What to Eat Before a Bike Ride
What to eat before a bike ride? That’s a question we hear from people a lot! We put together this little guide to help you get the most of your ride. (Remember, everything here is a suggestion and in no way replaces the advice of a certified nutritionist!)
Everyone has different nutrition needs, depending on their bodies and how much they ride. But when it comes to cycling nutrition, carbs are king! How much you need depends on where you’re going—and how quickly.
Here’s briefly how it works: carbohydrate is stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. The body is only able to store a relatively small amount of carbohydrate at a time, which is why keeping it topped up is so important.
What to eat before a ride
If you haven’t eaten in more than 2 hours, grab a snack that’s mainly carbohydrates, with modest amounts of fiber, fat, and protein. A good example could be: a Clif Bar, an apple with almond butter, or a few pieces of cheese on whole-grain crackers.
For a big ride of two hours or more, have a carbohydrate-loaded meal a few hours before you start. The harder and longer the ride, the more carbs you’ll need! You’ll get the most out of your workout if you fuel your body properly.
But don’t go too crazy on the carbs! Cyclists’ diets also need to be varied, including protein to support muscle repair, healthy fats to reduce muscle damage and vitamins and minerals to aid cellular growth and repair.
Try these pre-ride meals: chicken and whole-grain pasta, a turkey and cheese sandwich or a couple slices of pizza topped with a little cheese and some veggies.
How long after eating should I wait before getting on the bike?
Everyone has different levels of comfort regarding eating around exercise, so it’s important to find out what works for you. It’s not as hard to cycle after eating as it is to run or swim, since riding a bike doesn’t jostle you around quite as much.
After a meal, try to give yourself 2-4 hours to digest before a ride. If you just have a small snack, give yourself 30 minutes – 2 hours.
Also consider the Glycemic Index (GI) of what you’re eating. A food’s GI measures how fast it’s digested and broken down into glucose, which your body uses for energy. Lower GI foods, like broccoli, nuts or plain yogurt, give a slower release of energy and take longer to digest. Use these foods for your main meals while you’re training. High GI foods, like bagels, dried fruit, Clif bars and the ever-loved peanut M&M’s, are quickly broken down to glucose and thus available energy. These foods are great to eat immediately before, or during, a ride.
What should I avoid eating before a ride?
For easy digestion, food you eat before riding should be predominantly high in carbohydrate. Eat familiar foods so you don’t run into any surprise stomach issues. In the 2-4 hours before, limit: Excess fiber, fatty foods, very spicy foods, lots of caffeine, and obviously, alcohol! One hour before a ride, snacks should be small, high-GI and low in fat.
What should I eat before an early morning ride?
If you can, try to eat breakfast before a morning ride — especially if you’re planning to do long miles or a high-intensity effort. The body uses carbohydrate stores (glucose quickly broken down to energy) for high-intensity work. But your body uses up a lot of glycogen while you’re sleeping, so it’ll be low as soon as you wake up. If you ride without eating, you might have a hard time maintaining the pace you want.
Here are two morning situations to plan for:
The early riser – if you wake up 2 hours before your ride, you can get in a lower-GI meal. Try these:
Oatmeal with blueberries
Scrambled eggs on wheat toast
Avocado & cheese toast
Straight outta bed – if you prefer to sleep in, try these quick snacks that will digest faster:
Granola bar/classic Clif bar
Peanut butter & jelly toast
Read more about some homemade energy food you can eat before or during your bike ride.
If you can’t tolerate any food before your ride, try increasing your carbs during dinner the night before, as this will be stored in the muscles (as glycogen) ready for your morning ride.
Hopefully these tips shed some light on the murky world of cycling nutrition. Remember, a Wilderness Voyageurs bike tour is a fully supported vacation. That means we do the thinking for you when it comes to food! Just remember to fill out the Food Preferences section on your registration form so we know what you like to eat!