Road Cycling

Don't try anything new on race day. Always experiment with types and timing of food and fluid intake during training. Road cycling has a reputation for the widespread use of all kinds of supplements. Often there is no scientific justification and the supplements are usually not necessary. For advice on supplements for cycling, make an appointment with an expert – an Accredited Sports Dietitian.

About Road Cycling

Road cycling is an endurance based sport that involves both team and individual events, with racing over one or multiple days. The majority of training is completed on the road, with elite level cyclists covering distances from 400 – 1000 km per week. Wind trainer and weight sessions may also be included in training programs. Recreational cyclists often cover distances of ~300+ km per week, and juggle work, study and family commitments. In Australia, the main road racing season is over winter and shorter street circuits (criteriums) are raced over summer.

Training Diet

Energy needs will vary depending on life stage, training load and level of competition. Cyclists in heavy training and young growing athletes will have huge energy demands and may need to eat up to 6-8 times throughout the day to make sure these demands are met. Fuel for endurance sports depends largely on the supply of carbohydrate to the exercising muscle. It then makes sense that the training diet should consist of sufficient carbohydrate to meet the demands of training. A good quality diet with a wide range of foods from across food groups will also help to provide necessary protein, vitamins and minerals for good health and performance. Part of the training diet will be consumed on the bike so must be easy to carry and not spoil out of the refrigerator (e.g. bananas, muesli bars, sports bars, gels, sports drinks)

Fluid Needs

The fluid needs of cyclists can be high as training sessions may last for several hours and requirements increase even further in warmer weather. Cyclists are often limited to the amount of fluid they consume by what they can carry on the bike. Therefore it is very important to keep well hydrated by drinking water throughout the day and extra fluid after training. If training on the road, plan to refill the bidon regularly (e.g. at service stations or drink fountains), and use these stops as markers of fluid intake.  Sports drinks are can be useful for providing carbohydrate and fluid at the same time.

For more information see our Fluids in Sport fact sheet.

Eating before competition

Eating before exercise will depend on the timing of the event. If time allows, consume a carbohydrate rich meal around 2 to 4 hours before the start. For early races a lighter snack (e.g. fruit, liquid meal replacement, muesli bars) 1 to 2 hours before the start after having a larger high-carbohydrate meal the previous night may be preferred.  If nerves are a problem a liquid meal replacement drink such as Sustagen Sport® may be useful. Begin the race well hydrated by drinking the equivalent 400-600ml of fluid at the pre-event meal and around 200-300ml immediately prior

Examples of pre event meals:

  • Breakfast cereal with low fat milk
  • Canned spaghetti on toast
  • Pasta with tomato-based sauce
  • Toasted ham and tomato sandwich
  • Liquid nutrition supplement, such as Sustagen® Sport

What should I eat/drink during competition?

Cyclists are fortunate in that they can carry food and drink on the bike during a race. In longer races, easily digested carbohydrate-rich foods should be consumed to prevent fatigue from glycogen depletion. As a general guidelines for races up to 2-3 hours cyclists should aim to consume ~30-60g of carbohydrate for each hour of racing. Events longer than this may benefit from carbohydrate intakes up to ~90g per hour ensuring that they use a mix of glucose and fructose to minimize chances of stomach upset. Suitable foods to carry on the bike include jam sandwiches, museli bars, bananas, commercial sports bars or gels. Cyclists do not like to carry any extra weight than they have to, so sports drinks can be an efficient way to carry fluid and carbohydrate together. For longer races, the opportunity to leave additional bottles of sports drink or water at feeding stations may be available – check if this option exists well in advance of race day. Aim to drink 1 to 1½ bidons per hour.

Recovery

Good recovery is crucial especially on cycling tours where the cyclists race once or twice a day over consecutive days. Immediately after the race, continue fluid intake and eat some carbohydrate. If your next meal is more than hour after finishing racing, the following snack ideas are a good source of carbohydrate and protein:

  • 200g fruit yoghurt + jam/honey sandwich
  • 600 ml flavoured milk
  • Fruit smoothie

Soon after, follow up with a substantial meal based on carbohydrate-rich foods such as rice, pasta or bread combined with lean protein sources such as meat, poultry and fish to replenish fuel stores and help repair muscle damage. Maintain high a fluid intake.