Nutritional Tips For Cycling

A bowl of oatmeal with bananas and blueberries

I don't know about you, but where I'm based, winters are brutal, and riding outside is not even possible for a good three months of the year; so what do I do, you're asking; well, I ride inside; yep on my indoor trainer of course.

Indoor trainers have boomed in popularity over the last few years, and it seems like nearly every serious cyclist has one. Whether it's virtual racing, a group ride, or a training ride, indoor smart trainers have got you covered. But what about nutrition and fueling for your ride? Is it the same as when riding outside? 

In short, there are some similarities when compared to riding outside, but there are also a few stark differences when it comes to fueling with correct nutrition. In this article, we'll take a look at the 3 main phases of fuelling for your indoor sessions.

  • Before your ride
  • During your ride
  • After your ride

Let's get started!

Fueling before your ride

An open face peanut butter and jelly sandwich

If you're an experienced indoor cyclist, then you'll know that many of the virtual races on ZWIFT start with a real bang; as soon as the race begins, you can expect to put out well over 500 watts for at least a minute if you want to stand any chance of staying in the lead group. 

Eating a solid meal 60 minutes before you start is ideal to ensure that you're fueled correctly and ready to ride to your maximum power. Some foods are better than others, though, and it's best to keep in mind that you don't want to consume anything too heavy, which can cause an upset stomach, the last thing you want when you're trying to win a race.

Examples of easily digestible foods:

  • Peanut butter and jam sandwich 
  • Bananas
  • Rice Cakes
  • Trail mix
  • Energy bars and gels

The foods listed above are perfect if your virtual race starts early in the morning and you haven't had the time to eat a hearty breakfast. If, however, you are planning on riding in the afternoon, you can have something a little bit more substantial an hour or so before the ride begins.

Foods that are perfect for fueling for afternoon rides are;

  • Chicken salad
  • Foccacia
  • Peanut butter and jam sandwich
  • Ham and cheese sandwich
  • Trail mix
  • Fruit

Last but not least, don't forget to drink. You'd be surprised at just how many cyclists don't drink enough before the race begins, and then they wonder why they "bonked" halfway through the race. Make sure to drink a combination of water and sports drinks and mix in some gels if you have those too. 

Fueling during your ride

A banana and a bottle of water

During your ride is where the main similarities between riding outside and inside can be found; in essence, nothing changes at this phase; the only thing that really changes is your surroundings; instead of enjoying the beautiful scenery outside, you're stuck inside looking at a screen.

Now, if you've fuelled correctly before the ride, you shouldn't need anything more than a water bottle for rides of up to 60 minutes. For rides 60 minutes and longer, you'll need to have some energy gels and a sports drink close by to help keep your electrolyte levels topped up. 

Speaking of topped up, the last thing you want happening during an important virtual race is having your iPhone run out of battery. To guard against this, make sure you have an iPhone compatible charging case. iPhone charging cases are all the rage, but not all charging cases are created equal. Be sure to choose a charging case for your iPhone that is durable and sweat resistant. Be sure to use a charge case and a bike phone mount to keep your phone securely mounted to your bike and fully charged.

Foods perfect for consuming during your indoor ride are:

  • Water
  • Sports drinks
  • Gels
  • Bananas and 
  • Candy

Generally speaking, sports nutritional guidelines recommend consuming anywhere from 40 to 60 grams of carbs per hour. Now this will vary on a number of different factors like physiology, effort, duration, and intensity, but in general, it does serve as a good rule of thumb. 

Fueling after your ride

Food platter including salmon, chicken, grapefruit, bananas and more 

So you've finished your virtual race, and it didn't go quite as planned; still, you did your best and are pumped to do even better next time. But now that your race is finished, you need to start the recovery process or what we call "post-ride recovery."

Post-ride recovery is critical because you need to replenish your glycogen stores, which you have just depleted every last ounce of in your pursuit of a win. Ideally, your post-ride recovery meal should include a combination of carbs and protein to give your body the best possible chance of recovery; because chances are, if you're like me, you're going to do it all over again tomorrow. 

Meals perfect for post-ride recovery are:

  • Protein smoothies
  • Chicken and rice
  • Steak and rice 
  • Chicken and pasta and 
  • Pizza (depending on how many calories you burned)

Whatever you do, DON'T neglect your post-ride recovery as it's arguably the most crucial stage of a well-balanced nutritional plan. Remember to stretch as well after your ride and drink plenty of water; this ensures you're sufficiently rehydrated and ready for your next ride.

That’s a wrap

So there you have it—the three most important phases of fueling correctly for your next indoor ride; the before, during, and after stages. Eating 60 minutes before your ride will ensure you're ready to mash the pedals and perform your best; oh, and DON'T neglect your post-ride recovery.

One final reminder; steer clear of eating anything too heavy, and forget about experimenting with new food or drink before your next virtual race. The last thing you want is an upset stomach when you're only 500 meters from the finish line.

Happy eating and happy riding!!

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