Nutrition For Cycling & Endurance Sports

For high effort training or competing in road cycling, mountain biking, triathlon, ironman, marathon and other endurance sports, one must have enough ‘fuel’ and stay hydrated to complete whole trial and avoid unpleasant things, such as overheat, dehydration, hunger, fatigue, or even injury. Besides getting appropriate hydration, riders must consider correct cycling nutrition when deciding on what,when and how much to fuel up and store energy for endurance training.


Besides needed for everyday function, sufficient hydration is also for better tissue perfusion, blood pressure, sugar & appetite regulation, mental abilities and metabolic rate. Persons, who are practicing or training on the long run with high effort, need to stay hydrated all the time, in order to have constant performance and prevent ‘blow ups’.

cycling hydration

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1) How much fluid is necessary for sufficient hydration on daily basis?

Example:    weight: 85kg (187 lbs), height: 183cm (6 ft), volume unit: 30ml=1oz, weight unit: 1kg=2.2lbs

85(kg) x 30 to 35 (ml)/ (kg) = 2550 to 2975(ml) (85 to 100oz)

With correct amount of liquid (water, juice, coffee, tea or any kind of drink),taken during the day, you will stay hydrated enough for maintaining the same level of effort and performance, during several hours of cycling ride or endurance activities. A very good parameter of hydration is urine, while lighter yellow color indicates good hydration, darker tone means that you did not take enough liquid.

2) How much and what kind of fluid to bring for training?

It depends of temperature, elevation, pre-ride hydration and of course, from exertion. Weather conditions like heat and humidity can drastically increase your fluid needs, so it is most important to increase daily base hydration and bring larger supply for training with appropriate supplements for accelerated fluid loss trough sweating. It is possible to approximately calculate how much liquid you need to bring with, simply by measuring post ride weight loss and fluid consumption trough all training:

Example:    sport: cycling, bottle size: 600ml (20oz), weight: 85kg (187 lbs), fluid body loss: 2%

A: pre ride weight: 85(kg) – post ride weight (-2%) 83.3 (kg) = 1.7 (kg) = 3.47 lbsx16oz= 55.36oz = 1660ml

B: Fluid consumption during ride: 2x600ml = 1200ml (40oz)

C: Total (ml) (A+B) / time spent cycling (hrs) = (1660ml + 1200ml) /3 h = 2860 ml/3h = 953.33 ml/h = (31.7oz)

For one hour rides or less, in general you do not need anything, but is recommendable to bring one bottle, especially at summer time. If you are planning to ride longer (up to 3hrs), it is good idea to replace regular water with energy drinks. Except hydration, they provide energy, replace electrolyte loss, enhance fluid absorption and represent efficient delivery of carbohydrates. Having energy drinks for 2-3 hours of cycling will be just enough, but for more than 3 hour rides, you should consider having electrolyte supplements instead (bigger doze on warm days), for recovering some of the salt you lost while sweating.

3) When to start and how often you should hydrate yourself?

It is desirable to start drinking your supply shortly after warm-up (15-30 min), in order to maintain high level of hydration (important for warm days). Waiting to get thirsty in order to drink is not a good idea and doing so will not only lower your performance, but you will also be struggling the whole time just to replenish that high level of hydration you had from start.

In general it is enough to drink 4-6 times per hour between 120-180 ml (4oz-6oz) depending of your body weight and over 10 times if needed during hot conditions. Drink water or energy drinks with small sips and never take big ones, especially during climbs or any other high effort activities.

Fueling up

Cycling nutrition can become difficult if not managed right. Here are some simple calculations that will help you manage calories:

fueling nutrition for cycling

1) How big is ‘fuel’ tank of normal healthy person?

In average for weight maintenance is 30-35 kcal/kg:

For someone with 85kg (187 lbs) => 2550 to 2975 kcal

2) What kind of ‘fuel’ is needed for cycling and endurance sports?

Depending on the level of activity:

60 to 70% of carbohydrates, 15 to 20 % of fat, 15 to 20 % of protein

Carbohydrates are the best substance that can provide energy, because they are easily absorbed and distributed for efficient energy usage. For pre ride fueling it is necessary to fill muscle and liver glycogen, what it is known to be ‘stored’ carbohydrate for providing instant energy:

For long distant rides start fueling up 3-4 hrs before, with around 500-800 kcal dependable of the body weight.

Eat something easily digestible just 1 hour before starting, between 200-300 kcal with larger proportion of crabs (up to 70%): banana, sweat roll, candy bar or pancake.

Food/Fuel choices:

Carbohydrates: whole grain cereal, fruits & veggies, bread, pasta, brown rice, potatoes, corn. Avoid too much sugar (glucose)

Protein: beans, nuts & seeds, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, seafood, eggs, yogurt, cheese. Avoid cured or canned meat.

Fat: butter, olive oil, nuts & seeds, cocoa oil, creamy cheese, gravy. Try to avoid industrial cooking oil.

3) How much ‘fuel’ is needed for a ride or other endurance activity?

It is simple: Daily needs + energy expenditure on activity, for example: 3hrs cycling training

Energy expenditure depends on your metabolic rate, or in other words on how much more effort you produce than your basal metabolic rate, which is equivalent to rest. It is measured in units called MET (Metabolic equivalent of task):

Example: 1 MET ó rest (spending energy while doing no physical activity)

12 MET ó 12 times more energy spending than rest (anaerobic exercise, like cycling, running, or swimming).

Physical activity: cycling 25-30 km/h average speed ó 12 MET, weight: 85kg (187 lbs)

12 MET x 3.5 (const) x 85 (kg) / 200 (const) = 17.85 kcal/min (approximate) = 1071 kcal/h

In another words if you are doing 3 hr ride with average speed 25-30 km/h, having 85kg, you will spend over 3000 kcal of energy for whole cycling training. For that kind of activity you will need at least 2 x 600ml bottles of water filled with energy supplement (mostly sugars and electrolytes) with possible refill and 1-2 food items per hour (energy bars, gels, homemade rolls, flapjacks, banana). Shortly after one hour you should start fueling up in the saddle in order to replenish glycogen level, or body will pull sugar reserves out of blood and that will result later in fatigue and blow out.

4) Is eating for recovery right after hard physical workout necessary?

Certainly is, because goal is to rebuild, refuel lost energy and rehydrate. In the next one hour is desirable to eat a couple more of 100 kcal and drink enough liquid to return small amount of body weight, lost trough sweating.