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

what to eat on a long bike ride

Going on long bike rides requires planning and preparation to keep you fueled and performing at your best. Eating well can make the difference between successfully covering the distance and bonking halfway through your ride. This article will provide tips on the optimal foods to eat before, during and after a long bike ride.

Introduction to Long Bike Rides

Long bike rides are generally considered to be anything over 50 miles or 3 hours of cycling. Rides of this duration place considerable physical and nutritional demands on the body.

Duration and Distance

You’ll be exerting yourself for extended periods of time, so having adequate fuel stores in the form of muscle and liver glycogen is essential. It’s also important to keep replenishing nutrients throughout the ride. Successfully preparing your body with the right nutrition can help you maintain optimal energy levels.

Preparation is Key

Proper planning and preparation helps ensure you get the most enjoyment out of your long ride.

Check the Route

Study the route in advance so you know what to expect – where the big climbs are, potential food/water stops and bail-out points if needed. Share your route with someone.

Pack Spare Tubes and Tools

There’s nothing worse than mechanical issues derailing your ride. Carry essential spare tubes, a pump (or CO2 inflator) and any tools you may need for basic repairs.

Tune Up Your Bike

It’s wise to give your bike a full inspection and tune up before a big ride – clean the drivetrain, brake pads, cables, check bolt tightness and ensure shifters are indexed properly. This prevents any unwelcome surprises!

Importance of Nutrition

Here is a table summarizing some of the key information on what to eat for long bike rides:

WhenWhat to EatWhy
1-4 hours beforeSlow-release carbs like oatmeal, whole-grain toast, pastaMaximizes glycogen stores for fuel
Protein like eggs, yogurt, nut butterHelps maintain and build muscle
During (every 30-60 mins)Fast carbs – gels, blocks, chewsRapidly absorbed glucose
Dried fruit, bananas, rice cakesReplenishes spent muscle glycogen
AfterFast-absorbing carbs – chocolate milk, juiceRapidly restores glycogen
Protein – yogurt, milk, eggs, meatMuscle repair and growth
Anti-inflammatories – berries, leafy greensReduces muscle soreness
AlwaysElectrolytes through sports drinks, coconut waterMaintains hydration
Ample fluids (500-1000ml/hr)Prevents dehydration

The key messages are:

  • Consume slow-release carbs before and easily digestible carbs during rides
  • Protein feeds long term muscle repair and growth
  • Hydrate constantly with electrolytes
  • Anti-inflammatory foods aid recovery

Consuming the right nutrition is vital for maintaining energy, preventing fatigue and aiding your recovery.

Maintains Energy Levels

Eating correctly provides a steady supply of fuel for your muscles in the form of glycogen. This keeps your power and performance consistent.

Prevents Fatigue and “Bonking”

Run low on muscle glycogen and you’ll “bonk” – suddenly feeling fatigued as you rapidly deplete energy stores. Proper nutrition prevents this.

Aids Muscle Recovery

The right nutrients delivered soon after your ride help replenish depleted glucose/glycogen levels and assist in muscle repair and recovery.

Hydration Tips

Staying well hydrated is also key to avoiding fatigue and muscle cramps.

Sip Frequently From Your Water Bottle

Little and often is best – gulping large volumes can cause stomach upset. Aim for a bottle per hour.

Electrolyte Drinks

These help replace essential sodium, potassium and magnesium lost in sweat. This aids hydration and muscle function.

Avoid Alcohol

It acts as a diuretic, causing dehydration. Leave the post-ride beers until later!

Carbohydrates – The Rider’s Fuel

cyclist resting and enjoying a nutritious meal during a long bike ride

Carbs are your high-octane fuel, powering your efforts. Time carbohydrate intake correctly.

Complex Carbs – Wholegrains, Bread, Rice

Opt for slow-releasing complex carbs in the hours leading up to your ride to fully stock glycogen.

Simple Carbs – Fruits, Gels, Chews, Bars

Rapidly absorbed simple carbs during your ride quickly deliver glucose to working muscles.

Protein – For Muscle Repair

Protein performs a different role to carbs. It aids long term muscle repair rather than immediate fuel.

Nuts, Peanut Butter, Jerky, Dairy

These protein-rich foods paired with carbs can promote sustained energy and help rebuild damaged muscle fibers.

Healthy Fats – Sustained Energy

Fats fuel your efforts over longer durations. They also help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins.

Avocados, Nut Butters, Seeds, Oily Fish

Foods containing beneficial unsaturated fats provide fatty acids that can be used for fuel and aid vitamin absorption.

Vitamins and Minerals

B vitamins, vitamin C, iron and zinc all support energy production and immune function.

Vitamin C

This antioxidant vitamin aids tissue repair and recovery post-ride.

B Vitamins

These help convert food into cellular energy, keeping muscles powered.


Vital for oxygen transport in the blood to working muscles. Low iron causes fatigue.


This mineral supports immune function, aiding rapid recovery.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Long rides cause inflammation from muscle damage. Anti-inflammatory nutrients reduce this.

Berries, Leafy Greens, Fatty Fish

Foods high in antioxidants like anthocyanins or omega-3 fats have anti-inflammatory effects, speeding recovery.

Foods to Avoid

Some foods may cause stomach upset or digestive issues.

Excess Fat, Fiber, Protein or Sugar

These can result in nausea, cramps or gastric distress while riding. Stick to easily digestible carbs.

Meal Timing

When you eat is as important as what you eat when fueling long rides.

