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How should I time my meal before cycling to boost my performance?

Aim for taking a carb-rich pre-exercise meal 1-4 hours before exercise to boost performance. Optimal timing depends on the type of ride, meal size and composition, individual tolerance and preferences.

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Written by: The Athlete’s FoodCoach, on 21-12-2023
Pancakes with strawberries, jam and quark

Why is the timing of my meal before cycling relevant?

  1. Fueling muscles: Eating a meal rich in carbs at least 3-4 hours before exercise can increase muscle glycogen stores, which has been associated with enhanced endurance exercise performance.
  2. Maintain blood glucose: Eating carbs up to 1 hour before exercise provides a readily available source of glucose for energy and contributes to liver glycogen replenishment, which are crucial for maintaining blood glucose levels during exercise.
  3. Enable optimal carb intake: Timing your meal well in advance, especially before high-intensity activities like racing, enables you to consume larger amounts of carbs. This aids in meeting your carb requirements and boost performance.
  4. Avoid gut issues or feeling empty: Dependent on the size and composition of your meal, eating shortly before exercise can cause gastrointestinal discomfort during your ride. However, leaving a big gap between your meal and exercise may lead to feeling empty or hungry during your ride. Finding the right balance helps prevent a drop in performance.

How do I get the timing of my pre-cycling meal on point?

  1. 3-4 hours before:Consume your last big meal rich in carbs to contribute to muscle glycogen replenishment and avoid gastrointestinal discomfort. This is especially important in high-intensity exercise when carb needs are high.
  2. 1-2 hours before: Take a smaller meal or snack rich in carbs when time is limited to support glycogen replenishment and support maintaining blood glucose levels during exercise. This approach suits well for endurance- or recovery rides.
  3. Up to 1 hour before: Consider consuming an extra snack to fulfill total carb needs, ensure readily available energy for exercise, support maintaining blood glucose levels, and prevent feelings of hunger or emptiness.

Paying attention to the timing of your pre-exercise meal can boost your overall performance. Use the FoodCoach App to structure your training and receive customized per-exersise nutrient recommendations, time your meal accordingly when possible.

Example of FoodCoach app

Popular pre-cycling meals and snacks

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