1.5x this amount in fluids making sure to get in some electrolytes to push it into my cells.

Phase II

As I said, for me this occurs about 1 hour post-ride and I will usually just eat the next meal of the day be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  BUT, if I am driving home after a race, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches are my jam!  The right balance of high glycemic (jelly) and mid-low glycemic carbohydrates (whole wheat bread), with protein, fiber, and fat (peanut butter), plus Calories (~400-500) all wrapped up in a portable delivery system.  You can substitute the PB&J for hummus & avocado, hazelnut spread and almond butter, basically anything that you can stomach that is well balanced and will give you long lasting energy to prevent the “Dorito and ice cream attack”.

Phase III

Nothing out of the ordinary, I try to eat clean, whole, minimally processed, and nutrient dense foods at all times of the day.  You can fuel a high end race car with 87 octane fuel, but don’t expect it to perform to its full capabilities, you know what I’m saying?

Bottom Line

Eat quickly absorbing carbohydrates and proteins immediately post-workout with minimal fat/fiber.  Then, transition to middle of the road foods that are well balanced, but still relatively high in carbs/protein.  Finally, make a conscious effort to not eat garbage the rest of the time.  Find foods that you like that are minimally processed and nutrient dense.  Your body, brain, and legs will thank you.

Further Reading

What should I eat before my ride?

What should I eat during my ride?

Nutrient Timing

For more information on GC Coaching and how we can help you improve your fitness, please visit www.gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

How to Lose Weight From Cycling

When it comes to cycling, especially the competitive realm of the sport, the athlete tends to be obsessed with being as lean but also as strong as possible.  This has huge implications in the sport as the lighter and stronger you are, the faster you will be (in most situations).  In order to drop those stubborn last few pounds though, it is necessary to monitor Calories consumed versus Calories expended and ensure there is a deficit.  Of course, this Caloric deficit should be enough to allow for SAFE weight loss, but also not too much so it sacrifices energy and ability to produce power.  There is no more accurate way to judge Calories expended during cycling than by using a power meter.  A power meter has the ability to express how much work the athlete has done during their ride and give them an idea of how many Calories they need to consume to maintain their current weight, or not consume to create a deficit so they will lose weight.  Again, I must reiterate the importance of SAFE weight loss.  I highly recommend seeking out the help of a licensed nutritionist/dietician to have someone to objectively monitor progress and safeguard against any pitfalls, and of course speak to your doctor before embarking on any weight loss program.


You may have noticed in the opening paragraph that I capitalized “Calorie”.  This is because what we consider to be a food Calorie is actually a kilocalorie, or 1000 calories.  Since we are lazy and cannot be bothered to say or write “kilo”, we dropped it and instead capitalized the C, problem solved!

A Calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise 1 kg of water from 15-16º Celcius. (1)

So, a Calorie is actually a unit of energy that the body uses.

Oxygen and fuel are needed for fire and combustion; your body needs oxygen and Calories for energy production and to produce mechanical force.  Compare the human body to a car engine…

  • The car engine needs gasoline for fuel.  The body needs food that contains Calories for fuel.
  • The car engine needs oxygen for combustion and is taken in via the air intake.  The body needs oxygen for energy production and is taken in via the lungs inhaling.
  • The car engine combines the oxygen and gasoline to create combustion which moves the pistons in the engine, resulting in mechanical force that drives the car forward.  The body combines oxygen and Calories, creating energy and heat, that results in muscular contractions and concludes with you applying force to the pedals, propelling the bicycle forward.
  • The car engine removes exhaust through the tail pipe.  The body removes exhaust by exhaling through the wind pipe.


A kilojoule (kJ) is another way to express energy, and in some countries kilojoules are actually found on the nutrition label instead of Calories.  You may have noticed when you upload your rides that there is a section of “total work” that displays the ride in terms of kilojoules.

This is from one of my uploads to Strava, notice the “Total Work” section is expressed in kJ.