Eat Carbs and Protein 1-4 Hours Pre-Ride

Consuming slow-release carbs and a little protein before a ride fully stocks your glycogen levels.

Small Snacks Every Hour When Riding

Top up energy with simple carbs every 60 minutes. This maintains blood glucose and replenishes spent muscle fuel.

Portable Nutrition Tips

It’s essential to keep eating while pedaling. These foods are easily carried:

Energy Bars, Gels and Chews

These compact sources of simple sugars make consuming carbs on the bike easy. Chew or ingest every hour.

Jerky and Dried Fruit

Salty jerky provides protein and sodium. Dried fruits offer antioxidants and natural sugars.

Make Your Own Ride Food

Homemade snacks let you control ingredients. Try these energy-packed recipes:

Homemade Energy Balls and Bars

Make tasty nut and fruit bars using simple ingredients like oats, nuts, dried fruit, nut butters, seeds and honey.

Shopping List for Ride Day

healthy foods suitable for a long bike ride

Stock up on these easily packable calorie and nutrient-dense foods:

  • Wholegrain bread/bagels, rice cakes, oatmeal
  • Bananas, oranges, grapes, apples, strawberries
  • Nut butter, jam, honey
  • Boiled eggs, jerky
  • Salami, cheese slices
  • Avocado
  • Trail mix, nuts, seeds
  • Sports drinks, coconut water
  • Energy gels, bars, blocks

Pack Your Bike Bag

Use an insulated bag and ice packs to keep foods fresh and cool:

Insulated Bag

A small insulated backpack style bag is ideal for carrying perishable nutrition.

Ice Packs

Freeze gel packs or bottles of water overnight. These help keep foods cool for hours.


Pack a knife, spoon and napkins so you can eat real food, not just packaged gels and bars.

Special Diets

You can fuel long rides following vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free or keto diets:


Focus on nuts, seeds, nut butters, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant-based proteins.


As above but also include eggs and dairy products like cheese for protein.


Emphasize rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fruits and naturally gluten-free whole foods.

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


Rely more on healthy fats like nut butters, coconut, avocado, cheese, eggs and oils paired with low carb veggies.

Staying Hydrated

Dehydration ruins rides. Sip regularly and replace electrolyte losses:

Sip Little and Often

Drink a few gulps every 15-20 minutes rather than large amounts sporadically which can cause guts issues.

Electrolyte Replacement Drinks

Formulated sports beverages contain key electrolytes like sodium and potassium lost through sweat.

GI Issues – Prevention and Relief

Stomach problems are undesirable. Avoid foods that may cause distress.

Avoid Problematic Foods

Eliminate hard-to-digest fare with excess fat, protein or fiber which could cause bloating, cramps or nausea when riding.

Ginger, Mint or Fennel

Natural anti-inflammatories like ginger, mint or fennel tea can calm stomach issues. Fennel seeds also relieve bloating.

Recovery Nutrition

Optimize recovery from long efforts with targeted nutrition:


First priority is to replace fluid and electrolyte losses from heavy sweating.

Replenish Glycogen

Consuming carbohydrates soon after rides restocks depleted glucose and glycogen energy stores.

Repair Muscles

Include protein in recovery meals and snacks to provide amino acids that aid rebuilding damaged muscle fibers.

Beyond Physical Needs

Don’t become so obsessed with food that you fail to enjoy the journey:

Enjoy the Views and Company

While essential, remember nutrition is just one part of long rides. Absorb the beautiful scenery and social experience.

Safety First

Never compromise safety in pursuit of performance goals:

Obey Traffic Laws

Always ride predictably and respectfully on public roads.

Helmet and Bright Clothing

Maximize visibility to others and always wear a properly fitted helmet.


Below are answers to common questions about fueling long bike rides:

Q: What is the best food to eat before a long bike ride?

A: Eat a carbohydrate-rich meal 1-4 hours prior such as oatmeal, whole-grain toast or fruit along with protein like eggs, nut butter or Greek yogurt. Stay adequately fueled and hydrated the days leading up too.

Q: What should I be eating every hour on a long ride? A: About 30-60 grams of easily digestible carbs every hour is optimal. Good options include energy gels, chews, bars, dried fruit, bananas, or rice cakes with honey or nut butter spread. Pair with electrolytes.

Q: How much water should I drink per hour?
A: Around 500-1000ml per hour is needed depending on rider size, effort, temperature and sweat rate. Sip small amounts frequently rather than gulping large volumes sporadically.

Q: What recovery foods promote muscle repair?
A: Chocolate milk, Greek yogurt, eggs, lean meats, tofu and spinach all provide protein to rebuild damaged muscle fibers. Pair with anti-inflammatory carbs from fruit, juice or rice.

Q: How can I avoid stomach issues when cycling? Avoid overly fatty, fibrous or protein-dense foods. Stick to easily digested carbs. Prevent dehydration and supplementing with probiotics may help.

Q: Should I eat energy gels and bars or real food? A mix is best! Gels and bars make on-bike fueling convenient but can be hard to stomach in excess. Real food like nut butter sandwiches, jerky or trail mix is great too.

Conclusion and Final Tips

Fueling properly makes completing long rides infinitely more enjoyable. Follow these nutritional guidelines to stay energized and healthy on your cycling adventures. Test various on-bike foods during training to discover what your body best tolerates and don’t neglect staying hydrated. Most importantly, take time to relish the views and company. Safe riding!

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