11 Powerful Tips for What to Eat Before Cycling

What to Eat Before Cycling

Cycling is a fantastic cardiovascular exercise that builds endurance and strength in the lower body. It can be done recreationally or competitively. However, without proper nutrition before a cycling session, you may run out of energy early or even bonk.

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Defining Cycling and Its Many Health Benefits

Cycling refers to riding a bicycle casually for commuting and errands or racing professionally. It works the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles. The aerobic activity also provides many health perks like:

  • Weight loss and management
  • Reduced risk for chronic diseases
  • Improved cardiovascular function
  • Increased stamina and endurance

That’s why it’s smart to fuel properly before cycling.

Why Pre-Cycling Nutrition Matters

Consuming the right foods and fluids before cycling is crucial. Here’s why:

Prevents Fatigue and Weakness

Without adequate fuel, you’ll tire out quicker and have to cut your session short.

Enhances Stamina and Endurance

Carbs give you the glycogen needed to keep pedaling for longer periods.

Supports Muscle Growth and Repair

Protein helps repair exercise-induced muscle damage.

Avoids Hypoglycemia and Dehydration

Low blood sugar and fluid loss will also cut your cycling short.

So pay attention to what and when you eat before rides.

Know When to Fuel Before Cycling

Know When to Eat Before Cycling

Aim to fuel:

2-4 Hours Before Cycling

Eat a balanced meal containing carbs, protein, fat. It will be fully digested and absorbed before exercise.

Ideal foods include oats, eggs, avocado, chicken, veggies, yogurt.

30-60 Minutes Before

Focus on quicker digesting carbs like fruit, juice, rice cakes, oat bars.

See also: Fuel Up Right: What to Eat on a Long Bike Ride

Also drink about 16 oz water.

During Cycling

Continue fueling with 30-60 g carbs from food/drinks per hour.

Good portable options include energy gels, bananas, sports drinks.

Include These Nutrients in Your Pre-Cycling Meals

To optimize cycling performance, you need:


They break down into glucose that muscles use for energy. Include sources like:

  • Whole grains: oats, brown rice
  • Starchy vegetables: potatoes, squash, corn
  • Fruits: berries, banana, melon
  • Legumes: lentils, beans, peas

Aim for 2-4 grams carbs per pound bodyweight daily.

Lean Protein

It supports muscle repair and growth by providing amino acids. Choose:

  • Dairy: Greek yogurt, cottage cheese
  • Eggs
  • Meats: chicken, turkey
  • Seafood: tuna, salmon
  • Soy products: tofu, tempeh
  • Legumes: beans, lentils

Target 0.5-0.7 grams per pound of protein daily.

Healthy Fats

They provide energy, absorb fat-soluble vitamins, reduce inflammation. Include:

  • Oils: olive oil, avocado oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Nut butter
  • Avocados

20-30% daily calories should come from healthy fats.

Vitamins and Minerals

These micronutrients support energy production, bone health, immune function. Eat:

  • Leafy greens: spinach, kale
  • Cruciferous veggies: broccoli, cabbage
  • Berries
  • Citrus fruits
  • Nuts and seeds

Aim for 5-9 servings of produce each day.

10 Carb-Rich Foods to Fuel Cycling Sessions

representing ideal pre-cycling nutrition

Load up on these power-packed carbs before and during rides:

1. Oatmeal

Rich in energizing complex carbs and fiber to fill you up. Top with berries.

2. Whole Grain Toast

Pair with peanut butter and banana for lasting fuel.

3. Sweet Potato

Bake and add cinnamon, nut butter for extra carbs.

4. Beans and Lentils

Mix with rice, quinoa or stuff in a burrito pre-ride.

5. Old Fashioned Oats

Make overnight oats with yogurt, fruit, nuts for easy nutrition.

6. Fruit Smoothies

Blend milk/yogurt, oats, fruit, spinach for drinkable carbs.

7. Granola Bars

Choose ones with 5 grams fiber, 5-10 grams protein.

8. Rice Cakes

Top with nut butter and banana for portable carbs.

9. Quinoa

Make a bowl with veggies, beans, nuts, avocado.

10. Fruit

Eat berries, bananas, apples, grapes for natural sugar.

See also: Can we do Cycling after Dinner? Pros and Cons Explained

Bonus: Sports Drinks

Help replace fluids and electrolytes lost by sweating.

Mix in These 7 Lean Protein Foods

Include high-quality protein with meals and snacks to repair and build cycling muscles:

1. Eggs

Make a veggie omelet with spinach, bell peppers, onion, mushroom.

2. Cottage Cheese

Stir in fruit, mash in avocado or eat alone pre-exercise.

3. Greek Yogurt

Choose plain, whole milk types. Sweeten with fruit and honey.

4. Nut Butter

Almond or peanut butter spread on whole grain toast offers lasting energy.

