Five Ways to Fuel Up for Indoor Cycling

Eating the right foods at the right times can power up your rides.

A top down view of peanut butter on toast on a plate with a knife on a kitchen table in a home.
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The principles of healthful eating are so widely known that you can probably recite them in your sleep: Eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein, but not too much, and keep sweets, fatty fare, and processed foods to a minimum. These tenets apply to everyone who wants to stay healthy and prevent diseases—but they’re especially important for athletes, including indoor cyclists.

After all, you’ll want to provide your body with high-octane energy for this high-energy form of exercise, and there’s no better way to do that than to eat nutrient-rich foods.

Here are five things you need to know about fueling up properly for indoor cycling:

  1. Eat something before you ride. If you take an early morning cycle class, you may be tempted to show up with an empty stomach. But that’s a mistake because it’s like taking a road trip in your car with an empty tank of gas. Only, in this case, your blood sugar and glycogen (carbohydrate stores) levels are low. Half an hour before your workout consume easy-to-digest foods (such as a small banana, a slice of toast with jam, or a handful of whole-grain cereal)—and you’ll provide your body with the energy it needs to ride hard and get more out of the workout. (Avoid having a large meal right before you ride or you could feel sluggish and/or nauseous.) If you'll be cycling in the afternoon or evening, have a snack—ideally, a combination of protein and carbs (such as a small banana with a tablespoon or two of peanut butter)—two hours before the workout. 
  1. Consume caffeine strategically. Your cycling performance could get a kick from caffeine. Research from Australia found that when participants consumed caffeine 90 minutes before and 30 minutes after a one-hour cycling session, they perceived the exercise to be less difficult and more enjoyable. Getting your java fix 90 minutes before class also ensures that you won’t need to hop off the bike and head to the loo during the class. Interestingly, a study at Kent State University found that chewing caffeine gum (300 mg.) 5 minutes before a cycling session enhanced the riders’ performance.
  1. Drink up throughout the ride. Staying well hydrated is essential to your performance during the ride—as well as your health, in general. If you don’t drink enough water or a sports drink before, during, and after the session, you could end up dangerously dehydrated, impairing your body’s ability to sweat and maintain a steady internal temperature. A general rule of thumb is that plain old H2O is sufficient (rather than a sports drink) if you’ll be exercising for less than 90 minutes. 
  2. Refuel with a smart snack. Whether you’re hungry or not, it’s smart to replenish your muscle glycogen stores and prepare your body for your next workout by having a combination of carbohydrates and protein. The ideal window is within an hour after your ride ends. It doesn’t have to be a lot of food: 12 ounces of low-fat chocolate milk, a small container of Greek yogurt, or a small handful of walnuts with an apple would do the trick. If you’re trying to lose weight, watch the calorie intake because it’s easy to consume nearly as many calories as you burned in a cycling class—if you have a whopper of a snack.
  1. Skip the three squares per day. If you cycle regularly, you may want to fuel your body throughout the day by eating small meals and snacks every three hours. Stick with a combination of protein, carbohydrate and healthy fat in each eating occasion, and you’ll feed your muscles more efficiently, keep your blood sugar stable, and control your appetite, according to nutrition expert Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., author of Power Eating. Good snack options include: almond butter on whole-grain toast, hummus and baby carrots or snap peas, or cheese and whole-grain crackers. 

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