The Fueling Properties of Carbohydrates

Wheat products are strong sources of carbohydrates.

Eating well prior to bike rides can improve your chances of lasting throughout the ride and boost enjoyment. The exact diet isn’t rocket science; however, not eating well may lead you to “bonking” out on rides in excess of one hour. Proper nutrition is important, says the nutritionist. So what should you eat, and how should you maintain your body before and during the ride?

Well, carbohydrates is the main fuel your body needs when exercising. Some carbohydrates transform into glycogen stored in your liver and muscles; they power your body as you move during exercise. Cycling is the art of pumping pedals up down, up down for x amount of time to keep the metal horse going. Whether you are an elite rider or just doing for leisure, there’ll be hills to climb and distance to surmount. Therefore, it’s advisable to take snacks along with you for rides over an hour.



Before the Mounting

Have you had a good breakfast prior to the ride?

Let’s assume you’re gonna wake up on a Saturday morning, 8am to take a long ride down Pasir Ris-Punggol cycling trail. It’s not so much the distance you’re covering than how you maintain your body before the casual race – this “tender loving care” would have begun the night before. Good sleep of 8 hours, good hydration, and eating well the day before make up one’s timeless advice on self-care.

Everyone has differing levels of comfort for eating prior to exercise. Do experiment and see what works for you. But in general, eat and rest for 2-4 hours before cycling to allow time for digestion. Take half an hour to 2 hours’ rest for a smaller snack. That’s waking up at 6am for a good carbos-filled breakfast, then waiting 2 hours (1 hour something to be less precise) for your food to be digested, then off you go on your bike! What goes unsaid: the warm-up exercise prior.

Click here for a quick guide on the Glycaemic Index (GI) of carbohydrates.

Summarily, main meals should be high in GI carbohydrates and moderate in protein and fats.


What to Avoid Before a Ride?

Foods rich in curry may cause gastrointestinal or gastric pain during the ride.

Food not high in carbohydrates. Food that causes gastrointestinal pain. Food with excess fibre, excess fat, high-level spicy food, high-level caffeine consumption, and alcohol (you don’t want to totter as you pedal).

Your main focus should be on smaller snacks with a high GI rating and easy absorption for instant transformation into energy. Latent food not immediately digestable can cause unwanted lethargy.

Click here on suggested foodstuff to eat before a ride.

Quick note: what makes a good biking snack goes beyond energy level. It should be portable, nutritional and doesn’t melt easily (Snickers are awesome). Load up more than what you need, and have a bite and drink every 15 minutes.


During Cycling

Adequate intake of H2O – 6 to 8 cups a day is ideal.

Generally, you do not need to load up anything except water for rides below 1 hour. Going above the hour, please ensure a sufficient larder of carbos-rich snacks. Eat up when you start to feel yourself turn empty and devoid of energy.

For rides over 1 hour, carbohydrate intake needs to be well organised. You may wish to wear a waist pouch or carry a light haversack for water bottle(s). Throw the snacks in. The ideal rate of carbos is between 30-60grams per hour (depending on the intensity of your ride).

Ideally, the five snacks below are suggested:

1. Chocolate Bars – Snickers, Kit Kat, Kinder Bueno

It goes without saying that “Have a Break, Have a KitKat”. What so wondrous about this life-saving red-packaged square of sweetened cocoa? Have a read. Generally, chocolate gives you that needed energy boost. A wonky head is replenished by feelings of relief and sharper focus after downing that emergency bar found in your pants’ back pocket. Give or take a few calories, other chocolate bars function in much the same ways. Or fruity, grainy bars help too: look for one that has ingredients such as whole grains, dried fruits and nuts. One large cereal bar or carbohydrates-based energy bar. Keep it low fibre.

2. Bananas 

Yes, you need to go bananas over the famed yellow peel. Bananas are ready-to-roll snacks; they are rich in potassium and carbohydrates supplementing the ability of your muscles to max out your energy. More fuel deployed means more grind on the pedal for the rider. A recent study concludes that bananas contain the same amount of energy given by commercial sports drinks. Think of the effects: you’re downing a FRUIT in exchange for an equal energy level over an ARTIFICIAL drink. In this regard the yellow fruit wins, peels down.

3. Water (and Sports/Isotonic Drinks)

Hydration goes without say. It’s the minute (and major) difference between breaking out in cold sweat and slumping on a rock, and making it past the self-set Finish Line on your given trail or track. When the body doesn’t have enough water, it burns off your calories instead. This renders your recent meal futile.

If you’re going under an hour, have just one bottle. Over an hour, please, load up 2 bottles. Affix a water-bracket to your bike (hardtail mountain bikes are more ideal if you’re mountain-biking). Otherwise, have a haversack to load them in.

Packing in one or two isotonic drinks is ideal, of course. Nothing guzzles you out faster than energy loss, and nothing refreshes you more than a quick snap boost in psychic-electric-muscle-power. Okay, energy (what was I thinking?). Imagine you’re Popeyes; instead of downing spinach, that quick fix is H2O (and H2O Isotonic).

Having a 500ml bottle of commercially available isotonic sports drink helps tremendously.

4. Peanut Butter Jelly Bread & Sweets

“PB&J’s are perfect pocket fuel.” Holly Larson, MS, RD, nutrition expert.

The bread and jam/honey provides carbohydrates and the peanut butter endows you your proteins and fats. Larson suggests swapping a tortilla for bread to avoid a squashed sandwich. Slice your bread into quarters and eat one piece at a time at 15- to 20-minute increments.

Sweets are perfect energy boosters too. ‘coz sugar. ‘Nuff said.

5. Dried Nuts and Fruits

…a definite concentrated source of carbohydrates. Throw in dried apricots, prunes and raisins should you yearn the extra benefit of potassium. To keep your body replete with energy, Vitamin E and magnesium, add your favorite fruits to the mix. If you are the type to sweat more, kindly choose salted nuts and seeds instead.


It is so easy to neglect the diet portion of your ride. Doing so may cause dizziness, shaky bones/muscles and an inability to complete the trail. You certainly would not want to miss out what you have perhaps so meticulously planned a week ago.

Kindly read this article for what you should eat after the ride to “cool-down”.

Remember, loving yourself is the first step to having good health. And having a good, healthy diet daily and pre-ride is a sure form of self-love. 🙂


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