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How To Fuel Whilst Cycling

How to fuel whilst cycling?

One of the most frequent questions we get is how to fuel whilst cycling. Marketing can blur the lines between truth and sales spiel. As experienced cycling coaches, racers and all round cycling nuts, we have come up with a list of some  of the rules we always follow.

  1. CARBS CARBS CARBS. Carbohydrate intake should be your main focus when fueling on the bike
  2. Some carb intake is always better than no carb intake. Many people struggle to eat on the bike, but anything you can consume will allow you to work harder for longer, so look for ways to enable at least some intake.
  3. It is generally agreed that the body can absorb around 60g of carbs/hr when carbs come from one type (glucose or fructose), but when consuming a mixture of the two, the target can be increased to 90g/hour. You will often see this expressed in terms of a 2:1 ratio glucose:fructose. Sometimes also stated as maltodextrin:fructose, as maltodextrin breaks down to glucose during digestion.
  4. Sport specific products may be expensive, but they are designed to be easily consumed and digested on the bike. Fat will slow down carbohydrate absorption and can be a major cause of gut trouble. Many ‘normal’ cereal/flapjack type bars will contain fat levels too high for efficient digestion whilst exercising, so think twice before going for the cheaper option.
  5. Practice your fueling out of competition. Some people will be able to consume more carbs than others without issue, so knowing your own body will help come event day.
  6. Use varied sources to hit your hourly goal. Sport specific drink, gels and bars will all usually contain around 25-30g of carbs per serving, so aim for 3 different bits of food per hour as a starting point. We’d always recommend using a sports drink to hit your liquid intake goals first and then calculating what else is needed per hour from this depending on how much you drink.
  7. On hot days remember to adjust your food intake if you are consuming solely carbohydrate drink and not a mixture of some water/electrolyte and some carb drink. Two bottles per hour will double your carb intake from drink compared to the one or so you may normally expect to get through, so to avoid gut issues you may want to look at lowering your intake from other sources. The same can be said but in reverse on cold days to some degree, although we tend to find people under hydrate in cold conditions, so this may also be something worth considering.
  8. When the latest new product hits the market claiming to allow you to digest more carbs per hour or exercise harder for longer, test this claim out before blindly taking it as gospel. There is one such product on the market at the moment claiming just this, but we are seeing a high level of instances of gut issues which isn’t going to help anyone perform better!
  9. Think of your carbohydrate stores like a fuel tank. Your body can only hold so much in your muscles and liver at one time, so no matter how fit or strong you think you are, not fueling will only mean you fatigue quicker and also have more catching up to do post ride. Your body needs carbohydrate to provide the energy needed to repair and adapt. Under fueling may make you skinnier, but it won’t leave your body working optimally!
  10. We often get asked where the threshold is in terms of ride length for when to and not to bother consuming carbs. You may be able to ride hard for 90 mins or so without taking any carbs on, but working to the 90g/hr rule, you will get home with a 135g larger deficit to catch up if you don’t fuel compared to if you fueled optimally. Today’s session may be fine, but tomorrows may suffer as a result.

Hopefully when you consider how to fuel whilst cycling in the future, you will be better equipped to get it right and get the best form your body.