What Do Cyclists Eat.

food for cyclists

This may sound like a stupid question. Cyclists are like any other people and what their diet consists of varies from one person to the other just as it does in the general population. The question what do cyclists eat should be What should cyclists eat. If you compare the human body to a precision  motor vehicle, the performance is at its best when the fuel used is the best quality.

Depending on your level of cycling what you feed yourself will reflect in the performance of your body. If your nutrition  is high quality you will get better physical output from your body.

Do you know what your eating.

Unfortunately the majority of people basically have no idea about nutrition. They don’t know good fats from bad fats or know how much food they should be consuming to supply the calories needed to function without over consuming. You can often get away with bad eating habits when you are young. As youth passes your metabolism slows down, those extra calories are more likely to end up as fat. Remember excess weight is is a health risk as well as a handicap when it comes to cycling. Having a favorable power to weight ratio improves your cycling performance, the more weight you carry around the harder it is to cycle, especially up those hills.

What is the best food for cyclists and athletes

You can probably read 100 variations of how cyclists should eat and for all their differences if you look closely they follow the same principles.

Consume unprocessed food. Your diet should be predominantly fruit and vegetables. Protein, fats and carbohydrates should be chosen to give you the best fuel for your body. Be careful not to over consume these. Energy dense foods such as processed foods, bars, fast food and packaged food should be avoided..

Many people avoid fats as they consider they are bad for your health, but the truth is your body needs fats to function correctly. Current thinking is our diet should be higher in fat than has been the norm previously. Good quality fats are essential. Choose avocado,butter,olive oil and coconut oil. Check labels, avoid any Trans fats as these are bad for your health and lead to weight gain..

Whats the best ratio of food types

To make it simple, look to filling  over half your plate with vegetables and fruit and some whole grains, one quarter from fats ( olive oil, butter, coconut oil, avocado) and about 20% from protein (meat, fish, eggs, nuts, soy or chicken).

Eating a consistent diet with the ratio above helps promote the body to burn fat for energy rather than carbohydrates. This helps create a leaner body that metabolizes fuel more efficiently.

When training or before a race increase the amount of carbohydrates and decrease the fat/protein ratio.

Carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are processed by the body to produce sugar which is fuel for the cells to function. Any excess not required immediately is stored in the liver as glycogen and or deposited as fat around the body. Only about 90 minutes worth of glycogen based energy can be stored in the liver.

When many people think of carbohydrates they think bread, pasta and rice but fruit and vegetable are a good source of carbohydrate. Processed foods such as chips, cakes deliver high amounts of energy quickly so its easy to overeat these. Your sugar levels rise quickly, your brain is satisfied but  wants more, this is how food addiction occurs. Unfortunately this excess sugar gets stored as fat and over time insulin resistance occurs. This is a condition where the person eats excessively to quell  a hunger which is only appeased by eating more carbohydrate.The body hormones become dysfunctional, stored fat is not broken down for energy, high circulating levels of sugar are not removed by insulin efficiently and the body continues to demand more carbohydrate.

Hopefully if you stay active riding a bike or taking part in any other sporting activity, this condition will never eventuate.fruit meal

Bread, rice and pasta release sugar quickly into the bloodstream. You should limit these as sources of carbohydrate and instead consume more vegetables and fruits as these contain fiber which slows the digestion process and ensures a slower rise in blood sugar. Be careful not to eat too may sweet fruits as these are rich in fructose a type of sugar.

By consuming too many starchy carbohydrates you are teaching your body to burn sugar as fuel rather than fat. By deceasing the amount of starchy food you eat your body will become efficient at burning fat which will enable you to ride for longer and burn up those fat stores.

Protein;

Protein is broken down during digestion to amino acids which are the building blocks of life.These are required to repair muscle and tissue. This is important especially after a hard ride.Sufficient protein will enable your body to repair any damage so limit muscle aches and pain.

