5 must-know cycling nutrition strategies

So here comes race day. All your training is in the rear-view mirror, your bike is dialed, you know the course, you're ready to go. But what about your nutrition plan? Fueling your engine right is vital. Here are five things you gotta know.


1. You can and should take in a huge amount of carbohydrates

Carbohydrate consumption has exploded in recent years and athletes are taking in much more carbohydrate during races than we ever thought possible. While 40 or 50 grams might have been acceptable 10 years ago, now top-level WorldTour riders are taking in 120 grams of carbohydrate per hour. MTB and gravel athletes are following suit, too, like Lauren de Crescenzo who took in roughly 100 grams of cho per hour en route to winning The Mid South.

These massive carbohydrate intakes spare muscle glycogen, fight fatigue, and are being credited for the explosion in aggressive end-to-end racing at the WorldTour level over the past few years. If you aren’t adjusting your CHO intake to match what we now know is possible, you’re falling behind.

2. The content of what you’re taking in matters

The type of drink mix you use is more important than ever, and specialized nutrition products like gels are winning back pocket space over rice cakes and sandwiches in this carb revolution. Why? Because a large part of the massive increase in carbohydrate intake is powered by the knowledge that mixing carbohydrate sources (most often glucose and fructose) allows for greater carbohydrate absorption.

So if you want to aim for 80, 90, or 100 grams of CHO per hour, you need to be using products that have a good mix of glucose and fructose. That usually is going to mean choosing specialized nutrition products over the PJ&J sandwich.

3. Bonking should no longer exist in your vocabulary

If you are bonking, you’re not going a little slower than you should be, you’re going WAY slower than you should be.

Ricky delved into this in a recent podcast, but it’s worth repeating: you should never be bonking. You should not be bonking in training, and you should never bonk in racing! I still get athletes who think “oh, I bonked, just a quick little fix, should have taken another gel” but the reality is that well before you got to the point of bonking, your performance had been suffering due to low muscle glycogen. Look at your energy expenditure in kilojoules and try to match that with carbohydrates in calories.

4. Practice, practice, practice

At The Mid South, Lauren de Crescenzo used front-loaded strategy that has merit for start-fast, slow-down-later gravel races. But that’s not easy! You have to have a careful idea of how many bottles, gels, etc you need per hour. And it can be helpful to organize certain things in certain pockets, and/opr have a reminder reminder system like a beeping head unit alarm or a written plan on your top tube.

But none of this is going to go well if race day is the first time you try it!

Again, learn from the pros: these days at WorldTour training camps, riders are practicing race nutrition during their training sessions, where they have soigneurs, follow cars and feed bags just like they do on race day. You, too, should be practicing your race day nutrition on certain training rides.

5. Take your own stuff with you

Sure, the entry fee was high, and the race brags about its fully stocked aid stations. But you better not be counting on them, or your carefully designed nutrition plan is going to go out the window after two hours.

At the point, you know nutrition is more scientific than ever and you better be counting serving sizes and grams of carbohydrate and sticking to the nutrition products that you’ve planned around.

So, you better carry enough nutrition for the whole race, have nutrition at drop points along the course, or carry drink mix with you and use water from the aid stations to mix it.

So yes, you’ll be missing out on those lovely aid stations, but save that for post race (or for C priority party races) and use your own stuff!


Christian Parrett raced internationally as a professional and in recent years has enjoyed helping athletes of all levels improve as a FasCat Coach. To talk with Christian about dialing in your nutrition and your training, fill out our new athlete questionnaire to have a free coaching consultation with him. 

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