5 Common Nutrition Mistakes Cyclists Make and How to Avoid Them


By Heather Casey — Cycling isn’t just about enduring those long, winding roads or mastering the art of pedaling through rough terrains—it’s also about what fuels the ride. Yes, I’m talking about nutrition. It’s the silent engine behind every cyclist’s performance, yet it’s often where many of us hit a pothole. Let’s navigate through the nutritional missteps that even seasoned cyclists might make and how to steer clear of them, ensuring you’re not just spinning your wheels regarding your nutrition.

Underestimating the Importance of Pre-Ride Nutrition

Oops, Did I Forget to Eat? Skipping a meal or munching on the wrong snacks before saddling up is like trying to start a car with no gas; you won’t get far. The key is to fuel up with a meal like your reliable riding buddy—there when you need it, offering sustained energy without the drama.

The Fix: Aim for a meal that’s a trio of complex carbs, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Think oatmeal with a side of fruits and nuts, a turkey and avocado sandwich on whole-grain bread, or a smoothie that’s more like a nutritional powerhouse than a drink. This isn’t just food; it’s your pre-ride pep talk.

Neglecting Hydration

Water, Who? It’s easy to obsess over solid food and forget that hydration is the silent hero of endurance sports. Ignoring your thirst is like neglecting a rattling noise in your bike; it only leads to worse problems down the road.

Drink enough water and start long before you ride. Photo by Dave Iltis

The Fix: Begin your hydration well before you pedal your first stroke and keep the momentum going with regular sips throughout the ride. Think of water and electrolyte-infused drinks as your support team.

Over-relying on Energy Bars and Gels

A Bar Too Far. While they’re convenient, relying too heavily on processed energy bars and gels is akin to expecting a temporary patch to permanently fix a flat tire. Sure, it’ll get you moving, but it’s not a lasting solution.

The Fix: Balance is essential. Mix in natural foods like bananas or homemade energy bites that pack a punch without the sugar crash. It’s about keeping it real—literally.

Poor Post-Ride Nutrition

Post-Ride, What’s That? If refueling after a ride was a forgotten country song, it’d be about lost love and missed opportunities. Your muscles are crying out for some TLC, and it’s your job to listen.

A blend of protein and carbohydrates are needed for good post-ride nutrition. Food and photo by Dave Iltis

The Fix: Your go-to should be a blend of carbs and protein. Whether it’s a protein shake or chicken quinoa salad, make sure it’ll help you recover.

Not Tailoring Nutrition to Training

Using the same nutritional strategy for every ride is like wearing winter clothes to a summer ride—uncomfortable and impractical.

The Fix: Adjust your calories according to the ride’s demands. More intense or longer rides might require more carbs and calories, like packing extra layers for a cold day. It’s about being prepared.

Self-Assessment Quiz: Are You Fueling Right?

  1. Pre-Ride Nutrition: What’s your approach?
    1. Skip meals to avoid feeling full.
    2. Grab whatever’s convenient.
    3. Eat a balanced meal 2-3 hours before.
  2. Hydration: How do you manage it?
    1. Drink when thirsty.
    2. Stick to water only.
    3. Use a mix of water and electrolyte drinks.
  3. Mid-Ride Energy: What’s your source?
    1. I rarely eat during rides.
    2. Mainly energy bars/gels.
    3. A mix of real food and occasional energy gels.
  4. Post-Ride Nutrition: How do you refuel?
    1. I don’t plan it; I eat whatever’s available.
    2. Sometimes, a protein shake.
    3. A meal/snack with carbs and protein.
  5. Nutrition Tailoring: Do you adjust your diet based on activity?
    1. No, my diet stays the same.
    2. Somewhat, but not systematically.
    3. Yes, I adjust based on the ride.

Tally up your responses. If you mainly chose:

  • As: Your nutrition strategy might need a tune-up, minor adjustments could significantly boost your performance and recovery.
  • Bs: You’re on the right path, but there’s room for optimization to support your cycling efforts fully.
  • Cs: You’re adept at fueling your rides! Personalized tweaks could further refine your performance.

Closing Thoughts

Dodging these nutritional slip-ups can propel your cycling to new heights. But remember, we’re all wonderfully different—what fuels a sprint in one cyclist might not even start the engine in another. That’s where the magic of personalized nutrition coaching comes in: tailoring a plan as unique as your ride. A personal touch might just be the tune-up you need.


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