Fuelling On The Bike

Fuelling For The Work Required – How Cyclists Should Fuel Their Training

Mar 08, 2024

When it comes to training, as a general rule, no two days are ever the same in terms of the goals of the individual session and the duration and intensity of it.  

Most riders will periodise their training around the goals they want to achieve, events they want to target and the adaptations they want to drive in their development as riders (i.e. base training to improve their aerobic engines). 

Despite often having a periodised training plan, very few riders adjust their nutrition to best match their nutritional approach to the demands of the individual training session and the wider goals. 

From a nutrition perspective, how you approach your fuelling on a steady, 1-2 hour, very easy recovery ride should be a world apart from how you should optimally approach a 4-hour hilly ride at a high intensity, where the focus is on performance. 

By adjusting what we eat to the demands and goals of the session, we can use nutrition to enhance the stress that we can create from the session and the adaptive response we get, allowing us to achieve more benefits from the training, all without having to do any additional training.  

On a day-to-day basis, one of the key aspects of our diet that we should be changing to meet the demands of our training is our carbohydrate intake. 

The amount of energy we take in on a daily basis is made up of the three key macronutrients: fat, carbohydrate and protein. Our protein and fat needs stay relatively similar with only modest adjustments on a day-to-day basis, whilst our carbohydrate intake should fluctuate based on our overall energy expenditure, which is generally driven by the demands of the session.  

Carbohydrates play a key role in supporting our ability to perform high-intensity exercise. The amount of glycogen we start the exercise within our muscles and liver directly impacts our capacity to complete this high-intensity work. The more glycogen, the longer we can go hard for. 

As such, before each demanding session, we want to ensure we have sufficient glycogen available to complete the work we are looking to undertake in that session. Ensuring we have enough energy for the session ensures that we are able to complete the work we set out to do. 

It can take as much as 24-36 hours in which to maximise our glycogen stores pre exercise. 

 Under-fuelling a session, particularly if it is sustained in duration (i.e. 60-90 minutes+) and predominately at moderate to high intensities, can potentially have negative impacts on our capacity to do the work, which can negatively impact our performance within the session and theoretically increase the time it takes to recover from the session and long term potentially limit some of the adaptations that we are looking to achieve from the session. Similarly, not taking on fuel during the session itself, can mean we don’t develop the ability to efficiently and comfortably digest, absorb and utilise carbs on the bike, which can become problematic when it comes to competition. 

 In contrast, there are often sessions that can be readily performed with reduced carbohydrate stores and may benefit from a reduced intake of carbohydrates both before and during the session. For example, fuelling a steady endurance-focused ride (i.e. around Z2 or below) requires significantly less fuel given the low-intensity nature of the session, whereby fat will be the predominant fuel source. Performing these sessions with less available fuel and certainly finishing the session with low glycogen stores can also help drive training adaptations that may help support our aerobic capacity.

Going into a session like this with fully topped-up glycogen stores and fuelling the session in a similar way to a demanding session may negatively impact the adaptive responses to it, limiting the benefit we can achieve from it. 

So what does this all mean? In effect, when it comes to fuelling, we need to consider the goals and demands of each training session and adjust our carbohydrate intake (i.e. our fuelling) on a ‘meal by meal’ day-by-day basis to ensure we arrive at each session with the required amount of carbohydrate available to best support each session. 

Quite simply, if we’re looking to perform high-intensity work (i.e. training at or above our functional threshold power) for a prolonged duration, we may need to start considering fuelling in the 2-3+ meals prior to the session. 

In effect, it’s not about high carb or low carb; it’s all about ensuring you have enough carbs before and during the session to support the training/competition you’re completing optimally. 

 A key aspect of Fuel The Ride Academy and our training curriculum is to help you develop the knowledge and practical understanding of why fuelling is important and, from a practical food-based perspective, how to approach your fuelling for different sessions.

- Coach Ben

 Fuelling For The Work Required - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29453741/ 

If you're a road, mountain bike, gravel or track cyclist and want to take your performance and physique to the next level...let the FTR coaches show you exactly how to achieve this inside the Fuel The Ride Academy.

Join The Academy