What is the best pre-ride food for cycling?
A few times recently I’ve found myself in a conversation with other riders about what is the best pre-ride food for cycling. For me, I actually don’t eat before a short ride like my regular Wednesday ride of 30 km because it’s not high intensity and I feel like my meal from the night before provides me with enough fuel. On my longer more intense rides usually on the weekend I eat a banana before I ride which gives me enough fuel to get started.
But every woman (and man) is different so you need to experiment and decide what works for you. A few years ago, I asked Sports Dietician Rebecca Hay who’s also a cyclist to share her advice on the subject. So here’s Rebecca’s advice.
Should I eat before training? A very common question among cyclists. The answer depends on a few factors:
- what you are planning to do?
- what do you want to get out of your session? and
- the duration of your training session.
You can apply some very simple rules based on planned intensity and duration of the activity. Even if you are exercising with weight reduction as one of your goals you will find you train better if you have a little fuel onboard before an intense training session.
For safety reasons on a bike, I also advise that if you are riding first thing in the morning you do consume something so that you are able to concentrate and react quickly if necessary.
You may need to try a few different ways to get the energy in – solid vs liquid form. Eating early in the morning can be very challenging – so using a liquid may be the easiest option all round. Making sure that there is not too much fibre or too much protein is also important to speed up absorption time – you want the liquid or food to leave your belly pretty quickly if you are working with a short time frame between eating/drinking and riding.
Some of the easiest options are the pre-packaged breakfast drinks like ‘Up and Go’ or Sustagen. My personal preference is Sustagen Sport mixed in water – quick and easy, not too rich/heavy, and no fibre. If you don’t mind eating solid food then the humble banana is a great choice or some toast with jam or honey.
Longer rides may require a larger snack. I often suggest a drink (as above) and some sort of simple solid such toast/crumpets/pikelets as an addition. A bowl of breakfast cereal can also be a good choice – a couple of WeetBix or a bowl of Special K…just keep it simple.
You can learn more about Rebecca on her website.
I am just a man, but I will comment anyway. Gender only enters the equation after taking into consideration that needs and wants can vary measurably from individual to individual and at differing levels of fitness, ability, and competition. There is no’ one diet-fits all’ in regards to percentages of carbs v protein, supplements, etc.
Having access to a hospital lab, I frequently tested my blood in respect to my multi-sport, periodization training. The picture of the banana jogged my memory regarding potassium levels. My fellow lab-rat is a vegetarian, as I am and we determined that one banana each day provided perfect levels of potassium. Since potassium is intra-cellularly locked it does not fluctuate as does sodium.
Near the end of a 148 mile training ride, which included many miles of significant elevation changes, I bonked in front of a fruit and veggie market. With enough change to purchase 2 bananas, I added enough calories to my totally empty tank to cycle two more miles to home, where I bonked again.
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