Cycling Nutrition & Health Benefits for Riders

Learn what will you gain from cycling, how to improve fitness, performance, weight loss trough correct nutrition and riding your bicycle.

Cycling Health Benefits

cycling health benefits

1) Comfortable way of exercise:

Besides running, cycling is the easiest way to exercise and saves you from unnecessary injuries (back, knees and ankles), that could occur while practice other sports. Also many people are distracted from doing certain sports, because of the high level, skill and risk of injury or perhaps they can not commit to team sports due time restriction. You can ride bicycle almost anywhere, at any season of the year, without investing much of your free time and money. Most of us know how to cycle and once learned you can’t forget easily. All you need is a functional & easy maintained bicycle, from half to whole hour of your free time and bit of confidence. If you feel more comfortable at home or won’t risk cycling outdoors because of the traffic, you can train on stationary spinning bike and, if already have regular, ride it on cycling trainer.

2) Increases strength and muscle volume:

On contrary to many beliefs and perceptions, cycling is not fitness activity that solely involves legs muscles. It builds strength in every part of the body that serves you for producing power or acting as support in order to have better handling and efficient steady ride.

3) Builds stamina and durability:

Cycling is a good way for increasing endurance capabilities. While riding on flats, hills, high or low cadence (rpm), always try at some point to extend cycling period by pushing yourself over some certain threshold (hear rate, distance, clocking time). Doing so often, while riding or training, you will slowly accustom your body on that kind of condition and after some period of time, will be able to cover more distance.

4) Improves heart rate & lungs capacity:

Riding bike and applying constant force, such as climbing hill with a constant incline, or pedaling with high cadence, makes the heart pound faster in steady manner. Also while your heart rate is high, you breathe more air making your lugs work with more capacity. It is shown that simple cycling for everyday activities such as, going to work, or casual riding, will slightly increase cardiovascular fitness. Training 2 to 4 times a week will drastically improve it, making your heart stronger, enabling it to carry more ‘load’ and your lungs will have more capacity.

5) Burns up calories:

Cycling is good way to lose some unwanted weight and with steady riding, for one hour, you can burn between 250-300 calories. For example if you practice cycling every day for 30 min for the whole year, that would be equivalent loosing from 4 to 5 kg (10-12 lbs) of fat. Intense training such as riding bicycle on different terrain profile (climbs, down hills, flats) or pedaling indoors, with putting 70-90% power output, can burn over 800 cal/hr. Since it helps you also build muscles, cycling will help boost your metabolic rate long after you have finished you training. In another words while resting, because of the accelerated metabolism, your body will release more energy in form of heat (you will feel warmer) and burn more calories during rest.

Cycling Nutrition Tips

cycling nutrition

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It is very important, not just in cycling but any kind of sport that involves strength & endurance, to have correct nutrition, in order to avoid exhaustion, fatigue & dehydration and help you to improve your performance, fitness, as of course enhance weight loss effectiveness.

1) Preparation for cycling

Before hitting the road for practice or training, you always need to eat well in order to store energy necessary for cycling. If planning to have long ride, make sure you eat a lot of carbon hydrates (bowl of rice or pasta).

Your muscles run on energy source called glucose (simplest sugar) and body has ways to store it, so they can be available for usage in any physical labor condition. When glucose is stored in the muscles, it is in form called glycogen.

Before riding or training, your glycogen reserves needs to be full, so eat about 200-400 calories of a high carbohydrate food, 23 hrs before you start cycling.

Always prepare enough liquid to hydrate yourself during the ride. In cooler conditions (12-22oC) it is enough to bring one bottle (500 ml) per 11.5 hrs. For warmer spring and summer days, I will recommend 2 bottles per 11.5 hrs.

You can bring water with energy supplements or compound salts (electrolytes), which will help you recover faster and maintain stable power output.

Energy supplements will compensate some of the lost glycogen and electrolytes are for maintaining body fluid and acid base balance, in other words they are salts that your body loses while sweating.

You can bring ordinary water but always take an extra food item with it. For longer time on the road, you can bring one can of soft or energy drink.

While cycling you need to store and fuel yourself with solid, easy digestive food, in order to ease your hunger and restore some of lost energy. You can bring energy bars, gels, or for alternative (it is common for people to have digestive problems with it), you can have homemade cookies, pancakes, rolls, small toast filled with jam, honey,  chocolate cream…or if you do not have time to prepare these things, bring bananas.

Have at least one food item per hour of riding and make them easy accessible for use, by putting them in side pockets of cycling shirt/jersey, or in regular shorts with zipper. It is also a good idea to prepare your bars beforehand by cutting the top of wrapper, so it could be much easier for consumption (do not do this with gels).

If you are planning to pedal 3 to 5 hrs, make sure you know the environment and places where you can refill and restore your supplies (you can of course also use smart phones for navigating to mark supply objects or stores).

On hot conditions, make sure to have electrolytes or energy supplement in your water and if you are planning long rides bring sachet of energy power. That way when you fill your bottles at the stop, just add the supplement powder in.

If you are cycling for less than hour, you do not need to bring anything unless planning to ride in hot conditions. In that case, bring bottle of water.

You can buy electrolytes, energy powder, bars and gels at specialized stores for gym & fitness supplements. Before buying these things, always consult yourself with doctor first, in order to avoid unwanted effects such as digestion problems or allergic reaction.

For example, this will be my 4-5 hours ride cycling nutrition setup:

2 bottles of water, one regular with 2 spoons of dextrose (grape sugar) or none and one with energy mixture (electrolyte or carbohydrates it is optional). In hot conditions, I would take 2 bigger bottles (1000ml) and one smaller (500ml) for my jersey right side pocket, filled with regular water, just to wet my forehead & neck.

