Eating for success: nutrition advice for a 20 to 50km cycling race 

When taking part in a bike race like the Santos Tour Down Under, what you eat and drink can pay an important role in your performance. The following nutrition advice is recommended if you’re preparing for a 20 to 50km cycling race.

What should I eat before a 20 to 50km ride?

Carbohydrate foods are your body’s preferred energy source. Read more about carbohydrates here. What you need to know is that all carbohydrate foods are broken down into glucose which is stored in the liver and muscle tissue as ‘glycogen’. Your muscles use this glycogen to power you, and you’ll need full stores when you hop on the bike and start riding.
A high-carbohydrate meal two to four hours before a ride is thought to have a positive effect on performance. This might mean you have to set the alarm a little earlier to be able to have a proper breakfast a few hours before your ride. In the case of a very early start, another option is to have a larger supper the night before and a lighter snack or fluids only one to two hours before the event.
Choose something that is easy to digest and that is familiar and enjoyable for you. This will mean different foods depending on the race time, and your likes and dislikes.
What might this look like? 
Here are some carbohydrate rich meal ideas for the night before the ride:
  • spaghetti Bolognese with garlic bread
  • chicken & vegetable risotto
  • stir fry with wholegrain rice or noodles
  • baked sweet potato with low-fat cream cheese and vegetable topping
  • lentil or meat casserole with rice or bread.
Here are some high-carbohydrate meal ideas that may be appropriate two to four hours before the ride:
  • fruit salad with low-fat yoghurt
  • porridge with honey
  • banana smoothie with low-fat milk & fruit toast
  • baked beans on toast
  • wholegrain cereal with low-fat milk and tinned/fresh fruit
Don’t forget a drink! Your pre-ride meal is also an opportunity to get some fluids in.
Suggested fluids:
  • water
  • fruit juice
  • low-fat milk
A small carbohydrate-rich snack one to two hours before exercise may also help top up your energy stores. To avoid stomach upset, your pre-ride snack should be low in fat and well tolerated.
Carbohydrate rich snack ideas closer to your ride may include:
  • a muesli bar / cereal bar a piece of fruit
  • toast/muffin/crumpet with honey or jam.
For more information on carbohydrate loading, click here, or you may like to check out some more specific carb loading meal plans for the endurance athlete for someone weighing 60, 70 and 80kgs. kilograms.
Man drinking water after exercise - Bupa Blue Room

What should I eat during the ride?

It is a good idea to carry a water bottle on your bike so that you can take frequent sips along the way to replace the fluid you will lose through sweat.

After you’ve been riding for 60 - 90 mins, a carbohydrate-rich snack can help top up the glycogen in your muscles and give you the energy to get you through the rest of your ride.

Make the most of the rest stops along the way! Don’t overdo it, too much food can cause stomach upset and discomfort. 
Why don’t you try some of these carbohydrate-rich options:

muesli bar / cereal bar
sports drink
honey sandwich.

What should I eat after the ride?

After a ride, it’s all about the 3 Rs:


You need to replace the glycogen that you have used up throughout the ride. You can do this by making sure your post-ride meal contains some good quality carbohydrates.

Your muscles have worked very hard and they will be sore and in need of repair. The way to do this is to make sure you post-ride meal contains some high-quality protein.
You will continue to lose fluid even after you hop off the bike. So make sure you continue to drink water in the few hours after the ride. In training, learn how much fluid you typically lose during a ride. Remember that the colour and volume of your urine is a simple way to tell if you are hydrated.

Aim to have something to eat within an hour of finishing your ride. This is when your body is most efficient in absorbing the nutrients from your food.

Some great post-ride meal ideas include:
  • multigrain sandwich or roll with lean meat/cheese & salad
  • poached eggs/omelette/baked beans/salmon/sardines (pick one) on multigrain toast
  • muesli with low fat yoghurt or milk topped with fruit
  • pasta salad with lean meat.
Bupa has been supporting the community ride of the Santos Tour Down Under for 15 years, encouraging you to keep active by getting on your bike and having a go, while raising awareness of the significant health and social benefits of cycling. If you're interested in learning more or signing up for the 2017 Bupa Challenge Tour, click here.
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