Why riding fast and long requires lots of food


When you’re suffering on a long ride, slowing down and struggling to stay with the bunch, one of the first things people ask is whether you’ve had enough to eat.

The people riding with you start rifling through their jersey pocket and handing you snacks. Why?

Why is eating while riding so important? And why does not eating enough affect performance so dramatically?

This article on fueling for a sportive has some of the answers:


“Your body will use a combination of fat and carbohydrate to fuel your ride. The harder you work, the more carbohydrate you will use. The body’s carbohydrate stores are limited and can be rapidly depleted so it is very important to keep your carbohydrate stores topped up for the duration of the event. Without available carbohydrate your body will depend more on fat as a fuel. You may think that burning fat sounds great but to do this your body needs a lot more oxygen and in response to this your pace will slow. That’s not ideal if you want to achieve a fast time or a new PB.”

(You might be wondering what a “sportive” is. The Gran Fondo is one example. It’s a long, mass participation, endurance cycling event.)

Riding my bike is one time I struggle with intuitive eating. I don’t feel hungry but I know I need to eat. Sometimes food can even make me feel sick. I go for easy to eat, calorie dense food in those cases.

I blogged about my experiences in the post Hunger and Nutrition. I wrote,

I struggle a bit with this because I’m often not hungry when I know I need to eat–during long, intense bike rides is the most common example–and at other times I’m famished even when I know there’s no need for extra calories (after long bike rides when I’m often hungry for the rest of the day and into the next one even after I’ve refueled.)

I know from experience that if I don’t eat while riding my performance suffers. It’s not just that I struggle while riding, I’m also hungry for days afterwards. By the time I get off the bike I’m eating anything and everything in sight. Often I’m still hungry the next day.

But if I eat regularly, before I’m hungry, and keep eating throughout the ride, I’m fine.

If I get the balance right not only can I ride faster, for longer, there’s no big swing in hunger associated with a long hard ride. I can have dinner that night as usual.

So I do it because I know it works even if it means setting aside my usual “eat when hungry” mantra.

If I find it tough, I think, again based on experience, my smaller cycling friends have it tougher. Food management can hugely affect cycling performance. It’s worth experimenting to find what works.

Oh, and here’s some geeky cycling humour related to our theme.

Top 10 Things Not To Eat While Cycling:

Exit mobile version