What to eat and when to feel strong on the bike
By Amy Schlinger
Nutrition and hydration for cycling are hot topics and many of us pay close attention to what we’re eating and drinking as we prepare for a big outdoor bike ride. However, when it comes to indoor riding, that thought process and preparation often goes out the window. But for indoor riding, it can be just as, if not more, important to fuel your body properly to have a strong and successful ride.
“Generally speaking, when someone does an indoor cycling workout, it is typically at a higher intensity than just going out for a bike ride,” says Leslie Bonci, RD, CSSD, LDN, sports nutritionist, and author of Sport Nutrition for Coaches, and Bike Your Butt Off. “That means, to pedal strong and go fast and last, you need to think about pre-fueling and hydrating.”
Before you clip into your bike for an indoor ride, be sure to fuel up. Here are some helpful tips.
Why Fuel for Indoor Rides
Preparing for workouts by fueling and hydrating can set you up for success. “Proper fuel and hydration can help increase strength, speed, and stamina,” says Bonci. “It can also help with your focus, so you’re able to listen to the instructor better if you happen to be taking or following along with a class.”
And you may not realize this but being nourished and hydrated can also minimize your risk of injury. “Being optimally hydrated decreases injury risk and eating anti-inflammatory foods can also help you be proactive,” says Bonci. “Eating enough protein supports the integrity of bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints, too.”
How to Properly Fuel
Just as putting on your bike shorts, workout wear, and indoor cycling shoes are a part of your routine before you hop on the bike, nutrition and hydration should be a part of the routine as well. “If you’re scheduling to ride from noon to 1PM, start at 11:30 with fueling and hydration, and factor that time in as part of your workout,” says Bonci.
So, what should you be eating before you ride inside? Bonci explains that pre-workout, you want your fuel to be carb-focused to contribute to speed and stamina, with a little protein to help with your strength and satiety.
And don’t forget about hydrating. You’ll always need at least 20 ounces of fluid before a ride, Bonci suggests, and more if you’re planning on going for a lengthier ride.
Fueling Based on Timing of Your Workout
“If you’re doing a morning workout, consider drinking a smoothie while you change into your clothes to ride. This will provide the carbs, protein, and fluid that you need,” says Bonci. “Other good options are a small bowl of cereal or a scrambled egg and slice of toast.”
If you’re riding in the evening, you probably ate breakfast and lunch prior to the ride, so a lighter snack should suffice. “I’d recommend eating about an hour before your workout,” says Bonci. “You could have a handful of trail mix that’s mostly cereal with some dried fruit and a few nuts, or some crackers, with fruit, and a little cheese.”
You can also shoot for at least 20 ounces of fluid before a ride, too.
Fueling Based on Workout Length
The length of your workout matters, too, when it comes to fueling and hydrating properly. If you’re doing a shorter 30–45-minute ride, and you just recently ate a meal, you may not need extra fuel before the ride, but you still need to drink a lot of water.
“If it has been several hours since you last ate, and you’ll be riding for 30-45 minutes, you could choose a sports drink for the hydration and carbs, or a piece of fruit, or a granola bar and 20 ounces of fluid,” says Bonci.
If you’re riding for an hour or longer, you may want a little more substance. Bonci recommends a nutrition bar, like Lara, Kind, or Luna, along with fluid.
“For a longer ride, the rule of thumb is 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour after the first hour of riding,” she says. “This could be a sports drink, gels or chews, honey, dried fruit, or even licorice, as well as lots of fluid.”
Hydration is most important during your workout. In order to figure out how much fluid you need, you’ll have to know your sweat rate, explains Bonci. “To do this, you need to weight yourself before and after your rides, wearing as little clothing as possible,” she says. Then use this calculation:
Pre-workout weight - Post-workout weight in ounces (16 ounces in a pound) + number of ounces of fluid consumed during rides number of hours riding = ounces of fluid needed per hour.
Example: 140 pounds – 138 pounds = 2 pounds or 32 ounces + 20 ounces of fluid consumed during the ride = 52 ounces total 2 hours of riding = 26 ounces of fluid needed per hour
Post-Workout Fueling and Hydration
After you finish riding, you ideally need 20-24 ounces of fluid for every pound lost during the ride, explains Bonci. So, if you lost two pounds during your ride, you’ll need at least 40- 48 ounces of fluid to replenish your water and electrolytes. But you need fuel as well. “The goal when fueling post-workout is a snack, not a mean, but with some carbs and protein in it,” says Bonci. “You could have half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Greek yogurt with granola, a smoothie, or hummus and pita chips.”
If you fuel correctly pre-, mid-, and post- indoor cycling, you’ll set yourself up to have your best, most successful ride possible.
Leslie J. Bonci , MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN, is the owner of the nutrition consulting company Active Eating Advice. Her clients include: The National Dairy Council, California Dried Plum Board, The National Peanut Board, Potatoes, USA, Gatorade, Ready Nutrition, General Mills, and Douglas Labs. She is the nutrition consultant for the Kansas City Chiefs, Carnegie Mellon University athletics, and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. She was the sports dietitian for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Blue Jays, the Washington Nationals, and the WNBA.