Eating for an evening cycle race

Eating for an evening cycle race

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Knowledge Level: Intermediate

Whether it is your local club 10-mile time trial or an evening circuit racing league, fuelling and hydrating for 20-60 minutes of hard racing can be difficult. You don’t want to eat too much too close to the race and risk feeling bloated or nauseous but equally, you don’t want to underperform because you have consumed too little.


Although your race is still six hours away, what you have for lunch can have a significant effect on how you perform. You are not going to be riding for long so, providing you have had a good breakfast and a healthy mid-morning snack, your body’s energy stores should be adequately stocked and you don’t need to eat vast amounts. Avoid heavy proteins such as red meat, which will sit on your stomach and the same applies to fatty foods. High fibre or highly spiced foods should also be avoided to minimise the risk of gastric distress. If you are watching your racing waistline, excessive carbohydrates are unnecessary. An ideal lunch would be a chicken or tuna salad followed by a pot of natural yoghurt and then make sure you are constantly sipping water and staying hydrated throughout the day.


A mid-afternoon snack is vital to avoid a late afternoon energy crash that could leave you weak for your race or cause you to eat unhealthy sugary or fatty snacks. Make sure you have some healthy snacks to hand such as nuts, seeds, orchard fruit, a bowl of cereal, a yoghurt or an energy bar.


This is your latest window for solid food. Both a 10-mile time trial and a circuit race are high intensity events and you don’t want to risk the effort involved causing you to feel, or even be, sick. An energy bar or a bowl of cereal are good choices and again, especially if it is warm, drinking little and often is essential.


You will be at the race HQ and will have either started or just be starting your warm-up. This should be at least 20 minutes in duration and the British Cycling Warm-up is an ideal template to follow. Keep drinking and, in the hour leading up to the race, aim to consume 500-750 ml of isotonic sports drink.


Fifteen minutes before the race start, you should be coming to the end of your warm-up so, with the remaining liquid in your bottle, take an energy gel. Some riders like to use a caffeinated gel at this stage. This should leave you with 5-10 minutes before the start, plenty of time for a final toilet stop and then to make your way to the line.


For a 10-mile time trial, there should be no need to eat or drink for the entirety of the event. Coming out of your aero tuck to reach for a bottle or gel will lose time, break your rhythm and reduce focus. For a typical 45-minute circuit race, your pre-race nutrition and hydration should be adequate. If the conditions are exceptionally hot you might want a bottle of water on the bike but there is little point in using a carbohydrate sports drink as you won’t benefit from the fuel during the race.

Post Race

Have a protein and carbohydrate recovery drink made up and ready to go at the finish line or back at your car. You can sip at it while cooling down. You probably won’t feel like eating immediately after a hard race but it is important, ideally as soon as you finish, to kick start your recovery process by providing your body with easily accessible carbohydrates to replenish energy stores, protein to begin the repair of muscle tissue and fluid and electrolytes to rehydrate. It will also ensure you don’t have an energy crash during your journey home and will see you through to your evening meal. 


It is important to remember that, although you have ridden hard, you haven’t ridden long and won’t have burned a large number of calories. You will have already had a recovery drink, so there is no need for a large evening meal. Eat sensibly, include some quality protein and vegetables and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that an evening race gives you a nutritional free rein. You are likely to be eating later than usual, so a lighter meal will also help you to sleep better.