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Should I eat more when I cycle on colder days?

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: “I went out for my first ride on Saturday. It was quite cold and at the end of the ride I was very hungry. Should I eat more when I ride on colder days?”

Diane’s reply: 
Although it’s been a cold spring most cyclists are riding outside and starting to build mileage. What does that mean in terms of what we should be eating and drinking?

In the past I’ve written articles about the importance of nutrition and hydration. The mistake most cyclists make this time of year is under-eating and under-hydrating. They aren’t riding as long or hard and it isn’t hot, so they think that they don’t need to take in as many calories in a liquid or bar/gel/or food form.

However, at this time of year because it’s still cold in most parts of Canada and the northern US, the body has to work harder to keep your core temperature warm. That means you burn more calories. There’s also increased humidity levels. Your body still sweats and therefore the need to hydrate is just as important as during the hot and humid days of summer. With spring, it’s also windier due to the warming of lakes, and large bodies of water. All cyclists know windy days in the saddle make you work harder, which also adds to additional caloric burn. Here are some recommendations for calorie intake and hydration.

Up to 1hr rides:
Water only is necessary and no calories from sport drinks, gels, bars or food.

After the first hour how many calories you eat depends on your body weight and intensity of the ride:

Caloric requirements with reference to speed in km/hr:

10.9km/hr – 6 calories per kilo of body weight per hour
22.5km/hr – 7 calories per kilo of body weight per hour
26km/hr – 8 calories per kilo of body weight per hour
29km/hr – 10 calories per kilo of body weight per hour
31km/hr – 12 calories per kilo of body weight per hour

By multiplying these numbers with your body weight you can fairly accurately calculate your caloric requirements:

For a body weight of 52kg (115 lbs.):
52 x (calories required at the riding speed) = (calories per hour)

Example of a 52kg rider (115lbs)

At 22.5km/hr: 364 calories per hour of riding after of riding has been completed
At 26km/hr: 416 calories per hour of riding after 1hr of riding has been completed
At 29km/hr: 520 calories per hour of riding after 1 hr of riding has been completed
At 31km/hr: 624 calories per hour of riding after 1 hr of riding has been completed


There are some very specific guidelines for hydration that determine your “personal sweat rate”. That calculation is a bit involved for the purposes of this article, so here are a few guidelines that will serve most cyclists.

Make sure you are adequately hydrated before your ride. I always recommend the “urine colour test” If your urine is pale yellow to clear in colour, you are adequately hydrated. If you fail this test then drink 1 to 2 cups of water and re-test after 15 minutes.

After starting your ride adequately hydrated then you should consume a few sips of fluids every 10-15 minutes.

When to use water verses electrolyte formulas:

1 hr: water only
1 – 2hrs: electrolytes
2-4 hrs: electrolytes
4hr+: electrolytes

To break down how you would take in fluids during a ride do the following:
*Drink every 10 to 15 minutes – if you have a hard time remembering to drink or have a low thirst sense, set a time on your watch to beep so it reminds you to take 2-3 sips every 10 -15 minutes.

I hope all of you are able to ride outside soon. Remember, even though it’s cool and you’re not necessarily pedaling long distances, you still need to be hydrated and nourished to complete your rides feeling strong.

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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