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.


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

Can Beta-Alanine Enhance Cycling Performance?

Beta-alanine (ß-alanine) has been a supplement in the holster of many endurance and power athletes alike for its purported ability to improve muscular strength, power output, as well as improve anaerobic and aerobic endurance (1).  ß-alanine does this by buffering the accumulation of hydrogen ions.  This prevents muscle blood pH from lowering and acidosis (burning in your muscles) occurring due to its ability to raise the carnosine levels present in the muscles.  If I just lost you there, or for more background on this idea, please review my blog post regarding lactate.  So, this all sounds great and the big-words scientists like to use make it sound legit, but does the research back it up?

Research Regarding ß-Alanine

The majority of the research I uncovered regarding ß-alanine has been extremely positive.  Hobson et al. (2) performed a meta-analysis of studies done regarding ß-alanine and found that time to exhaustion during a cycling capacity test performed at 110% of max power improved by 11.8% as compared to the placebo group.  They also state that the most significant improvements lie within the 1-4 minute ranges.  So, short steep climbs, cyclocross run-ups, turns in a criterium, track racing, etc. will significantly improve with ß-alanine supplementation.

What about exercise lasting longer than 4 minutes?  Smith et. al (3) demonstrated >90 seconds longer time to exhaustion during a 20 minute ramped cycling test compared to the placebo group.  This also translates to other sports; a ß-alanine supplemented group of competitive rowers was able to perform a 2,000m row 4.3 seconds faster compared to the placebo group!  This is a significant improvement, especially because these were highly competitive and well-trained athletes.  So, even though the improvements are not huge with exercise lasting >4 minutes during ß-alanine supplementation, there are still gains to be realized, especially at the elite end of sports.

Let’s put this all together then, the research behind ß-alanine shows that it (1,2,3,4):

  • Improves muscle carnosine levels which can act as a pH buffer and postpone acidosis.
  • Improves exercise performance mainly with activities lasting 1-4 minutes, but there is some positive research regarding exercise lasting >4 minutes.  More research needs to be done regarding it’s efficacy for longer duration exercise however.
  • Improves time to exhaustion by delaying neuromuscular fatigue.
  • Is viewed to be safe to supplement within healthy populations and at recommended doses with the only reported side-effect being paraesthesia (tingling).  This will improve and eventually go away over time and with continued supplementation.
  • Has anti-oxidant and immune boosting properties.

Proper Dosing of ß-Alanine

Dosing of ß-alanine has differed with every research article slightly, but generally each one I have read states to supplement with 2g 2-4 times daily for a total of 4-8g.  This should be done for a minimum of 2 weeks to improve muscle carnosine levels by 20-30%, but ideal supplementation time is 4-6 weeks with muscle carnosine levels shown to increase 40-60% compared to baseline (5).  There have been no long-term studies done regarding long-term supplementation (>6 weeks) of ß-alanine, but the general consensus seems to be that it is safe and after the initial loading phase of the first 4-6 weeks, higher muscle carnosine levels can be maintained with a maintenance dose of 2-3 grams per day.

So, can ß-alanine boost your cycling performance?  YES!

Ideally, ß-alanine should be loaded with 2g 2-4 times per day for a total dose of 6-8g for the first 4 weeks.  This will increase muscle carnosine concentrations by 40-60% and can be maintained with a 2-3g dose once per day.  The increase of muscle carnosine acts as a Hydrogen buffer and prevents acidosis as well as delaying neuromuscular fatigue for activities lasting 1-4 minutes especially, but has been shown to improve time to exhaustion for activities lasting >20 minutes.  The long-term dosing of ß-alanine has not been studied, but is generally viewed as being safe.  Remember to expect paraesthesia (tingling) when first supplementing with ß-alanine which will go away over time and with continued supplementation.

