The Best Cycling Nutrition During Riding: What to consume and when

May 18, 2021

We hear from former Tour Down Under winner, Pat Jonker on how he fuels his body with nutrition for general every day, mega and multi day tour rides.

Nutrition advice has come a long way over the course of my cycling career. When I first began racing back in the early 80's the world of nutrition was a different place. I thought I had the very best guidance with my dad and both uncles being elite cyclists. But when compared to what we know now, I’d suggest maybe not…

You see, back in the day a competitive cyclist was told not to drink too much during a training ride and even less during a race. Yep, the less you drank the better they thought back then. It’s absolutely amazing how a Tour de France rider of that era didn’t just collapse on their bike from dehydration. I know stories from riders even up to the 1980s who would finish 230km mountain stages having only consumed two or three bottles of water and some Coca Cola. To put this into perspective, today’s pro cyclists are told to drink at least one bottle or 750ml of electrolytes per hour depending on temperature - sometimes it can be up to a litre … hydration is a must.

Today’s riders train to improve their hydration strategy while the pros of the past would train 200km and try and not drink at all. Yesterday’s rider would start a long day of riding with a hefty beefsteak, plenty of coffee with heaped tea spoons of sugar. And if it were cold, a shot of cognac for blood flow.

So maybe my upbringing amongst old school cyclists wasn’t the best for me!

So much has changed nutrition wise since then, science has really taken over these past few decades, and thankfully so!

What I Consume on Rides
For the past eight or so years I have been using SIS (Science in Sport) nutrition. As the name suggests, everything SIS produce is scientifically based, which gives me a lot of confidence. In particular, when I’m preparing for a Gran Fondo or multi day event, I really enjoy what SIS has to offer as their range covers all the bases.

For my typical 4 to 5 hour Saturday hills ride I’ll take you through what I would consume.

I will carry two 750ml bottles, one with two SIS Go Hydro tablets - the ingredients and concentration of magnesium, potassium, sodium, calcium and zinc is spot on. It tastes great - not too sweet and very palatable, which encourages you to keep drinking. I will also carry two more hydro tablets in my wallet if its a hot day and I need to refill half way. In my second bottle I generally just have plain water. But if I’m riding in a Gran Fondo or with a fast bunch and know I’ll be burning a heap of calories then I’ll fill my second bottle up with Beta Fuel. This is an amazing product - it’s basically a hyper concentrated carbohydrate drink. They have managed to squeeze 80g of stomach-friendly carbs into a 750 ml bottle. The 2:1 ratio of maltodextrin:fructose solution allows you to process one bottle p/h without any stomach discomfort, which has been a game changer for those cyclists who struggle to ingest gels or any solid foods during their riding or racing. But like I said, only during the hard days otherwise my second bottle is simply plain water.

Now I grew up riding and racing with bananas. The rule was one banana per hour of solid riding. So you can imagine how full my pockets were on a 6 hour training ride.

Fortunately today we have the science to squeeze 23 grams of carbs (about the same as a banana) into a tiny sachet in gel form. I typically use the SIS Go Isotonic Energy Gels (my favourite flavour is fruit salad). Once again, very tasty and not too sweet, and what’s so good about these gels is that you don’t need to wash them down with a mouth full of water. The gels are already mixed with water so you can slam them down fast. This is handy on those long rides when you are trying to conserve water and are unsure when you can fill up next.

Now if you plan on a mega ride such as everesting or a mega gravel ride, then the SIS Go Energy Bake Bars are the go. These baked bars provide 30grm of carbohydrates in a small bar that is easy to consume, very tasty and extremely well tolerated for those with a sensitive stomach. These are a great combo with Beta Fuel for those super tough days when you need around 80 grams of carbs per hour to keep the body going.

If I’m riding a multi day tour then it’s all about recovery. My go to after a hard days riding is the SIS Rego Rapid Recovery Protein Powder. This replenishes your glycogen stores and the provision of protein helps you recover for your next day’s riding. I typically like to consume my recovery drink within 30 minutes of finishing a ride, so skip that coffee and slam down some Rego Rapid Recovery instead - it’s much better for you and you will thank me the morning after.

I could easily write an essay on SIS products as their range is huge and our needs from rider to rider differ. My tip is go to your local bike shop and ask them for advice, or ask BikeChain’s friendly customer service team through live chat.

Best of luck!

Looking to fuel your next ride? Browse the full range of Science in Sport nutrition on BikeChain.

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