Sachet with energy powder (for refilled water)

Up to 3 homemade energy bars and banana, all in my left jersey pocket. I always leave middle pocket with zipper for wallet, phone and if  need to resupply myself, I just make a quick stop at the store to buy chocolate candy or wheat, seeds and dry fruits bars.

If you want to be up to date within the sports nutrition field you might want to read the jissa – journal of international sports society of sports nutrition.

2) Nutrition & refreshing while cycling

cycling refreshment

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It is good idea to start drinking from your bottle not long after you’ve set out on bike, before getting thirsty. When you do, choose smooth straight road and always make sure you can reach bottle cage without looking down.

While cycling uphill, refresh yourself on easier sections of the road, when you can breathe steadier. DO NOT take food or drink at high heart rate because lungs are working with full capacity and consuming anything will just disturb breathing and you will end up with hyperinflation or collapse.

If the climb is with constant incline, and you have to take your drink, shift rear gear on cassette for 2 smaller sprockets (higher gear), so your legs could take more labor or just simply slow your pace. For short amount of time (20-40 sec) breathing will get easier and you can refresh yourself with food or drink.

About an hour into your ride your body will start to deplete its natural glycogen and your muscles will start to look elsewhere for source of glucose to maintain same energy output. Carbohydrate intake, from the beginning of the ride, is important to build body’s natural levels of glucose in the blood, which is where your muscles will start to draw it when glycogen level drops. So, after one hour into cycling, start to replenish some carbohydrate reserves by taking your food.

Do not try to eat fast by stuffing your mouth full. Take your food slowly and chew every bite. If you have problems or feeling uncomfortable doing that while riding, stop the bike and finish your meal while standing.

It varies from cyclists on how much and often should they consume during training mainly because of the different body size and metabolism. But it is not mistake and I will recommend for starters taking 1 or 2 food items per hour. After some period of time you will learn by yourself on how much food you need.

3) Everyday nutrition for fitness and weight loss for cyclists

If your goal is to increase fitness level of your body, lose weight by cycling or doing other sports of similar difficulty and complexity, you also need to correct your overall nutrition. Sometimes workout itself will not be too much effective on your body if do not pay attention on what you are eating daily. No matter how much you are persistent with training, if continuing to eat badly (fast food, greasy meat, baker’s products, candy, commercial & soft drinks, with low fruit and vegetable consumption), effects of it will be slow and because of the lack of some essential stuff healthy food got (certain types of sugar, fibers, vitamins, minerals), you will feel lazy every time thinking about workout and have pain while doing it. That will surely result in frustration and possibly it will lead to lose interest practicing sports.

weight loss for cyclists

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Even the non-sporty people who do not like exercise, if started having some diets and correct their nutrition, after certain time they will, not just lose some weight but feel generally better and have more physical energy. That excess of energy will influence them on daily, making them to be more mobile in order to spend it. In other words they would be more physically productive, making them do some certain activities more often (housework, long walks, walking pets, even in daily casual cycling or jogging) and what is better, that will result in increasing some level of fitness.

There are many diets that provides with guide about achieving certain weight and correct nutrition but follow only the ones that will also give you knowledge about handling it in exercise conditions. Following certain diet can be tough, because it can be hard to accustom at once on its program. If you have problems to get used to it, try to do step by step, first holding yourself off from the easiest things you can throw out from your old habits and embrace new ones from the chosen diet, that you find more suitable. Later on, doing the same, throwing old stuff out and adding the new ones until you’ll get fully accustom to new regime. I do not recommend following strict diets, because they can be bothersome and no matter how tenacious you are about holding to it, does not necessarily mean that they are good for your body. If you have some unpleasant reactions and allergies towards some food, consult with your doctor or nutritionist, so they can help you choose more suitable diet.

If you find it too hard to maintain certain food regime, or simply you do not like it at all, I will give you couple of tips on what to improve, throw out and add to your nutrition for performance, fitness and of course, to lose some weight:

Try to eat more often (4 to 5 times a day) with smaller portions of food, that way you will accelerate metabolism.

Have plenteous proteins based breakfast, with low fat (eggs without yolk, fish, chicken, turkey) and avoid making sandwiches with cured meat. You can have a couple of toasts with honey or jam and cup of milk, strong dark coffee or tea. If you do not have enough time to prepare this you can always make, with fruit or regular mixer, protein drink (an extra one will be great if you are planning to train).

For lunch, tend to have more carbohydrate based meal (soup with pasta and boiled meat, beans, peas, potatoes, rice) with lots of vegetables. You can prepare boiled meals to lasts more days, just freeze them after you finish.

For misdeal snacks you can have nuts, hazelnuts, berries, raisins, any kind of fruits.

Finish a day with a light meal based on vegetables and fruits. Do not bother cooking any of it and make it like some form of a salad or fruit cup (avoid to consume oranges before sleep).

Try not having fast food and eat less of bakery products (bread, rolls, cakes) because they are loaded with fat and sugar.

Drink only water and make a lot of juice from fruits. Avoid drinking any commercial juice, energy, soft drink, because they have high amounts of sugar, color, additive, to improve their texture and taste. For example, if you did consume before one can of soda every day, regardless of your physical exercise, that would be equivalent to 4 to 5 kg / 10-12 lbs of fat. Simply by removing it from your use will help you towards losing weight.

Avoid too much consumption of alcohol, but you can have a couple pints of beer or glasses of vine with your friends on weekends.

Do not be too harsh towards yourself and from time to time reward yourself (once per week, no more) with some of your favorite treats (pancakes, pizza, piece of cake, cookies, or have one of your favorite drinks).


Additional Resources:

Everything To Know About Starting Road Cycling For First Time

Improve Your Road and Indoor Cycling Training