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(1) Balcombe, S. (2007, June 28). Beta-Alanine: Science Meets Real World Results! Retrieved January 6, 2016, from http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/beta_alanine.htm
(2) Hobson, R., Saunders, B., Ball, G., Harris, R., & Sale, C. (2012). Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: A meta-analysis.Amino Acids, 25-37.
(3) Smith AE, Walter AA, Graef JL, Kendall KL, Moon JR, Lockwood CM et al.. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation and high-intensity interval training on endurance performance and body composition in men; a double-blind trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009; 6:5.
(4) Trexler, E., Smith-Ryan, A., Stout, J., Hoffman, J., Wilborn, C., Sale, C., . . . Antonio, J. (2015). International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
(5) Baguet A, Reyngoudt H, Pottier A, Everaert I, Callens S, Achten E et al.. Carnosine loading and washout in human skeletal muscles. J Appl Physiol. 2009; 106(3):837-42.

What should I eat during my ride?

This is a common question I receive from athletes in all areas of endurance sports as well as something I have always been personally interested in.  I have tried many supplements, sports drinks, gels, and other items that claim to “enhance your athletic performance immediately!” that usually come with a money back guarantee if you return it in an unopened package (yeah, I don’t get how you’re supposed to gauge it’s efficacy by not opening the package either!).  I will first discuss what the sports nutritionists and research say, then give some personal recommendations based off of both mistakes and victories that I have had nutritionally.

What does the research say?

If we remember from a previous post regarding what to eat before a ride, we have approximately 1500-2000 calories of stored energy before we even begin exercising (as long as you did a good job recovering after your last workout).  So, any exercise that will last >90 minutes is going to require additional energy so you don’t bonk.  With that being said, here is what the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (1) has to say:  (CHO = Carobohydrate, PRO = Protein)

1. Prolonged exercise (> 60 – 90 min) of moderate to high intensity exercise will deplete the internal stores of energy, and prudent timing of nutrient delivery can help offset these changes.


2. During intense exercise, regular consumption (10 – 15 fl oz.) of a carbohydrate/electrolyte solution delivering 6 – 8% CHO (6 – 8 g CHO/100 ml fluid) should be consumed every 15 – 20 min to sustain blood glucose levels.


3. Glucose, fructose, sucrose and other high-glycemic CHO sources are easily digested, but fructose consumption should be minimized as it is absorbed at a slower rate and increases the likelihood of gastrointestinal problems.


4. The addition of PRO (0.15 – 0.25 g PRO/kg/day) to CHO at all time points, especially post-exercise, is well tolerated and may promote greater restoration of muscle glycogen when carbohydrate intakes are suboptimal.

So, if we boil everything down and forget about the brands we like and consume, during intense exercise we need to be drinking 1/3rd of a 26oz water bottle every 15-20 minutes that should not be filled with just water, but contain 6-8g of carbohydrates (preferably high glycemic to prevent stomach issues) as well as some electrolytes to offset what we lose in our sweat.  Remember to always be drinking and if necessary set an alarm on your Garmin to sound every 15-20 minutes to remind you.  Losing only 2% of your body weight through sweat can spell disaster and serious decreases in athletic ability!

As far as solid food goes, you want to aim to ingest 15 grams of protein as well as 45 grams of carbohydrates every hour for exercise >90 minutes in length.  You can get this done via just liquid (Perpetuem for example) or a combination of solid foods and liquids.  Experiment with what works best for you and your stomach and, as always, NOTHING new on race day!  For exercise lasting <90 minutes just focus on carbohydrate/electrolyte replacement and hydration.

What is my plan of attack?

If I am exercising for >90 minutes and I will be riding with a jovial group or solo I will try to pack real food into my jersey pockets.  Some of my standbys are, dates, dried mangoes, rice cakes, PB&J sandwiches, and stroopwafels.  If I will be racing >90 minutes then efficiency and safety are paramount and I will slide a gel or 2 under each bib-short leg so I don’t have to take my hands off my handlebars to reach into my jersey pocket.  Make sure you push the gel back down to the bottom before you open it so it doesn’t get literally EVERYWHERE :-).  I have seen others lick and stick Clif Shot Bloks to their top tube and just take 1 or 2 off every 30 minutes to pop into their mouths.  This just weirds me out on many levels, but hey different strokes for different folks, right?

Hydration is dependent upon how hot the day is.  If it is >80 degrees I will drink EFS.  If it is <80 degrees I stick to good old Skratch.  The reason for the switch in the heat is because EFS contains more electrolytes compared to Skratch.  I sweat a tremendous amount of salt no matter how acclimated my body gets to the heat and EFS helps me replace the sodium lost.   If it is <40 degrees I heat the water before I put it in my insulated bottles which helps me stay a lot warmer.

