Road cycling has witnessed huge growth in recent years, following the success of Great Britain’s elite cyclists. Elite riders can cover between 400-1000km a week, whereas their recreational counterparts can total over 300km a week. This high volume of training places importance on the diet to sustain performance and to help cyclists, whatever their level, improve on their fitness.


Keeping up carb (muscle glycogen) levels is critical to maintain blood glucose to supply energy to your working muscles. The dreaded feeling of ‘bonking’ can hit riders, this makes it impossible to maintain intensity, as it means your carb stores have run out, leaving you shaky and empty.

Next, discover what to eat before a cycle, run and swim, as well as the best exercise to burn fat, top tips on staying hydrated and how much protein you need to build muscle.

Female pro cyclists laughing while training

How long can I cycle without refuelling?

For rides under one hour

There's no need to refuel on the move as long as you eat adequately beforehand. After this time, riders should practice taking on small amounts of high-GI carbs, which help to top up blood glucose and provide ongoing fuel for working muscles. This form of readily absorbed carbohydrate also provides important fuel for the brain, which allows the body to keep working harder, especially when tired.

For rides over one hour

Your carb intake needs to be well organised and considered – be sure to pack fuelling snacks in your training pouch. Aim for between 30-60grams of carbs per hour (depending on the intensity of your ride).

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The following will provide a reasonable carb boost – see what works best for you and experiment with different quantities during training:

  • 500ml bottle of commercially available sports drink (30g depending on brand)
  • 1½ carbohydrate energy gels (20g – 25g depending on brand)
  • A small handful of jellied sweets (23g carbs)
  • One large banana (24g carbs)
  • One large cereal bar or carb-based energy bar (choose a low-fibre option) – (up to 45g carbs depending on brand)

New research has shown that even using a carb-based sports drink as a mouth rinse, helps to activate the brain and potentially improve motivation – this can be a useful strategy for later in the ride, when you can’t face drinking.

What are the best foods to eat on the bike and avoid feeling full?

Easily absorbed, high-GI carbs, like those listed above, work best because they help avoid digestive discomfort and nausea. Where possible, try to include some carb-electrolyte sports drinks to meet your fuel and fluid needs.

Are there any alternative options for energy boosting during a ride?

If you already consume caffeine as part of your regular diet, you can use this in addition to carbs to boost energy and decrease the sense of physical effort. Check out some of the commercially available sports drinks and gels that contain caffeine, and use these later in your cycle when your energy levels may be waning.

Selection of energy drinks

Should I only eat when I feel hungry or should I snack regularly during a ride?

Don’t rely on hunger as a cue for refuelling. As a general rule and if you're working towards an even or race, practice and refine your fuelling during training rides to find a system you feel comfortable with. Taking on carbs little and often is often the most efficient strategy.

Aim for 30g of carbs per hour as a starting point and see how you feel – the maximum you’ll require is 60g per hour – but in practice, most athletes don’t require this amount. Build your strategy in training, find what works for you and then use it with precision on race day.

Carb-based drinks are one of the most efficient ways to reach energy targets and stay hydrated. Energy gels are rapidly absorbed so they provide a ready source of fuel, pieces of banana, cereal bars and jellied sweets may also help to offset fatigue.

I’ve heard a lot about glucose/fructose products – how do I know if these are right for me?

There has been a lot of research over the last few years on carb use during endurance sports. Previously, the focus of many sport’s nutrition products was on supplying energy in the form of glucose, this is because glucose is the primary fuel source for muscle cells. However, we now know that a combination of sugars, including glucose and fructose, results in better absorption and more efficient fuelling during endurance exercise.

A mixture of 2:1 glucose and fructose appears to deliver up to 50 per cent more energy to the working muscles, meaning up to 90g per hour can be used by the muscles as fuel (just 60g per hour with glucose alone). So, it’s no surprise that these are the products elite cyclists (and triathletes) use during competition.

Glucose and fructose are absorbed differently in the intestine, so in some cases, where carb intake is higher, products that combine these sugars reduce gastrointestinal upsets.

However, these products are only of relevance to you if you are an endurance cyclist, that’s because they only give a performance advantage for races/events that are in excess of three hours.

Now you know what to eat during your cycle, get the rest of your training nutrition right:

What is carb-loading?
What to eat after your cycle
What to eat during your swim
What to eat after your swim
What to eat during your run
What to eat after your run

Are you training for an event this year or getting to grips with a new sport? Share your tips and experiences below.

This article was last updated on 13 December 2023 by Kerry Torrens.

As a sport and exercise nutritionist, James Collins regularly provides comment and consultation within the media and maintains a role of governance within health & nutrition in the UK, where he sits on The Royal Society of Medicine's (RSM) 'Food and Health' Council. He was heavily involved in advising Team GB in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic games, and now towards Rio 2016.

Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a registered nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food. Find her on Instagram at @kerry_torrens_nutrition_


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