The Cycling Diet that Actually Works

For the purposes of this article I’ll ignore on bike nutrition and other ride specific aspects such as carbo loading and post ride recovery food. For most riders these aspects of cycling nutrition are only relevant maybe once per week before and after their weekly long ride or races. Instead in this article we’ll focus purely on our everyday food intake and how we cyclists can improve our diets.


Keep it Simples

The key to a successful diet is to find what works for you. Some people thrive on counting every calorie, weighing out their food portions and logging everything in calorie tracker (if this works for you I’ve used Livestrong’s Daily Planet tracker and found it pretty good). Personally that is all a bit too much for me, I find I get overwhelmed by all the detail and soon lose interest.

I have found the best method for me is to stick to some simple key principles that I apply everyday. When I am planning a meal (be it at home, in the super market or grabbing lunch on the run) I always try and bear in mind the need to cut out pointless foods and minimize my intake of unhealthy foods. I don’t obsess over it, I don’t starve myself if I am somewhere with no healthy option but I do make a little effort everyday to try to make the right choices about what I eat.

Unhealthy Food - Bad Cycling Diet

Cut out Pointless Foods

Perhaps the biggest and easiest change most of us can improve our cycling diets is to cut out foods with little or no nutritional value or are bad for us if eaten too regularly.

Sugars – Sugar laden sodas, colas, concentrated fruit juices or squashes can contains serious amounts of sugar. 1 regular can of coke contains 39 grams of sugar, equivalent to about 9 teaspoons which is pretty much all of what the experts recommend you should consume per day (the figure is actually less for women). These drinks often contain no nutritional value whatsoever so by switching over to water you canĀ  cut a serious amount of excess sugar from your diet.

Fats – Fatty foods are everywhere and all to easy to eat if you’re not careful. My simple rule here is to try to minimize the fatty food i eat. Fist off I try to not eat too much dairy. If I’m having milk I’ll go for semi skimmed and I try to not eat too much cheese. In addition avoiding fried foods has made a big difference to my diet. When I’m cooking at home i’ll try and use less oil when making stir fry’s and use less olive oil on salads. I’ve found using less of a better quality oil makes a big difference, especially when it comes to olive oil on salads.

Red Meats – Red meats are generally high in saturated (bad) fats and cholesterol and has been shown to increase your risk of bowel cancer if eaten too regularly. Having had a couple of family members suffer from bowel cancer I constantly remind myself to not eat red meat too much and instead opt for leaner, healthier alternatives like grilled chicken or fish.

Carbohydrates – This is a hard one for me as I’m a committed carb junkie. I could happily eat nothing else but good (artisan) bread and cheese or cold cuts. In addition, being a big fan of Italian food means I love to eat good quality pasta. The quandary is that while bread and pasta are great for cyclists in that they provide the carbohydrates we need to keep riding too much of them can quickly result in excess which the body turns to fat. When cooking I discovered a while ago that I was cooking portions that were way too big. By simply reducing the portions and making a nice salad to go on the side i’ve reduced this excess and made sure I only eat the carbs I need.


My Cycling Diet Plan of Action

Below is a brief summary of how I attack my food intake on a regular work day.

Breakfast – I’m pretty sedentary in the mornings (get up, drive tot he station, train to work, sit at desk etc) so I find I can easily delay my breakfast until after I’ve had my morning coffee at about 10am. I find if i eat too early I’m starving by 10.30am. When I do eat it’s usually a bran based cereal with skimmed milk or my perfect cycling breakfast.

Lunch – Although I’m always tempted by a big ass sandwich with red meat, cheese and mayo I’ll usually try and go for a nice salad with grilled chicken instead. Other options are vegetable soup, sashimi or if it is a sandwich something low in fat like smoked salmon and cucumber.

Snacks – I purposefully don’t put credits on my work vending card to avoid the temptation of chocolate bars and other fatty snacks. I’ll try and stick to fresh fruit or dried fruit and nuts if i can. If needs must and I’m in the mood for a snack bar I’ll try and get something reasonably natural like a Nature Valley bar.

Drinks – Latte coffees can contain quite a bit of fat from the milk used. I’ve given them up in favour of an americano on the morning. After that I tend to either drink tea or the odd espresso or machiato in order to keep my dairy intake down. Oh, and plenty of water too…obviously.

Cycling Diet - Machiato


Eat the Bad Stuff

Like I said above i don’t obsess about this. I’ll allow myself the off bacon sandwich for breakfast on a Friday morning. We’ll go out for pizza now and then. I still enjoy a nice steak and fries now and again. The point is I’ll try and implement the above tips and methods everyday. If circumstances don’t allow or a I feel I need a treat then I’ll eat the bad stuff….no biggie.

Many cyclists get too hooked up about diets and weight loss. If you make some of these changes you won’t really need to diet because you’re nutrition will be spot on. A healthy balanced and consistent diet is the healthiest diet you can have.

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