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Advice from the experts: Fuelling for a cycling session

When you’re planning on going the distance, nutrition is key. You can put in as many hours of training as you like, but on the day your energy levels are ultimately going to come down to how you choose to fuel your cycling session. We spoke to Annie Simpson, performance nutritionist at OTE Sports to better understand how crucial your diet is on the day.

24 hours to go:

Annie says you should stock up on your energy stores the day before a cycling session.

“Carbohydrates are the easiest energy source to use during long rides,” but Annie adds that you can only store a certain amount. She suggests the best plan is sticking to your usual meal pattern the day before a long cycling session, but making sure 50-60% of each meal is carbohydrates such as pasta or rice. “That way you’re not eating more food, just changing the ratios,.” says Annie. Combining this with less exercise means that your energy stores will be full for the big ride.

Meal Idea:
150g of pasta with tomato or vegetable-based sauce, grilled chicken breast and a side salad.
Annie says: “This meal is familiar, delivers both carbohydrates and protein, plus vitamins and minerals from the vegetable sauce.”

Three hours to go

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so make sure you make time to fuel up before your cycling session. “Leave around two to three hours between a big meal and riding to allow the food to settle in your stomach. The closer you leave it to the start of the ride to eat the smaller the meal should be, and the sooner you should start eating on the bike.” 

Meal idea:
A bowl of porridge with your chosen toppings. Top with a sprinkling of dried fruits and nuts and a drizzle of honey.

During the ride

“To get the most out of the ride, fuelling needs to start from the off,” Annie stresses. “Remember you need to stay on top of your carbohydrate stores to prevent hitting the wall.” Annie points out that if you’re riding a particularly hilly or fast-paced route you’ll use up your energy stores much quicker.

“A good aim is to consume 60g of carbohydrates per hour. Energy gels and drinks are quick and easy to consume. Energy bars, bananas and other pieces of food can be harder to consume but can be preferable.”

Meal Idea:
Annie advises starting with normal food at the start of the ride. “An OTE Anytime bar and half an OTE Duo bar will give you 60g [of carbohydrates] per hour. As the ride goes on, switch to sports nutrition products as fatigue kicks in. A 500ml bottle of OTE energy drink and an OTE energy gel will give you 60g of carbs an hour too."

30 minutes after

“Straight after the ride, you have a 30-minute ‘window of opportunity’ in which you can kick- start the recovery process,” she explains. “During this time aim to consume something that contains protein, carbohydrates and fluid. These three areas are the key to recovery and need to be replenished.”

Meal idea:
“An OTE recovery shake is a convenient way to achieve the above; it contains all the essential elements of recovery in a 300ml drink. That being said, if you have the time and energy to whip up a small meal go for something like poached eggs on toast with a fruit smoothie, or a tuna or chicken sandwich, side salad and an electrolyte drink.”

24 hours later

If you don't have another big ride planned for a while, Annie recommends resuming your normal meal pattern whilst reducing the ratio on your plate to being less carb heavy.

If you’re struggling with the DOMS the day after your ride, Annie suggests consuming around 20-25g protein little and often throughout the day.

“Aim for a portion with every meal and add in a high protein mid-morning and afternoon snack. This will provide your body with the building blocks it needs to repair your muscles.”

Good high protein snacks include:

-OTE Protein bar
-Greek yoghurt and fruit
-Hard boiled egg
-Cottage cheese on rice cakes
-Trail mix
-Hummus and vegetable sticks
-Large glass of milk

For more information about keeping a balanced diet throughout your training, read our guide to eating like a Wattbiker.
Don’t forget, nutrition is only one part of staying fit and healthy. To avoid injury when you’re putting your body under stress it’s important to know how to build a bulletproof body for cycling.