What Cyclists Should and Shouldn't Eat

Thursday 12th January 2017

A survey conducted by Merlin Cycles has shown that 49% said they would steer well clear of carbs in order to lose weight. This food group tends to get a bad rap, although a recent study undertaken in Italy showed that pasta – when eaten sensibly – can help to stimulate weight loss. Removing carbs from your diet in their entirety isn’t sensible. They help to fuel our body and give us the energy needed to stay active. That being said, many of us struggle to strike the right balance.

What to eat before cycling?

Farah Fonseca – England’s Strongest Woman in the under 63kg category – gave us some dietary pointers: “You want to try to make sure you consume a protein source of some kind, whether it be fish, eggs, legumes, meat or beans to prevent any blood sugar fluctuations. People are now noticing how much more affected by wheat and gluten they are, with bloating and fatigue being one of the major symptoms. Sticking to quinoa, root vegetables, brown rice, oats and rice pasta is what I would recommend.” You don’t want to feel bloated when you’re trying to beat your personal best – for this reason, avoid refined sugars and stick with whole wheat carbs instead.

When to eat before cycling?

Dave Smith, a national and Olympic coach and founder of Velocity and Vitality, told us that timing is key when fuelling up for a race or particularly strenuous trip. “Nutrition should be geared towards what the goal of the ride is. Do you want to go as far and as fast as possible, do you want a greater training adaptation, do you wish to lose body fat? All of these can totally change your eating plan around a ride or event. A hard interval session in a fasted state may lack power and speed, but give a greater subsequent adaptation. I’ve done nine-hour rides fuelled only by a large breakfast, and short rides using gels. Consider the goal of the ride, and work back from there.”

What to eat after cycling?

Callum Melly, fitness and nutrition expert from bodyin8, told us that it’s important for post-workout food to promote lean muscle growth as well as prioritising recovery. “Immediately after exercising and depending on the intensity of your workout, I would consume 30-60g worth of starchy carbohydrates e.g. half (125g) or a whole pouch (250g) of basmati microwavable rice and combine this with a lean protein such as chicken or white fish in order to restore muscle glycogen and promote lean muscle growth, repair and recovery. “Liquid nutrition is perfect post-workout as solid foods can take up to six to eight hours to digest, whereas liquids are between one and two hours. The body can absorb about 1g of carbohydrates per minute, so 30-60g of carbohydrates is a good amount to ensure we replenish muscle glycogen with little excess that could be stored as fat. Again, the quantity of carbohydrates required is all relevant to the intensity of your workout on your muscles.”

He added: “You should aim to start a race or intense training session with an empty stomach, which usually means eating three hours before. However, for lower-intensity rides you can eat an hour before without any problems. Generally, the more intense the session, the more important it is not to have food in the stomach.” Farah Fonseca added: “Carbohydrates for most people are a worry. When should I consume them and what type of carbs should I be eating? For most people I always recommend to try and keep carbohydrates after you’ve been most active or ‘post workout’. It gets utilised in the body quicker and more efficiently at that time.” By combining carbs with your proteins post-workout, you ensure a more exponential recovery time, allowing you to get back on the road as soon as possible.

What shouldn’t be in a cyclist’s diet?


In terms of supplying pure energy, it’s important for cyclists not to waste their time with empty foods. While a salad may shout ‘healthy eating’, it does very little for a cyclist as it’s extremely low in carbohydrates and won’t take you that far in terms of energy.


Although cereal might not seem like an obvious red flag, the most popular brands have high GI ratings, meaning that they won’t sustain you for too long before burning the energy off.

Fizzy drinks

A more familiar culprit, carbonated drinks have been known to undermine many a healthy eating regime – don’t let it be yours. Fizzy drinks are particularly bad for cyclists, as they’re very bloating and can leave you sluggish and lethargic.

Now you know what to avoid, you can stock your kitchen cupboards with the most beneficial, effective and supercharging foods to fuel your rides.