Nutrition for Cyclists: Getting the basics right

New Body Osteopathy Health & Fitness, Nutrition

When New Body Osteopathy asked me to write a nutrition themed article for Bespoke, I thought to myself, “where on earth do I begin?” “Something about sports nutrition for cyclists” somebody suggested. This didn’t really narrow it down much as there is so much a Sports Dietitian can do to help an athlete meet their individual goals.

So, I spent some time chatting with the guys who work in Bespoke and what it is they think their clients might wish to read about. Different ideas and questions came up such as “what about hydration?”, “should I be taking supplements?” or “how much carbohydrate do cyclists really need?” and “how can our clients have a more enjoyable ride?”.

What struck me most of all was that they too were struggling to know where to begin. So, I thought, that’s it, let’s start at the beginning as, whether you are a seasoned veteran preparing for your 10th L’Etape Du Tour looking for that extra edge; or heading for your first ever sportive and just want to make it to the end, mastering the basics is essential.


Nutrition plays a fundamental role in beating the bonk! Fuel stored in our muscles (called glycogen) and blood glucose are the most important sources of energy for our contracting muscles. If not adequately prepared, fatigue can set in, as there is nothing left in the tank!

Your day-to-day carbohydrates should be those that release their energy slowly, known as low glycaemic index carbohydrates. Examples include, starchy vegetables and wholegrains such as brown bread, wholemeal pasta, oats and sweet potato. Faster release or high glycaemic index carbohydrates are best timed for heavy training days or during competition when exercising for more than 90minutes. Examples include, white bread, white bagels, cereals, sweets and energy gels. Carbohydrates are a necessary component of any cyclist’s diet and should be adjusted to meet the needs and goals of your training regime, as too much can lead to undesirable weight gain.


It is not just a lack of energy that can stop you in your tracks. Dehydration due to sweating can significantly impair performance. If you are taking part in exercise lasting more than 90minutes, the best advice is to weigh yourself before and after exercise to understand your sweat rate. The idea is to limit weight losses to 2-3% during an event. Adding sodium (electrolyte) and carbohydrate to sports drinks is widely recommended to aid the absorption of water. It is also important to achieve a balance though, as drinking in excess of your sweat rate could result in overhydration (known as hyponatraemia), which can be harmful too.


Foods that are rich in protein are necessary to build and repair muscles which can promote recovery after exercise. There are a variety of sources and those that are lean and low in fat are the best choices. Examples include, white meat (chicken/turkey), red meat (lean steak/mince), oily fish (salmon/mackerel), white fish (cod/haddock), dairy (milk/yogurt), eggs, nuts and pulses (beans/lentils).  Protein rich foods are best eaten at regular intervals throughout the day to help keep your muscles in positive balance, for example, including a meal or snack that provides 20-30g of protein 3-4 x a day. A food first approach is always encouraged to ensure you are getting enough protein, but when it is impractical to have a meal or snack (for example, soon after training) then protein powders or shakes offer a convenient solution.


Maintaining a healthy weight is important for good health to reduce the risk of developing conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some types of cancers. A diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables not only offers a variety of vitamins and minerals for good health but aids weight management too.

This is also important for the weight weenies amongst us who strive for that golden power to weight ratio. Creating a calorie deficit will aid weight loss. Losing excess body fat is an effective way to boost performance, especially when climbing. Including a fasted light ride in your weekly training regime may help your ability to burn fat. For example, going for a ride before you have breakfast.  If you are thinking about losing weight, it is best to time this during a period away from competition when there is less focus on performance. Make sure you consume enough protein during this time too, to look after your muscle mass.

Not sure whether you have weight to lose? New Body Osteopathy offer a Nutrition Service where your body composition including the distribution of fat can be estimated using skin fold measures. Along side this, an in depth nutritional analysis of your diet can be carried out as well as the development of a personalised dietary plan to promote improvements in your body composition and performance.


Once you have got the basics right you may start to think about how nutrition can play a role in giving you that extra performance edge! Do you ever wonder why your club mates are taking the latest sports food or supplements? There are many of these available, however, only a few are supported by science. They shouldn’t replace or compromise the adequacy of your day-to-day diet but may have a place in a well-planned nutrition strategy.

For example, caffeine and sports performance has been well researched. With the right timing and amount of caffeine, exercise can be sustained for longer and it may feel easier. Individual responses to caffeine can vary, but generally a dose in the range of 1-3mg per kg body weight should be sufficient to improve performance when taken approximately 1 hour prior to exercise. But remember, avoid consuming caffeine in excess as some may experience side effects (increased heart rate, anxiety, tummy upset and sleep disturbances).

It is not uncommon for cyclists, runners and triathletes to suffer from gastrointestinal disturbances (nausea, diarrhoea, cramps etc.) during long events.  There may be a link to nutritional practices such as consuming foods rich in fibre, fat, protein and concentrated carbohydrate drinks or gels (especially those that are exclusively fructose) during an event. So, make sure you practice and train with your nutrition strategies to find out what works for you and what doesn’t.

Whatever your reason for riding your bike, nutrition is key to having a more enjoyable ride. Whether it is your escape from your busy, chaotic Monday to Friday life or to find the inner elite athlete in you, nutrition plays a fundamental role.

An in depth nutritional assessment with New Body Osteopathy including anthropometric and dietary analysis as well as the development of an individualised dietary plan can ensure that you are getting the balance and timing of nutrients right to meet your sporting goals.

Book your nutrition consultation with Nicola Marsh, Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist, from New Body Osteopathy at Bespoke Gresham Street or Bespoke in Canary Wharf for an individual assessment. 


de Oliveira, E. P., Burini, R. C., Jeukendrup, A. (2014). Gastrointestinal complaints during exercise: prevalence, aetiology, and nutritional recommendations. Sports Medicine 44 (S1): S79-S85.

Jeukendrup, A. E. (2011). Nutrition for endurance sports: Marathon, triathlon and road cycling. Journal of Sports Sciences. 29 (S1): S91-S99.