5. Tofu Scramble

Made with turmeric, nutritional yeast and veggies for plant-based protein.

6. Edamame

Steam then sprinkle with sea salt for an easy, portable snack.

7. Chicken Breast

Bake, grill or sauté with spices and veggies for a lean protein meal.

Bonus: Protein Bars

Look for 10-20 grams protein, low sugar varieties to fuel workouts.

Sources of Anti-Inflammatory Fats for Active Recovery

These healthy fats help reduce muscle soreness and inflammation:

1. Avocados

Mash up one in pre-ride oatmeal, smoothies, toast for creaminess.

2. Olive Oil

Drizzle over salads, roasted veggies, whole grains like quinoa.

3. Coconut Oil

Add to smoothies or stir into oats, yogurt for MCTs to fuel exercise.

4. Nuts and Seeds

Sprinkle almonds, walnuts, chia, hemp into yogurt bowls and salads.

5. Nut Butter

Try almond or cashew varieties. Spread on apple slices too.

Bonus: Fatty Fish

Salmon and tuna offer anti-inflammatory omega-3s to ease muscle soreness.

Top Up These Essential Vitamins and Minerals

In addition to macronutrients, consuming enough micronutrients is vital:

Vitamin C

Boosts iron absorption and collagen production. Found in citrus, peppers, kiwi.

Vitamin E

Protects cells from exercise-induced oxidative damage. In plant oils, nuts, seeds.

Vitamin D

Critical for calcium absorption, immunity and mood. From fatty fish, eggs, fortified dairy.


Supports muscle and nerve function. Get it from leafy greens, nuts, legumes.


Oxygenates muscles and fuels workouts. Found in red meat, lentils, spinach.


Supports wound healing and immunity. Found in seeds, meat, dairy.


Strengthens bones to prevent fractures. Found in dairy, leafy greens.

Remember to Hydrate Before and During Exercise

cyclist filling a water bottle

Dehydration severely impacts endurance and performance.

Drink Water

16-20 oz in the hours before cycling to pre-hydrate.

Sip more every 15 minutes during rides.

Try Electrolyte Drinks

Replace sodium and minerals lost by sweating.

Coconut Water

Nature’s sports drink with potassium and electrolytes.

12 Nourishing Pre-Cycling Meal Ideas

Incorporate the best pre-cycling foods into meals like:

1. Oatmeal

Made with milk, berries, almonds, cinnamon.

2. Greek Yogurt Bowl

With granola, fruit, nut butter, chia seeds.

3. Veggie Frittata

Baked eggs with onion, tomato, spinach, feta cheese.

4. Overnight Oats

Chia seeds soaked in yogurt and berries.

5. Avocado Toast

With 2 eggs, hot sauce, hemp seeds.

6. Tuna Salad Wrap

In a whole grain tortilla with lettuce, tomato.

7. Quinoa Power Bowl

With chicken, sweet potato, kale, avocado.

8. Protein Smoothie

Banana, nut butter, protein powder, almond milk.

9. Burrito Bowl

Brown rice, black beans, chicken, salsa, cheese.

10. Cottage Cheese

With melon, pineapples, blueberries.

11. Nut Butter Sandwich

Almond butter with banana on whole grain bread.

12. Veggie Pizza Slice

Thin whole grain crust with spinach, mushroom, onion.

5 Foods to Limit Before Cycling Sessions

Some items may cause GI issues or make you feel weighed down:

1. Fatty Cuts of Meat

High-fat proteins like bacon and sausage take longer to digest.

2. Fried Foods

Greasy items can cause indigestion, stomach pain.

3. Sugary Sweets

Cookies, cake and candy lack proper nutrients and can cause crashes.

4. Heavy Cream Sauces

Rich Alfredo or mac and cheese dishes sit heavy.

5. Carbonated Drinks

Can cause bloating or cramps while riding.

Tips for Eating on Cycling Days

Additional advice for race days or long rides:

Pack Portable Snacks

Bring quick carbs/protein like bars, smoothies, rice cakes, bananas, nuts.

Opt for Lighter, Easily Digestible Meals

Try a salad, sandwich, eggs rather than heftier choices.

Stay Hydrated

Sip 16-20 oz electrolytes per hour to avoid dehydration.

What to Eat Before Cycling: Key Takeaways

Follow these evidence-based tips when fueling for cycling:

  • Eat a meal with carbs, protein, healthy fat 2-4 hours pre-ride
  • Have a small carb-focused snack 30-60 minutes before
  • Continue replenishing carbs and fluid during exercise
  • Include lean proteins in meals for muscle repair
  • Choose nutritious high-fiber carbs like oats, sweet potato, fruit
  • Limit fatty, greasy foods that cause stomach issues
  • Stay hydrated with water and electrolytes

Properly fueling with the right foods at optimal times will provide the sustained energy and stamina needed to perform your best on the bike.

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