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Nutrition For Cycling

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the year

Question: “What should I eat and drink while on the bike and after my ride?”

Diane’s reply: 
This is a really great question. Cycling in the summer and winter months varies in terms of time spent on the bike but the intensity may not vary as much. During the winter months most cyclists are still trying to maintain some aerobic capacity (top-end fitness) and anaerobic threshold (training the body’s ability to work harder at a lower heart rate).

I have put together a table to help you decide what, when and why you should consume certain foods, fluids and supplements.

• For cyclists who don’t eat enough protein in their diet. If you are female the recommended daily grams of protein are based on body weight. The range is 1.2-1.99 grams per kg of body weight. If you aren’t taking in the lower limit of this range through your diet then supplementing with some protein powder in a shake is recommended.
• For athletes needing additional protein in an easy to digest and use form may also use protein powders.
Whey based
Rice Based
• At meal times – in place of real foods if you aren’t able to eat real food on any particular day.
• Between meals – as snacks, if you don’t eat the recommended amount of protein for your body weight (as listed above).
• Post workout – within 15 minutes of workout (glycogen window). This time-frame optimizes the body’s ability to take in, and store the energy it requires for subsequent days of training. If you run down your muscle glycogen stores too much, you will become susceptible to illness, injury and/or over training. The glycogen window begins as soon as you get off the bike and lasts for up to 60 minutes. However, research shows the first 15 minutes to be the best time to consume your post ride shake or meal.
• To supplement your diet if you are low or deficient in protein intake.
• To replenish muscle breakdown due to high intensity training/racing or long distance cycling.
1. Berry Blast
1 cup Grape juice (or blackberry, blueberry juice)
2.5 cups of mixed frozen berries
1 small vanilla yogurt (or other yogurt of your choosing)

2. Tropical Fruit Protein Smoothie
1 cup papaya, or pineapple or banana
1 cup of skim or 1% milk, soy or rice milk
1 cup vanilla or plain yogurt
1 cap full of brown rice protein powder

3. Blueberry Protein Shake
1 cup of grape juice
2 cups of blueberries
1 cap full of vegetable protein powder
1 cup soy milk, rice milk or skim/1% milk

These bars can be consumed by cyclists who are riding for longer than 90 minutes. Bars and gels are preferable to real foods on the bike for ease of use and digestion. (Some cyclist do not like the taste of bars and gels so the alternative in this situation is bananas, which provide the calories and some potassium).
• Store purchased gels and energy bars (most contain 100 cal per gel and the bars are usually 200 calories per bar)
• Healthy calorie-balanced snacks
These bars/gels should be consumed at the 90-minute mark and onwards on a training ride/event or race. These should be replenished by eating every 30 – 45 minutes thereafter.
Sustain energy, and maintain metabolism.

Cyclists riding more than 90 minutes in training, or /event/race.

Store purchased drink mixes are abundant and contain electrolytes, which you need to replace when you sweat heavily, and sugars (carbohydrates) for energy. If you are only riding for 60 – 90 minutes you may just want to supplement your water bottle with an electrolyte powder or tablet. There are many available that will help replace the salts you lose from sweating without adding additional calories that are not required with this amount of riding time.

To replenish and sustain energy on longer training rides and/or races and events.

Who: Everyone

What: Suggested standard vitamin regime:
1. Multivitamin – Age based
2. Vit D3 – additional 400 – 1,000 IU/day
Known as the “sunshine vitamin”, Vit D is not actually a vitamin but a hormone that is made in the skin as a result of exposure to sunlight. Unfortunately, relatively few foods contain significant amounts of Vit D, which is why it’s added to foods such as milk.
Many people who live in northern climates have low levels of Vit D, which puts them at risk for obesity, heart disease, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and depression.
Increasing Vit D reduces the risk of high blood pressure, back pain, diabetes, arthritis, and prevent infectious diseases like H1N1 and cancer, particularly colon and breast cancer
3. Vit C 500mg/day increase to 1000mg when ill
4. Omega 3 Fatty Acids do not take more than 3 grams per day. For healthy adults with no history of heart disease the American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least 2 x weeks. For adults with high cholesterol levels, it is recommended taking 2 – 3 grams of Omega 3’s per day in the form of fish oil supplements.
5. B-Complex
B Vitamins and Vit C: are water soluble so not necessary to take with meals
Vit A, D, E and K: Take with meals as they are fat soluble (these are found in your multi-vitamin).
• Because we cannot get adequate amounts from our daily food intake
• Cooking destroys some of the levels
• As we age we absorb less from our food
• Because of poor eating habits
• High intensity or endurance cycling demands more of the body, therefore supplementing with small amounts of targeted vitamins/minerals helps keep us healthy.

A note on post workout recovery drinks. These drinks/shakes aren’t required if you are doing a very light recovery spin ride. However, after a 60-minute high intensity training ride such as interval training or time trial/tempo efforts, a recovery shake/food is definitely recommended, even though the ride time is less than I instructed above in my guidelines. These types of workouts break down muscle and it is recommended to recover with a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein (the shake examples above will give you these appropriate ratios.)

Following these guidelines will help keep you fueled, hydrated, and properly recovered so you’re ready to go where ever the road takes you. Happy training!

Training for a two-day cycling eventDiane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, visit Diane’s website or contact her at

Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.

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