The weather is slowly getting warmer, which means cycling season is here. With cycling becoming increasing popular since the pandemic hit, I’ve had a ton of questions about fuelling during long rides. This is an important topic not just the new rider, but also for the veteran cyclist. Failing to properly fuel during long rides can result in the dreaded “bonk.” This can occur because the storage forms of carbohydrates, known as glycogen, are limited and can easily become depleted during long rides. Depleted glycogen can result in fatigue and exhaustion, and not such a pleasant end to a ride. If you want to perform at your best and also finish strong, consuming carbohydrates during cycling is a must.

So how much should you be consuming during long rides? If you’re heading out for a ride that is over 2.5 hours then you should be aiming for up to 90 grams per hour of carbohydrates. If you’re out there for less than 2.5 hours, then aiming for 60-90 grams per hours is sufficient. To put that in perspective, to hit the 90-gram target you would have to consume about 4 of any of the following each hour:

  • Sport gel
  • Packet sport beans
  • Honey stinger waffle
  • 3 Clif gel blocks
  • ½ a Clif bar
  • 2 Fig newtons
  • Small banana
  • 4 deglet dates
  • 375 ml Gatorade

There is one catch with consuming 90 grams per hour of carbohydrate. This requires what is called multiple transportable carbohydrates. Transporters in the gut become concentrated when we consume too much of one carbohydrate. By consuming a mixture of carbohydrates then we can use different transporters and we can increase the oxidation of these carbohydrates for energy.  Most sports gels and gummies are specially designed with a mixture of transportable carbohydrates, but most natural foods won’t have this mixture. It’s also important to consider that the gut is an adaptable organ and should be trained just like your train your muscles. Consuming carbohydrates during exercise increases your ability to absorb carbohydrate by increasing the transporters in the gut. If you never consume carbohydrates during exercise, it’s probably best if you start with a smaller amount before increasing up to the 90 grams per hour target. Every athlete needs to find their sweet spot.

When I tell the athletes that I work with the quantity of carbohydrates that they should be consuming during cycling they are generally in shock. It’s a lot of food. For most athletes, consuming this much food during exercise is generally not enjoyable. However, if you want to perform at your best and avoid the dreaded bonk then fuelling is critical.

Categories: Megan Kuikman

Megan Kuikman

Hello! I’m Megan Kuikman. I’m a Registered Dietitian with specialized training in sports nutrition. My goal is to help athletes and active individuals achieve a healthy attitude towards health, training, and food. I empower athletes to fuel properly for training in order to restore their health and enhance performance. You can get in touch with me at: hello@megankuikmanRD.ca

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