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What to eat before cycling

21 May 2016 - Anthony Laplagne

Eating properly is a great way to boost and maximise your performance on the bike.

Here at Europe Active – the adventure cycling holidays specialists – we are regularly out on our bikes, testing, checking or guiding the tours we offer in some of Europe’s best cycling destinations. And we know that consuming the right fuel makes all the difference to our bike rides. So we thought we’d share what we’ve learned about what to eat before cycling.

What to eat before cycling

What to eat
Having the right fuel in your body, and then taking enough fuel on board later, will help you get the most from your cycle. The main fuel is carbohydrate. It is stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen. But, the body can only store so much at any one time. So taking on the right quantity and topping up your store of fuel is they key here. 

It helps to plan out your ride. How long will it last and what intensity is it at? For instance, are you doing a commute to work, is it a weekend ride, or are you doing a longer ride than your normally would – perhaps spending all day on your bike as part of a bicycle holiday? 

The night before 
If it’s a big ride, or a high intensity burst, then the best diet for cyclists includes a high carb meal at night. Build in some protein into your meals at night too – it’s good for tissue maintenance and your immune system, so it helps the body recover from exercise. Good sources of protein are lean meats, fish, beans, pulses and low fat dairy products. And whilst we’re on the subject, if you can also remember to eat some ‘good fats’ this will also help with the reduction of inflammation too. 

Examples of what to eat before cycling 
Have a high carb breakfast around 2 hours before you set off. 
A cyclist’s diet usually will include a good breakfast like porridge or a fruit smoothie with some banana in it. This kind of food is what is known as a ‘lower GI’ food and they give a slower release of energy. Although the amount of carbohydrate a person can take on board is very individual, it is best not to eat too big a portion because this can lead to peaks and troughs in energy. 

Top up once you are on the move
Once you are on the move, then it’s best to top up your fuel intake with higher GI foods like a cereal bar, banana, handful of jellied sweets etc. They release energy quickly so they are perfect foods to eat during a bike ride. 
Remember to top up on fluid too – you will be expending energy and sweat as you peddle so you need to replace that too.

What to eat before cycling

What not to eat 
Any good guide on what to eat before cycling should include some guidance on what to avoid. We’ve found that it’s best to avoid things or foods you are not used to directly before a cycle. This has sometimes been a challenge for some of our guests when they’ve been presented with some amazing new foods in a new destination. But you can always try them on a rest day! You generally want to avoid any upsets when you are on the bike. 

It’s also good to avoid too much caffeine, fat and alcohol before you set off too. And when you are on the move, avoid carbs with refined sugar as this impacts energy levels and recovery. 

This general outline will help you build a plan of what to eat before cycling and perhaps what to avoid too. From here you can work out what best suits you and your body. The result will be a more enjoyable period on the bike with maximised performance – which is a great position to be in whether its on a weekend cycle or if you are on a longer ride on your cycling holiday. 

And if you are thinking of heading of on your bicycle holidays, take a look at the Europe Active website at  It is chock full of all sorts of active holidays in Europe’s best cycling locations.  There’s something for new riders to experienced cyclists, from mountain bikers to road cyclists. Check it out. 

And whilst you are there, have a look at the Europe Active blog for a whole host of cycling information from thoughts about where to take your next cycling holiday through to what to pack and how to choose the right cycling shoes. Our blog is a cycling goldmine!

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