22 September 2019

Expert advice: What to eat during a two-four hour cycle event

March 22, 2016

As with all exercise nutrition plans, what and when to eat is very specific to the individual and the intensity  of the session. However,  for longer rides, nutrition will require planning and testing – so start practicing in training now and you’ll be all set for event day.



Hydration during cycling is key as it helps:

1. Red blood cells to deliver oxygen to muscles efficiently

2. Flush out metabolic waste products such as CO2

3. Maintains the bodies cooling system

4. Delivers nutrients through the body

5. Prevents muscle cramps, strains and pulls

Finding the right amount of fluid to drink depends upon a variety of individual factors including the length and intensity of exercise and your individual needs.  There are however, two simple methods of estimating adequate hydration:

1. Monitoring your urine volume output and colour. The darker your urine the more dehydrated you are becoming.

2. Weighing yourself before and after exercise to understand your fluid requirements and sweat rate. Take a look at this sweat calculator to give you an idea of your sweat rate.  The goal is to stay in your hydration zone and avoid dehydration. That means losing no more than 2% of your body weight during exercise. If your weight loss is greater than 2%, make a conscious effort to take in more fluids during exercise.

While specific fluid recommendations aren’t possible due to individual variability, Njinja recommend you begin each day with a large glass of water in the morning, whether it’s a training or rest day to get into the habit of always being hydrated.

Top tips for event day:

1. Drink regularly, particularly during longer rides, every 15-20 minutes

2. Drink from the start, don’t wait until an hour into the ride before you have your first sip

3. Drink small amounts

 It is easier to recover from a nutritional deficiency than it is from dehydration.

The biggest thing you want to avoid during an event is dehydration. Early warning signs are often subtle and  include headaches, nausea, muscle cramps, disorientation, slurred speech, and confusion. Especially in the colder months, people often forget to drink, so make sure this is always a priority. However, beware of hypnotremia, when sodium concentration levels are reduced to dangerous levels due to over drinking. This typically occurs with slower riders who take longer to complete an event and therefore have more chance to drink.  Prevent it by knowing your hydration limit and adding electrolytes, especially sodium to your liquids.


Rides less than 90 minutes

Shorter rides generally mean higher intensity, this makes it difficult to take in solids.  For anything over 15-20 mins  the main focus is hydration and more so when riding in the heat. Food is not a priority if you are well prepared as the risk of bonking or hitting the wall is low if your glycogen levels are well fuelled. Water is fine to drink when riding for less than 1 hour in moderate temperature conditions, however an isotonic sports drink with electrolytes is recommended for rides of 1 hour or longer, and anytime when conditions are hot or humid.

Rides 90 minutes to 4 hours

Longer rides generally have a lower intensity but inadequate nutrition and environmental stresses will start to take a toll on your body, therefore you need to focus on taking in sufficient carbs and fluids.

Liquids empty faster from your stomach, so it is easier if most of your calories come from liquids during longer rides.  Drinking roughly 800ml of a sports drinks with a mixture of carbohydrates and sodium per hour is a good guide. We recommend trying coconut water as a good natural option due to its electrolyte and vitamin and mineral content. It also does not contain any artificial sweeteners or preservatives like some of the commercial options. Sports gels are also an option but you must remember to drink sufficient water (not sports drink) with them since the concentrated gels pull water from your body to help with digestion. Finally, energy bars such as Pulsins Energy Bomb are also a great natural source of energy.

Like water, start fuelling from the beginning of your exercise session. You don’t want to wait until you are already feeling hungry. Keep your fuel levels up throughout your ride.

Finally, during high intensity exercise the body turns to protein for fuel as glycogen diminishes.  Protein will come from muscle. Not getting enough carbohydrates during exercise will therefore lead to muscle wastage. Adding a little protein in a ratio of 4:1 has been known to enhance performance and improve recovery.

Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of a quality nutrition plan on your performance. Make sure you are testing and refining your food options as you train to insure optimum results and reduce the likelihood of running low on energy stores and ultimately bonking.

Sportsister, The Women’s Sports Magazine

Njinga Cycle Tours and Training offers cycling weekends and training programmes with a difference. We focus on getting the best out of our clients by not only focusing on improving cycling through exceptional coaching and training but providing the nutritional support and focus needed to drive optimal performance. We work with majority  female, beginner and intermediate road cyclists looking to have fun, get fit and complete their first endurance road cycling challenge.


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