So, what should you eat during your ride?  If your ride is <90 minutes just focus on replacing carbohydrates/electrolytes and keeping hydrated.  If your ride is >90 minutes, strive to consume 15 grams of protein and 45 grams of carbohydrate every hour.  There are many ways to skin a cat (so the saying goes) so be sure to practice your fueling strategy so it is optimized BEFORE race day.

Further reading: Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition

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


(1) Kreider, R., Almada, A., Antonio, J., Broeder, C., Earnest, C., Greenwood, M., . . . Ziegenfuss, T. (n.d.). ISSN Exercise & Sport Nutrition Review: Research & Recommendations. J Int Soc Sports Nutr Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 1-1.

What is the deal with beet-juice and endurance athletes?

Beets, and beet-juice especially, have been a kind of new Holy Grail for endurance athletes with claims that it can improve athletic performance, increase time to failure during high intensity exercise, and decrease blood pressure.  Beets can do this because they contain high levels of  naturally occurring nitrates.

“Wait Shayne, aren’t nitrates bad for me?”.

I’m glad you asked :-).  Nitrates are found in many things ranging from root vegetables and dark leafy greens (picked up from the soil they are grown in), to cured meats (from the preservatives).  When we ingest these nitrates, our body oxidizes the nitrate into nitrite.  If we consume foods that are high in preservatives, i.e. sodium nitrate, the nitrate continues to oxidize into nitrite, but the nitrite will further oxidize into nitrosamine which is carcinogenic (1).  However, beets and other dark leafy greens contain high levels of antioxidants.  Antioxidants, as the name implies, prevents oxidation from occurring, thus the nitrite will not lose an oxygen molecule and become nitrosamine.


Nitrite, once prevented from becoming nitrosamine, will reduce to nitric-oxide.  Nitric-oxide is an important molecule as it helps with vasodilation, mitochondrial activity, and improves blood flow (2).  These are all great things for endurance athletes because the more our blood vessels can dilate, the more blood can get to our muscles and help shuttle important nutrients and oxygen which will delay muscular fatigue, plus our mitochondria will be working faster to produce the necessary energy.  Almost like adding another lane on a busy highway while at the same time raising the speed limit!

So what does the research say?  Well, I did some digging and found a couple of interesting studies.  Study 1 was conducted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2010.  They took “recreationally fit” (whatever that means) men and women and had them run for 5k on a treadmill, once after consuming beetroot and another time after consuming cranberry relish (placebo).  What they found was the running velocity of the individuals was 5% faster and their rate of perceived exertion was lower after consuming beetroot as compared to the placebo (3).  A 5% increase of speed with less perceived exertion over the course of a time-trial is huge if you ask me!

Study 2 was conducted by the University of Exeter in the UK.  They also found “recreationally fit” men and tested them on 6 separate occasions via a “moderate-intensity and severe-intensity ramp cycle test”.  The cool thing they did was give the individuals different amounts of beet juice (70 mL, 140 mL, and 280 mL) to see what the best dosage was.  What they found was the men who consumed 140mL and 280 mL of beet juice saw an increase of time to failure of 14% and 12% respectively (4)!


That is an incredible improvement in increase of time to failure for short efforts!

With that being said though, there haven’t been many studies conducted on beet-juice and it’s affect on athletic performance.  Also, the 2 studies I selected have extremely small testing groups (only 11 and 10 people respectively) and I wasn’t able to find a study conducted with elite level athletes.

So, what is the deal with beet-juice and endurance athletes?  Well, beet-juice contains high levels of nitrates which increase nitric-oxide levels.  Nitric-oxide helps with vasodilation which aids in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles.  This has been shown to improve athletic performance and decrease fatigue if a 140mL-280mL dose is consumed 2.5-3 hours before exercise.


