Pre Ride Nutrition: What, When and How Much to Eat

Download the Pre Ride Nutrition Charts Here

In this video FasCat's Registered Dietitian (RD), Lacey Rivette, explains what, when and how much cyclists should eat before training in order to optimize performance and recovery. Included in the video are helpful charts and sample meals to help you learn how to apply the recommendations and start riding faster!

Hey Everyone! My name is Lacey and I am the RD and a cycling coach here at FasCat.

I am excited to let you guys know that this is the first of many nutrition related videos I will bring you all. In the future we will cover some in depth questions, but for now I am going to start by covering the 3 nutrition topics all cyclists should know which are what to eat before, during and after training to optimize performance and recovery.

Clearly based on the title, in this video we are going to cover pre-ride nutrition, and by that I mean what to eat, when to eat, how much you should eat before you ride.

A quick note to keep in mind before I jump in though is that the answer to all 3 of these questions is really individualistic. It depends on the intensity and duration of your training, how much you are able eat during that training and how well you can tolerate food in the hours leading up to your ride.

With that said, the first question to answer is WHAT should cyclists eat before training?

Well despite everyone jumping on the low carb bandwagon these days, I can promise you that no races will be won or peak performances will be set when following a low carb diet. Sure, sedentary individuals can get by eating a low carb diet, but as an endurance athlete you aren't looking to get by. You need to perform, recover and be ready to train again the next day. And for that, carbs reign king!

On screen text -- In athletes, low carb diets can lead to: 1) suboptimal performance 2) poor recovery 3) reduced immune function 4) muscle loss

So with that said, you can assume that I am going to tell you that the primary focus of your pre-ride meal should be carbohydrates. Think “oats, rice, fruits, some vegetables, maple syrup, pancakes, etc. all of these are great sources of carbohydrates.

Now carbs contain fiber, some more than others. Carbs that are high in fiber are things like whole grain oats, broccoli, sweet potatoes, etc. So say you do Coach Franks favorite breakfast, Rice n' eggs, which has broccoli and some other veggies -- that should be eaten further out from training because it contains more fiber (from the vegetables) and fiber slows down digestion. If you do not fully digest your pre ride meal, you risk getting "gut rot" which most of you probably know... is NOT fun, so we want to avoid that.

So for example, 4 hours out the rice n' eggs is a good choice. But if you are an hour out you should have something like a tortilla or rice cake with peanut butter and honey.

Now you can include a little fat and protein which will help with satiety, but the closer you get to your ride the smaller amounts of these you should have as they take longer to digest.

The next question is WHEN should cyclists eat before training?

For long, hard efforts, such as a race or a group ride, athletes should aim to eat 3-4 hours out from training. For shorter intense rides, say a 90 min sweet spot ride, athletes can eat 2 hours out. And then for shorter rides or early morning training sessions athletes can eat an hour out or even skip the pre ride meal and rely on carb intake on the bike to fuel their training session.

Now for the final and arguably the most complicated question: HOW MUCH should you eat?

Like I noted earlier in this video pre-ride nutrition is highly dependent on personal tolerance and athletes should practice the timing and composition of their meal to find what works best for them. With that said the recommendations for carb intake before exercise range from 1 g per kg of body weight when eating 1 hour before training, up to 4g per kg of body weight if eating 4 hours out.

Note: If you are not using metric system, you can easily convert your weight from pounds (lb) to kilograms (kg) by dividing your weight in lb by 2.2.

In the chart above I have given a range to shoot for. You should aim for the lower end of these recommendations if you are doing easier efforts and or if you are female as females tend to rely slightly less on carbs than their male counterparts of the same fitness level and because women tend to need less calories overall.

Right now I'm sure many of you are thinking what the heck Lacey! That is a lot of numbers. I am confused, how do I apply all of this so that I can ride faster? Well don't worry I am not going to leave you hanging.

Lets jump into some real life examples to help give you a better understanding. For all of these I will be using a 140lb or 63.5kg athlete (see goal ranges below).


Example #1:

4 hours out: Race, Ultra-endurance, or a Multi Day Event (e.g stage race or bikebacking trip)

For this the athlete should be aiming for ~4g per kg of body weight and they could accomplish with the following pre ride meal: Example #2:

3 hours out: Weekend Group Ride Example #3:

2 hours out: 2+ hour Sweet Spot Ride Example #4:

1 hour or less: Weekday Ride

The final example is an athlete training at the crack of dawn, doing say a 1-2 hour interval session or endurance ride. This is where athletes really need to rely on listening to their body. Some athletes do fine with a bit to eat and others find it negatively impacts their performance. Typically the impact on performance is caused by choosing the wrong foods or eating too much which results in an spike in insulin that leaves them feeling bonky during the first hour of the ride, but again I digress as this is a really detailed topic that I will cover in a later video.

Basically an hour out athletes can either aim for a small snack of ~30g of easily digestible carbs or skip eating and rely solely on eating carbs on the bike to fuel their training. An example for those eating in the hour before could be a small 6 oz smoothie or even something as simple as a cup of grapes and ½ cup of oat milk with their coffee. In either situation here, and for all rides longer than an hour, athlete should be fueling during their ride with about 30-90g of carbs per hour.

And this brings me to the topic of our next video, which will be during ride nutrition! So until then, I hope you all start practicing your preride fueling and if you have any questions I did not answer here, feel free to drop them in the comments below. I’ll see you guys next time!

About Lacey Rivette

Lacey is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition And Dietetics from Louisiana State University. She trained as an acrobatic gymnastics from 2003-2013, during which time she won two national titles. It was also during this time that she became interested in sports nutrition and is what ultimately led her to pursuing a career in Dietetics. In 2018 she began racing MTB's in Louisiana and after getting on the podium at Marathon Nationals that same year, decided to move to Colorado Springs to be able to train more competitively. In 2020 she joined the FasCat team. When it comes to racing, her primary focus is on marathon, ultra endurance and adventure-style events.

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