Nutrition and Hydration

by League of American Bicyclists

The body gets energy from carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for bicycling. Fats, which also serve as an energy source, are important for longer endurance rides. Proteins are used to maintain and repair muscles.

Carbohydrates: Simple and Complex

Simple crabs, also called sugars, are found in fruits and vegetables. They provide quick energy and are in many of the gel-type products cyclists use. Plan to carry some source of simple carbs on a ride longer than one hour.

Complex carbs, also called starches, are found in pasta, grains, breads, potatoes, and cereals. Complex carbs provide long-term energy to adequately fuel you through a long ride. Consume a carbohydrate-rich meal the day before a long ride. A pre-ride meal of complex carbs (cereal and a bagel) will provide a good energy foundation.

Fats Should Be Avoided on a Ride

Fats are difficult for the body to digest and will rob you of needed energy. Eating a hamburger and fries, for example, will overload your body with fat. This will force your body to use energy for digestion instead of for cycling. But fats are an important part of your energy stores for longer rides, so donít avoid them altogether. [Note from MN: Many sports nutritionists recommend consuming protein within 30 minutes of finishing your ride. It is thought that the muscles can re-load faster and easier with in this window of opportunity. This may be an important consideration if you are touring and need to ride several days in a row. After the 30 minute window, continue with protein and carbohydrates (i.e. dinner) (in moderate amounts) for about 2 hours. Try to make some of this fuel in liquid form: milk, 100% fruit juice, water, beer if you are able, to help you rehydrate. Just remember, alcohol tends to dehydrate, so donít over-do.]

Proteins are Important

Proteins, which are found in meats, peanut butter, and beans, should be consumed moderately on the day of a ride. After a long ride, make sure you get some of these muscles builders in your diet to help you recover.

Eating Ahead

Eating spaghetti, salad and bread the night before a long ride is good preparation. Figs, granola bars, and dried fruits are excellent natural sources of simple carbohydrates that will help you maintain energy during your ride. Bananas are a bicyclistís mainstay. They provide necessary crabs as well as potassium and other vitamins that your body uses in large amounts while bicycling. Plan to snack a little every 20 minutes.


You will perspire more heavily than normal while bicycling. Dehydration, or loss of body fluid, is a serious condition and should be avoided. Try to consume more water than normal the day before your ride. This will super-hydrate your body in preparation for the ride. During the ride, drink the equivalent of one water bottle (20 oz.) in small amounts each hour or every 12 to 14 miles. Electrolyte (sport) drinks can greatly improve your riding enjoyment. If the weather is exceptionally hot and humid, increase the amount you drink and drink more often, alternating water and sports drinks.

If you find yourself feeling light-headed and ill on a very hot day, if you have ridden for a couple of hours and have not urinated, or if your skin feels cold and you get goose bumps, you may be experiencing dehydration. Get off your bike in some shade and re-hydrate before continuing your ride.

The best option for an enjoyable ride is to eat and drink at a slow, steady pace, Plan when and what you will consume and you will find that your muscles will enjoy the ride as much as you will.

The Basic Rule Of Bicycling Is:
Eat before you are hungry
And drink before you are thirsty.

Reprinted from League of American Bicyclists "Smart Cycling/Traffic Skills 101". For more information on good cycling tips, see How You Can Ride Better.
For more information about the League of American Bicyclists, visit their web site,, or e-mail them at

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