Long ride nutrition

You need to be well fuelled for a Sportive, charity endurance event or just a lengthy leisure ride so Personal Trainer and Sports Nutritionist Sally Pinnegar of fitnaturally has put together some great nutrition advice for before, during and after your rides.
No single nutrition guide will work for everyone, so there may be odd things you would change to suit your own requirements, but here at West Malling Cycles we’re big fans of Sally’s methods and advice, so we think it’s a good guide to preparing your body for an endurance event.

So you have a long ride or race looming and you’ve been cranking up the miles in preparation, training to improve endurance, technique and strength. The chances are you’re just eating your normal diet but more of it; maybe a few more slices of toast and Nutella, some washing up bowls of cereal, energy bars and sports drink thrown in, shed load of pasta the night before long rides and a blow out after the ride on top of random grazing. Sound familiar?

Always remember, the next person may have trained the same as you, have similar mental strength and ability but if they get their nutrition right and you don’t they will most certainly finish stronger. It pays to be smart about what you fill your fuel tanks with, and when.

Here are some guidelines:


Scenario – 90 minute hard ride first thing

170g of plain yoghurt with acacia or greek honey, 20g of muesli and sliced banana. Cup of tea or glass of water

Rationale: Yoghurt is a form of non-starchy carbohydrate and a protein source. Adding banana and muesli further adds to the carb, as does the honey. So you have an easy-to-eat carb-packed breakfast with the benefit of some protein to slow the release of fuel. You don’t actually need a massive breakfast or loads of calories for a 90 min workout so this is perfect.

For 90 mins hard riding, with a pre-breakfast you can simply have water, how much depends on your size and the weather conditions but let’s take an 11 stone person on an early summer morning in Britain; they’d need roughly 600ml per hour, so that’s 900ml all told.

N.B. The only accurate way to work out fluid requirements is to weigh yourself naked before and after some rides. The difference in weight is how much fluid you’ve lost through sweating and breathing, each kilogramme equates to 1litre of fluid. So if you weighed 70kg before, you drank 1 litre during the ride and weighed 70kg after you’ve lost 1 litre of fluid – you’ve basically stayed in balance. If you weighed 69kg after and had had the same amount of fluid there would be a deficit of 1 litre so you’d know you need to drink that much more next time. However, it’s an impossible aim to stay in total fluid balance so aim for 80% and you’ll be fine. There’s a handy calculator HERE.

During 90 mins you’ll have burnt a minimum of 900 calories, depending on your weight, muscularity and the intensity of the ride, you’ve already had a breakfast of about 450 cals so aim to have a similar amount after the ride. When riding hard you’ll need to replace protein as well as carb, to help with muscle repair. Try having an egg on toast and some Sultana Bran plus a small glass of fresh juice. This gives everything you need and will help keep you feeling full for a while.

Rest of the day:
For the rest of that day just eat normally, you haven’t done anything extra special to warrant a Mars Bar or anything! Morning snack could be a large handful of nuts and raisins and a glass of milk or milky coffee. Lunch a sandwich with chicken and salad, and a yoghurt, glass of water or natural cordial. Afternoon snack, fresh fruit salad, water or tea and evening meal depends what training you’re doing the following day but could be rice with grilled salmon and vegetables.


Scenario – 5 hour ride starting at 8am

The day before:
For this you need to start your fuelling the day before by increasing carb and fluid intake. So have cereal for breakfast, yoghurt as a snack, small baked potato and salad for lunch, an energy bar and cuppa in the afternoon. An ideal meal for the night before would be spaghetti bolognese or chilli con carne followed by some yoghurt and fruit or even ice cream with banana and maple syrup. It’s not a massive blowout but is a bit bigger than normal portions.

On the morning of your long ride have a medium bowl of porridge with milk and honey and one or two slices of peanut butter on wholemeal or granary toast. Have a cuppa as well (you need to enjoy your food and fluids and tea is fluid!)

Rationale: Porridge is slow burning carbohydrate and the addition of milk adds protein which further slows release and helps you stay feeling full. Peanut Butter on toast gives you more carb and protein, plus some good fat; fat has a satiating influence. All good sports diets contain fat in its healthy, unprocessed form. Have real butter on your toast and use full fat milk. Un-messed with foods are always the wisest choice.

During your five hour ride you’ll need to keep carb-stores topped up as you only have the ability to store about 2000 calories-worth of carb in your body and you’ll be burning at least double that. Drink isotonic fluid which has added protein to help prevent muscle breakdown during endurance training. There’s a lot of snobbery amongst cyclists about what food they carry (although they don’t appear to shun the cake stop!) and how much solid food they consume. Well throw that thinking out of the window as it’s for Muppets! You’ll need some solids at 2hrs and 4 hrs and, rather than keep packing in the sickly sweet stuff, one of those stops can be for a peanut butter (or, even better, peanut butter and Marmite) sandwich and the other can be a snack bar, ideally made from all natural stuff. They are DELICIOUS and easy to carry and chew. When eating a snack bar have a large handful of salted nuts with it. Wash your bars down with water rather than sports drink or you’ll get too much of a massive sugar hit.

Rationale: Keep the carb stores topped up, maintain consistent energy, prevent bonking and keep electrolytres going in for good muscle function and prevention of cramp

Post ride:
Immediately have 300-400ml of good quality chocolate milk or a recovery drink such as For Goodness Shakes. You can carry a sachet with you and make it up with water in seconds.

Go on to have a medium meal with some carb and protein; like meat or fish salad sandwiches or beans/egg on toast followed by some yoghurt, fruit and honey. Later on you can snack on a bit of dark chocolate and a cuppa (keep the fluids going in) or some fresh juice and water with malt loaf. For dinner you might choose lean steak with baked potato and salad/veg. Maybe a small red wine. If you’re consistently training hard you could have a night time recovery drink.

Rationale: Replace carb as quickly as you can, for about an hour after exercise your muscles have their ‘mouths’ wide open and that’s the absolute best time to feed them. If you miss that window you’ll miss the opportunity for maximum glycogen replenishment (glycogen is carb, basically). That’s the purpose of the immediate chocolate milk; choc milk is just as good as any bought recovery drink and is all natural. The first meal is to further re-stock carb along with some good protein for muscle repair. Endurance training often suppresses appetite so you want something that’s not too big and is easy to make and eat; it’s unlikely you’ll feel like cooking after being in the saddle for five hours. The evening meal gives you more lean protein and starchy carb with a hit of nutrient dense veggies. Red wine has antioxidant properties and is totally fine if you have a glass with food. Don’t deprive yourself too much or you’ll develop cravings

So to sum up, you don’t need any special foods, just good nutritious natural foods, in the right quantities at the right time. Don’t be snobby about your in-ride nutrition, avoid random grazing and don’t think that exercising hard is a license to eat a chocolate covered elephant!

Sally Pinnegar

If you’d like a customised nutrition plan to suit your riding, your taste and your life, check out Sally’s website at www.fitnaturally.co.uk it’s full of useful advice, tasty recipies and great information for a fit and healthy lifestyle.