Protein is also used as an alternate fuel source by the body especially if glycogen levels are low. The amino acids in protein are found to increase endurance limit mood and brain function during endurance events.

Protein helps curb your appetite and increase your metabolism helping you to become a leaner athlete. Remember nuts and seeds are a rich source of protein and can be used as a subsitute for animal proteins.

Fats

Just remember fats are not bad for you. Bad fats are bad for you. Avoid trans fats ( hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable fats) like the plague. Your body doesn’t know how to process these and they end up as fat  stored in your body. Unfortunately trans fats have been a common ingredient in most processed foods.

Stick with olive oil, pure butter,avocado, fish oil, flax seed or nut oils.

Conclusion

What do cyclists eat.? Cyclists like anyone else should eat a diet of predominantly unprocessed foods. Plenty of fruits and vegetables, a smaller amount of good fat and quality protein.

Avoid energy dense foods such as processed foods, fast foods, and sweets as these contribute to fat gain in the body and upset efficient metabolism.

By ensuring you fuel your body correctly you will be rewarded with a better performance and leaner body.

If you want to read more on nutrition for cyclists read our article.

Good luck

8 Comments

  1. Emily

    hi Bruce
    what you say here makes sense. Cycling must lead to a significant calorie loss so replenishing one’s system becomes very important or fueling before hand. I think it is very important to have that balance in your diet no matter what but it is especially important to have that balance when you are pushing your body

    Reply
    1. Bruce (Post author)

      Hi Emily, Yes you certainly burn up the carbs.Elite cyclists on those long races like the tour de france can’t eat enough to replace what they burn.They lose significant weight despite eating as much as they can.
      Cheers

      Reply
  2. Jess

    It takes a certain level of commitment to live the cyclist lifestyle, I’ve always admired that. Always in such great shape, lean and mean bodies like swimmers. I had always heard that cyclists load up on carbs before a race, I know enough about nutrition to realize that means complex carbs not simple carbs, but it’s good you clarified that for those who may not. Also I love the fact that you focus on the benefits of good quality healthy fats. Bravo! They are so essential to many functions not just within the body but also the brain.

    Reply
    1. Bruce (Post author)

      Hi Jess, I think many athletes overdo the carbo loading.Your body can only store 90 minutes worth of carbs as glycogen the rest turns to fat.I’m a fan of more fat in your diet.I’ve been eating coconut oil before a long ride and it seems to be beneficial.
      Cheers
      Bruce

      Reply
  3. Derek

    Like the article. Sounds like what I eat except the grains. My plate is half vegetables, then meat. Usually the fat is on the vegetables or the meat is cooked in it. Skin on chicken thighs fried in coconut oil is so delicious and crispy. Eating this way has caused me to lose around 35 inches total in 7 weeks.

    Reply
    1. Bruce (Post author)

      I believe you, i have seen people loose huge amounts by cutting out grains and sticking with protein, vegetables and saturated fats.I think that diet is fundamentally sound. If you go back a few thousand years which is nothing in the span of evolution, humans were eating fruit,nuts,seeds,meat and plants and had evolved eating such a diet.The human body hasn’t changed since but the diet has, with its negative health consequences. Congratulations on your journey.

      Reply
  4. Jason Thomas

    Hi Bruce, really nice site. I used to be a cyclist but my bike was stolen a few years back and I’ve not been in a position to replace it.

    Due to losing the bike I gained a massive amount of weight and became very unhealthy very quickly, I went on a low carb diet and lost 80 lbs in weight and 10 inches off my waistline. So I can personally vouch for your nutritional advice here, you’re bang on the money.

    I congratulate you on a well presented and comprehensive site:)

    Jay

    Reply
    1. Bruce (Post author)

      Thanks Jay,Perhaps you could pick up a used bike fairly cheaply and get back into cycling.Well done with the weight loss.I think reducing carbohydrates and sugar is the answer as you have shown, great effort.
      Bruce

      Reply

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