Eating Right For Long Rides

– By Ellen Karpay-Brody – president of Ellen Karpay Health, a fitness and nutrition consulting company in Sacramento, California.

Q: Recently I’ve been riding longer distances. I need some help with my nutrition during these rides. What do you recommend?

A: Nutrition is an integral part of your training that can either enhance or hinder your physical abilities to shine through. First, attend to your daily, overall nutrition. This in part, allows you to optimize energy for training and recovery. Some cyclists, while neglecting nutrition on most days of the week, unreasonably expect great training days and race performances because they have a race/event day nutrition plan. For most that is insufficient. If you are unclear about or have difficulty implementing how, what, and when to eat nutritiously consult a professional.

For now let’s focus on the day of your long ride. Think of your long training day(s) as a nutrition trial. Let’s say that your goal is to have energy continuously and for the duration of your ride. Here are a few pointers to help you get started. Keep some specific notes about what you did and how you felt. Finding what works best for you is a process but it won’t take long to develop your best “day of” nutritional plan.

Start your day with breakfast. Eating 2-3 hours prior to riding is often recommended but if that is impractical for you then eat a minimum of 1 hour prior. Consume a meal of complex carbohydrates (~60% of total calories) proteins (~15-25% of total calories), and fat (~15-25% of total calories, less than 10% saturated). If you must eat closer to the time of riding you may want to eat foods that are soft, more liquid in nature, and/or easy to digest. Try soft solid foods such as applesauce, low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, brown rice, rolled oats, peanut butter & banana or jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread/toast.

Determine training fuels that agree with you while you are riding. Some fuels that go down okay at rest may not agree with you while riding. Experiment in your training with gels, liquid carbohydrates, bars, and/or solid food. Educate yourself about the nutritional content and caloric value of your training fuel.

Estimate the number of calories needed for the duration of your ride. Calorie requirements can vary according to individual metabolism, gender, body size, training history, and atmospheric conditions. Make a plan for ingesting these “agreeable” calories on a regular basis.

Next, adopt a regular, timely interval at which you will consume this fuel. An effective tip is to set the repeat countdown timer on your sportwatch so it beeps every interval period when you want to consume fuel. When you hear “beep” it is a reminder, “hey, it’s time for my fuel.” If you’ve had a pre-ride meal you can usually wait approximately 30-60 minutes after your ride started before you begin fueling. As is true in hydration, it is important to stay ahead and not get behind with keeping your energy level. If you plan to race follow the fuel plan that worked for you in training.

Soon after your ride is finished consume liquids, food and/or fuel. This enables your body’s energy stores to re-build quickly which will quicken your recovery.

copyright 2002 Ellen Karpay Health

Ellen is President of Ellen Karpay Health, a fitness and food consulting company located in Sacramento, California.  She is the author of “The Everything Total Fitness Book – A complete program to help you look and feel great”.   A regular contributor to the Sacramento Bee newspaper, Ellen is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) as a Health Fitness Instructor and holds a B. S. degree in physical education from the University of Florida.  She is an 8-time Ironman triathlon finisher (swim 2.4 mi, bike 112 mi, run 26.2 mi) 3-time Boston Marathon finisher, and is passionate about helping others optimize their energy and health. 

Ellen is also the official nutritionist for AthletiCamps. Find out more at

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