(1) Kirschner, C. (2013, May 1). What’s the difference between nitrates and nitrites? Retrieved December 12, 2015, from http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/stories/whats-the-difference-between-nitrates-and-nitrites

(2) Bescós, R., Sureda, A., Pons A, A., & Tur, J. (2012, February 1). The effect of nitric-oxide-related supplements on human performance. Retrieved December 12, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22260513

(3) Murphy, M., Eliot, K., Heuertz, R., & Weiss, E. (2012, April 1). Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance. Retrieved December 12, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2270970

(4) Lee J. Wylie, James Kelly, Stephen J. Bailey, Jamie R. Blackwell, Philip F.Skiba, Paul G. Winyard, Asker E. Jeukendrup, Anni Vanhatalo, Andrew M.Jones

What should I eat before my ride?

What you eat before a ride depends upon a few factors including how much time you have before you start your ride, how long it will be, how intense it will be, how long between workouts you have had, and how fit you are (i.e. how quickly you can recover).  Before we get into what you should eat though, let’s talk a little bit about the science behind it…

Glycogen, as we remember from an earlier post, is the stored energy source found in our liver, muscles, and blood stream.  Of this stored glycogen, we have approximately 400 grams in our muscles, 100 grams in our liver, and 25 grams in our blood stream for a total of around 500 grams (1).  This equates to 1500-2000 calories (90-120 minutes) of stored energy before you even get onto the bike.  This storage amount can vary based on your previous workout and how well you did recovering and replenishing your calories and carbohydrates post-ride.  After a long and intense ride it can take up to 24 hours for your body to properly restore its glycogen stockpile.  This storage amount is also why people experience “bonking” around the 90 minute to 2 hour mark if they aren’t eating enough during their longer and more intense workouts due to their blood glucose levels dropping.  So, if you are frequently experiencing “bonking” symptoms, you need to be consuming more carbohydrates during your ride and recovering after workouts better!

How long you have before your ride is the biggest factor in what you should eat in my opinion.  The following are strictly guidelines on what has worked for me in the past.  Each athlete is different and some have iron-guts while others are very sensitive to what they eat before exercise.  You need to experiment and figure out what works for you, remember, NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY!

3+ hours before

Basically I can eat anything I want if I have this kind of time and I try to wake up with 3 hours to spare if I will be racing >3 hours and riding >5 hours so I can get a large pre-meal in me.  Even though I have a lot of time, I will still stay away from foods that are high in fiber, unhealthy fats, and simple sugars.  Think of foods that will give you the “slow burn” and fuel you throughout the ride rather than burn up in the first hour.  I also don’t like to eat foods that I will “taste again” as they are being digested (ew!).

Ideas: Oatmeal, granola, yogurt, bagel, toast, rice, pasta.


2 hours before

This is when the length and intensity of the ride play a role in what you should eat.  If I am racing a criterium or cyclo-cross event (high intensity/short duration), I usually will stick to liquids 2 hours pre-race to prevent any GI issues.  If I am training with low to moderate intensity and for a longer duration, I will eat a normal meal.  I ensure I have a recovery drink / post ride meal with me if I don’t eat much before the race/ride to keep my blood glucose levels from dropping too low.

Ideas: Bagel, rice, toast, fruit smoothie.


1 hour or less before

Basically just liquids for me here.  If I am training in the morning before work I will just have a glass of OJ and hop on the bike.  If the ride is >2 hours I will make sure to pack a sandwich, rice cakes, gels, etc. with me to eat during the ride to keep my blood glucose levels topped up.  Then I will again ensure I get a decent recovery drink / post ride meal in me.  I always try to wake up with plenty of time to eat and digest if the ride is >3 hours long however, so no excuses on your next long ride, get your butt out of bed!

Ideas: Fruit juice.


So, what you should eat before your ride depends on how long it is, how intense it will be, and how much time you have before you start your ride.  Fear not though, if you don’t have time to eat before and your ride will be <90 minutes and not too intense you will have enough glycogen stores to get you through it.  If you are riding longer or increasing the intensity, make sure you get up and eat something high in carbohydrates, low in fat, and low to medium in protein, and give your body at least 2 hours to properly digest it to avoid any GI distress.

Further Reading:

What should I eat during my ride?

What should I eat after my ride?

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


Carbohydrate. (2010, January 8). Retrieved December 4, 2015, from http://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/content/carbohydrate