A Cyclist's Food Guide

Healthy Living: Tips for before, during and after your ride

By Kris Parfitt

Photo at right: What you eat before, during and after a bike ride or race plays a vital role in your performance and recovery.


What you eat before, during and after a bike ride or race plays a vital role in your performance and recovery.

Think of three ingredients—carbohydrates, proteins and fats—as the essential components to keep a fire burning: Carbs are the kindling, fats the oxygen and protein the logs. Human bodies cannot have a long-burning fire without all three.


Carbs are a cell’s main fuel source. To prevent low-blood sugar levels, also known as “bonking,” eat high carb foods before, during and after a cycling event. Before a ride or race load up on oatmeal, whole grain cereal without milk, granola with almonds, an apple, and whole-wheat toast with a nut butter.

During the event, consume carb-rich calories with bananas, energy drinks and no-to-low protein bars and gels.

After a race is equally important—this is the refueling period for your cells. Begin eating within 30 minutes of finishing. Try a nut-butter and banana smoothie, baked potato, or any powder or bar that is higher in carbs than protein. Within two-to-three hours eat pancakes, bagels, fruit, low-fat cheese or yogurt, and whole wheat pasta.


Protein repairs tissue and helps build muscle. However, it is slow to digest so avoid consuming before and during a ride. Overall benefits are gained from eating protein within 30 minutes after an intense cycling event to support tissue repair and muscle growth.

For example, consume no more than a tablespoon of nut-butter with a whole wheat carb before the ride. Within 30 minutes after a ride eat any foods higher in carbs than protein. Within two–three hours after a ride, mix a higher percentage of carbs with poultry, fish or quinoa.

Healthy Fats

Healthy fats help clean cells in the brain and nervous system. Avoid all fats before and during a cycling event because, like protein, they use extra energy to digest. At the very most, eat no more than a tablespoon of nut-butter.


While water isn’t in these three categories, it is vital to the body’s need for hydration. Before a race or long ride it’s great to “camel up” and drink plenty of hydrating fluids. During the ride hydrate often with commercial energy drinks, or water mixed with lemon, sugar and salt. The best post-ride fluids contain sodium, sugars and proteins. Try chocolate milk, it’s one of the best recovery drinks!

Find Your Ratio

Keep a food log while training to help develop a well-tested menu of what to eat before, during and after rides. Track what you eat and how you feel throughout the event. Keep in mind that ratios are not the same for everyone due to the length and intensity of a race, training schedule, body type, weight, age and rate of metabolism.

When Kris Parfitt, a certified nutritional educator, isn’t telling cyclists about nutrition she spends her time as the new managing editor and social media director for OutdoorsNW. Send Email comments here or Tweet @OutdoorsNWmag