So, the power meter converts how many watts we produce (remember that a watt = 1 joule/second), multiplies this by the seconds we produce them, and expresses this in kJ.  Put simply, if you produced 100 watts for 100 seconds you would have produced 10,000 joules, or 10 kJ.  As you can see above, I expended 4,921 kJ during my ride which is another way to say how much work it took to finish it.

A joule is equal to the work done by a force of one newton when its point of application moves through a distance of one meter in the direction of the force.  (2)

Total work done is relevant for training purposes and race preparation.  For example, if you know a rider that is of similar weight and fitness to you and has done an event you are training for, you are able to look back at their previous data and see how many kJ (how much work) it took to finish the event.  Then, with this knowledge you are able to plan workouts based upon kJ expenditure to better approximate the needs of the event, pretty cool, right?

How do kJ and Calories relate to cycling?

Cyclists consume Calories by eating, and expend kJ by riding.  If a Calorie is equal to 4.183 kJ, that must mean for every 4 kJ expended we only burn 1 Calorie, right…?

The human body is an incredible machine and continues to boggle my mind every day, but it is rather inefficient at converting food into mechanical energy, i.e. turning that gel you just hastily downed into wattage to the pedals.  So inefficient in fact that it only converts about 25% of the food we consume into actual mechanical energy (1).  The other 75% is dissipated as heat.  So, the people who say you only burn 1/4 of the kJ expended during a ride as Calories are incorrect.  This would mean athletes would be able complete an entire Ironman on only a handful of gels, obviously this is not the case.

Remember from above, the pedals and power meter are only receiving about 25% of each Calorie we burn due to the inefficiency of the body.  Thus, if 1 Calorie is equal to ~4 kJ, but it takes 4 Calories to produce 1 kJ of mechanical energy, for all intents and purposes, kJ expenditure during your ride is equal to Calories burned.

Weight loss from cycling

Now, armed with the knowledge of understanding how many kJ you produce during a ride is approximately how many Calories you burn we can play around with our total Calories consumed for the day to promote weight loss.  Here is what I do myself when I am looking to achieve race weight and has worked very well for me the past few years…

  1. Figure out what your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is.  This calculator gives you an estimate of what your BMR is, if you want a more precise number here I recommend a VO2 BMR test.
  2. Use a Calorie tracker.  I use My Fitness Pal and find it to be excellent.  The best part is it communicates with many other apps (Strava, Training Peaks, etc.) and automatically modifies your Calories and macronutrients for the day based on your exercise.
  3. Keep your total Calories consumed for the day SAFELY below your Calories expended to promote weight loss and keep this process going until you reach your target weight.  Safe daily Caloric debt is ~500-1000 Calories per day, or 1-2 lbs lost per week.  (3)
    1. Remember though, you also need to meet your macronutrients for the day to keep yourself healthy, help your body repair itself after intense workouts, and make those fitness gains.  So, choose foods that have the highest nutrient density without the added Calories, i.e, you can meet your Calorie goals by eating nothing but ice cream and french fries, but good luck performing at the level you want to by eating that garbage!
  4. Monitor yourself closely.  If you are becoming sick more often, irritable, light-headed/dizzy, aren’t recovering from your workouts, or just plain don’t feel like yourself you may be losing weight too fast or have gone below your weight loss threshold (too lean).
  5. Hire the help of a licensed dietician/nutritionist.  Again, the above is what works for me and most of my athletes, but may not work for you.  As always, talk to your doctor before embarking on a weight loss program and seek professional help if you have any preexisting medical conditions.

So, a kilojoule is simply a way to express energy or work and has many uses in cycling ranging from gauging the difficulty of a workout to helping with weight loss.  Make this the year when you trade that steak & cheese sub for a spinach, beet, and goat cheese salad, drop those stubborn pounds, achieve race weight, look even better in Lycra, and push your watts per kilogram to new heights!


(1) Buccholz, A., & Schoeller, D. (2004). Is a calorie a calorie? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(5), 899S-906S.
(2) http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/joule
(3) http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight