Basic Nutrition and Hydration Tips for Cyclists

Nutrition tips for cyclists

Verywell / Zackary Angeline

The combination of cyclists' nutrition and hydration play vital roles in athletic performance, as they feed developing muscles, sustain endurance and energy levels, help prevent illness, and decrease recovery times. Athletes should understand their nutritional needs during every stage of cycling, from training to race day to post exercise.

Whether you are new to the sport of cycling or spend every weekend on long rides and shopping for swanky riding gear, spending time educating yourself on nutrition and hydration are necessary components of a cycling. They help you become the best cyclist you can. Here is what you need to know.

Why Nutrition and Hydration Matter

Cyclists often fail to create a proper nutrition and hydration strategy, which can lead to dehydration,
increased core body temperatures, and vulnerability to major illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and hyponatremia. At best, a loss of hydration can cause an athlete to lose needed electrolytes, and this affects short-term memory, attention, focus, and fatigue.

By maintaining proper carbohydrate, electrolyte, and fluid intake, cyclists can maintain carbohydrate oxidation and keep their central nervous system in top shape. This makes training and racing easier on the body and improves recovery time, allowing athletes to get back in the saddle faster.

Nutrition For Cyclists 

A cardio workout like cycling requires a larger number of calories for sustained energy than if you were spending the day at home relaxing. Here are some things to consider as you develop an appropriate eating plan to support your cycling workouts.

Pre-Ride

Carbo loading is real; this technique maximizes muscle glycogen storage when you cycle for longer than 1.5 hours. It also delays fatigue by about 20% and improves your overall performance by 2 to 3%. For rides longer than 1.5 hours, you should consume 10 to 12 grams of carbs per kilogram of body mass (one pound equals 0.45 kilograms) 36 to 48 hours before you begin cycling. More recent research shows that it is possible to maximize glycogen stores within 24 hours.

For 1-hour to 1.5-hour rides, pre-exercise heavy carbo loading does not have any advantage, according to research. Significant glycogen levels remain in the muscle. You should consume about 7 to 12 grams of carbs per kilogram of body mass 24 hours before the ride (a moderate level).

During the Ride

You should start your ride prepared with how and when you will eat. Studies have found that planning a nutritional strategy rather than "winging it" lead to faster time trials among non-elite cyclists.

For high-intensity rides that extend beyond 90 minutes, riders should be consuming 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates in a 6 to 8% carbohydrate-electrolyte solution (about 8 to 12 fluid ounces) every 10 to 15 minutes throughout the ride. More specifically, the carbohydrate breakdown should be 1 to 1.2 maltodextrin to 0.8 to 1 fructose ratio for the greatest carbohydrate oxidation.

If carbohydrate intake is not adequate, then adding some protein will help with improving performance, preventing muscle damage, rebuilding glycogen stores, and maintaining normal blood sugars in the blood. Sodium is also vital during long durations or exercise, so it is recommended to consume 300 to 600 milligrams per hour.

Training is the best time to experiment with foods. You can try any mix of carbs to see what staves off hunger pains and keeps your energy level high.

Post-Ride

When rapid recovery is truly needed—such as in the instance of two cycling events in one day—carbohydrate consumption needs to meet the exercise needs. However, if the goal is for rapid restoration of glycogen stores and inadequate carbohydrates are being consumed, then aggressive post-exercise carbohydrate consumption is needed.

You should try to eat 0.6 to 1 gram of carbohydrates per kilogram of weight within 30 minutes of finishing your exercise and then again every two hours for the next four to six hours. Alternatively, you can consume 1.2 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of weight every 30 minutes over the course of 3.5 hours. Adding protein to glycogen store recovery becomes important when the ingestion of carbohydrates is lower than 1.2 grams per kilogram of weight per hour.

Hydration For Cyclists 

For cycling enthusiasts, staying hydrated is the difference a good ride and a slog. Here are a few hydration recommendations to consider.

Pre-Ride

For hydration, it is best to consume about 500 milliliters or about 2 cups of fluids or sports drinks the night before your ride. Then, another 2 cups of fluids upon waking and another 2 to 2 1/2 cups of cool fluids or sports drinks 20 to 30 minutes before exercising.

During the Ride

As mentioned in the nutrition section, you should be consuming carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions of 6 to 12 fluid ounces every 10 to 15 minutes. With cycling, you can take small sips from a water bottle you keep on your bike that is filled with either water or your preferred sports drink.

Research has shown that letting thirst guide you in drinking leads to dehydration in hot climates. You should consistently drink throughout the exercise and not let yourself get thirsty.

Post-Ride

During your post-ride, weigh yourself. For every pound lost, you should be consuming 3 cups of water. Athletes may need to train themselves to consume large amounts of fluids. Additionally, consuming fluids with carbohydrates and sodium may further enhance rehydration.

A recent study found that athletes lost less water weight when they drank a sports drink post-exercise than those who only drank water. The sports drink assists in restoring muscle glycogen. If you mix your own sports drink, researchers recommend using alkaline water as this has shown to potentially offer hydration advantages after exercise.

When to Speak With a Registered Dietitian 

Bringing a registered dietitian into your nutrition conversation could prove useful. In a recent study, athletes who used a registered dietitian reduced their intake of high-calorie and low-nutrient-dense foods and consumed improved nutrition post-exercise when compared with previous food intake. The study’s researchers suggest that dietary plans and eating strategies offered by registered dietitians could lead to better overall performance and recovery.

Reasons to See a Dietitian

If any of these apply to you, considering a session with a registered dietitian could prove beneficial:

  • Do not see results from changes to your diet
  • Feel extremely fatigued after moderate-level rides
  • Do not recover well
  • Have lingering nutrition questions in which you cannot find evidence-based answers
  • Need to revamp your nutritional strategy based on more aggressive cycling goals

A Word from Verywell

Nutrition and hydration are essential components of training and post-exercise for any cyclist, whether you compete in races or are a weekend rider. You need to understand what your body requires to train and recover, which comes with practice.

Experiment with your diet to see what works best for you as well as utilize water and sports drinks for your hydration to find what works best for your body. Everyone is unique and has individual needs.

If you are new to cycling, speak to a healthcare provider. They can evaluate your fitness level and medical history and let you know what is right for you. You also may want to work with a registered dietitian. They can help you develop meal plans the support your cycling efforts.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What nutrients does a cyclist need?

    Cyclists need a mix of fluids, carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. It is best to eat a balanced diet while focusing on your unique nutritional needs when you are training. Depending on your sport goals, you can try a combination of foods during training to determine what works best for you.

    Riders engaging in high intensity rides that extend beyond 90 minutes should be consuming 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates in a 6 to 8% carbohydrate-electrolyte solution (about 6 to 12 fluid ounces) every 10 to 15 minutes throughout the cycling.

  • Are bananas good for cyclists?

    Bananas are good for cyclists because they are both healthy and provide necessary potassium. A study compared the effect of eating bananas with a 6% carbohydrate drink on a 75-kilometer cycling ride.

    Researchers took blood samples pre-, immediately post-exercise, and 1-hour post-exercise. They found consuming a carb drink or a banana resulted in similar blood glucose, oxidative stress, and performance level.

  • Is caffeine good for cycling?


    Research has shown that caffeine consumption 90 minutes prior to exercise has consistently improved performance by 2 to 4% when 3 to 8 milligrams per kilogram of weight has been consumed. At higher altitudes, 4 to 6 milligrams per kilogram of weight is recommended.


6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed
Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, is a certified personal trainer, freelance writer, and author of "Growth Mindset for Athletes, Coaches and Trainers."