Carbs are King

Carbohydrate, in all its forms, is what fuels your ride

You’ve been up bright and early every morning, spurning that extra hour in bed. You’ve shivered through dawn training rides and braved the dark to make up the hours after work. You’ve checked food labels, measured portions and eschewed treats to keep your training diet on track. Having worked so hard in training, don’t let poor fuelling get in the way of your success.

Eating right in the days before your sportive, longest training ride or prior to heading off on a weekend tour will give you a much better chance of success – and of making it through in great shape. And the most important part of that diet, both in the lead up to an event and while you’re on the bike, is carbohydrate.

Before the event

Sports nutritionist and dietician Dr Gary Mendoza agrees: “The key aspect of a pre-race supper is carbohydrate, and also for the seven days before. Eat 7g to 10g of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight each day to ensure that your cycling capabilities are at their peak.” For someone weighing 76kg (12 stone) this equates to between 530g and 760g of carbohydrate a day.

“Timing is not critical for the evening meal, as it is far enough away from your start time. The key aspect is the level of carb content – picking healthy, low fat options is a good idea,” says Mendoza. The reason for loading up on carbs is to increase your muscle’s glycogen stores ready for the next day’s ride.

You want to eat enough to feel full but not so much that your meal is difficult to digest and disrupts your sleep – the average meal takes between six to 10 hours to digest completely.

Opinion is also divided about whether to focus on simple or complex carbohydrates, but more important is the level of carbohydrate content and that the meal doesn’t upset your digestion. Foolproof choices such as pasta and rice are good places to start. This isn’t the time to try out rich recipes or experiment with exotic ingredients.

Give it a miss

Just to be on the safe side, here are few things to avoid eating (and drinking) when sitting down for pre-race grub.

  • Rich sauces – Adding lashings of cream to a pasta sauce could leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable.
  • Alcohol – This will dehydrate you and have a detrimental effect on your riding the following day.
  • New dishes – Don’t try a new food for the first time before a race even if it is full of carbohydrate and protein.

During your ride

Ideally you need 30-60g carbohydrate for every hour riding to maintain your glucose levels. Mendoza gives us his top tips for on-ride food boosts:

  • Gels, bars and drinks: All are easy ways to get a quick carb boost on the bike, and most modern offerings also contain electrolytes to maintain hydration.
  • Banana: One large banana has 30g of carbohydrate and also contains potassium which helps replenish lost electrolytes.
  • Jelly Beans: A 57g serving of jelly beans (around 30 beans) contains 50g of quick-release. carbohydrate and 200 calories for a quick energy burst.
  • Jam sandwich: Two thick slices of bread and four teaspoons of jam (no butter or margarine) provide 50g carbohydrate.
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