Fuelling the Cyclist

Fuelling the Cyclist

August 03, 2011 4 Comments

Cycling is a game of fine tuning not only your bicci but more importantly, your body.  Optimal nutrients and the timing of meals is critical for performance.

Not surprisingly, especially during the Tour de France, I receive many questions regarding performance nutrition for cyclists.

Here is the latest from a client:

I often start my day with 1.5 hour ride at 5:45 am. Should I be eating before the ride, after the ride, or both? And what, for each meal (if both)?

Thanks, Michael


There should always be a strategy for both pre-, and post-ride nutrition.  However I am going to take this a few steps further and address some other key areas of interest.

Much like the Tour, let’s approach it in stages.

Stage 1: Brain Function

05:45h is early.  It’s wonderful to rise with the sun, however being sharp in both coordination and reflexes on the bicci, can make the difference between a great ride and frankly, hitting the pavement.  Particularly when sharing the road with the kinds of drivers we have in this city.


Your ability to concentrate will depend on the condition of your brain’s neurotransmitters.

Solution: Keep the brain firing on all cylinders.

Nutrients such as bacopa, gotu kola, and Alpha GPC will send the brain into overdrive and promote cat-like reflexes.  Also rhodiola rosea and holy basil both regulate optimal production of neurotransmitters as well as help tone the adrenals, discussed later.

Stage 2: Optimal Fuelling, Refuelling and Rehydration


A am a huge fan of the Green Drink.  You want adequate amino acids at this hour, another way to help bolster brain function.


We want to provide the system with carbohydrates but not too much, and definitely not too fast.

I have to say I am a big fan of coconut water for the purposes of rides lasting two hours or less.  Anything more and you will need to supplement.

Solution: Fast digesting, low-fructose carbohydrate powder.

Rice oligodextrins are the best type of carbohydrate to dilute in water. Adding a well-designed electrolyte powder to the mix will prevent cramping and ensure proper rehydration.


To refuel, the cyclist should stick to high-starch vegetables such as sweet potatoes.  I am going to caution against refuelling with wheat-based carbohydrates as you will unnecessarily increase the pro-inflammatory load on the body.  Another reason to steer clear of gluten-containing foods is they interfere with brain function, impair reflexes, increase inflammation, and affect the quality of sleep.

My suggestion is to bake up a few sweet potatoes with cinnamon.  Absolutely excellent!  This will help restore glycogen stores in the post-ride window.

Sweet Potato with Cinnamon

Stage 3: Adrenal Health

If you cycle, you must be able to tolerate stress, and by stress I am really talking about two main players, the hormone cortisol, and aerobic oxidative damage.

Now, without cortisol you have no energy, so it must be present. The problem is that with too much cortisol your rest will be sporadic if not impossible, and you will be exposed to the rather unfavourable side of cortisol, inflammation and catabolism.

Solution 1: Keep the adrenals at ease.

Holy basil, rhodiola rosea, licorice root, and Korean ginseng will help modulate cortisol levels in the morning.  This is part of both your pre- and post-ride strategy.

Solution 2: Keep antioxidants at an all time high.

Immediately post-ride, and after having some baked sweet potato, I would make a shake with frozen organic blueberries and high quality whey.  The blueberries will help provide the highest ORAC-factor available and the whey will help mitigate some of the inflammation and boost immune factors.

Stage 4: Restorative Sleep

Many hard training athletes naturally push their limits.  As a result they can be mineral depleted, particularly in zinc and magnesium (chelated form).  These two minerals should be taken just before bed.

Proper carbohydrates are also required for sound sleep through the production of serotonin by initiating the release of the neurotransmitters tryptophan, which in turn promotes melatonin production.

Tryptophan—> Serotonin—> Melatonin (a most powerful antioxidant and sleep agent).

A dessert or late evening meal of nutrient-dense fruits such as figs and dates are a wise choice and will help replenish certain key minerals.  If you feel the extra blood sugar proves disruptive, add in a healthy fat such as almond butter or coconut oil to the mix.  A meal of figs, and almond butter on celery stalks should do the trick.

It’s always easier to sleep at night knowing your day was productive and successful.  If your brain is firing on all cylinders, your adrenal state is not undermining your efforts, and your nutritional strategies are in place, there is one last piece to the puzzle.

The Pre-Sleep Ritual:

In order to move deeply into a restful sleep, we must have a way to ramp-down the body’s energetic state preparing the parasympathetic nervous system for dominance.

Solution 1: Contrast Showers

An excellent way to promote deep sleep is the use of contrast showers.  Alternate hot and cold showers by simply adjusting the dial while in the shower.  Remember to always finish with COLD water.  Focus the stream of water directly onto the spine by facing away from the shower.  An ice-bath is an excellent choice as well.

Solution 2: Gratitude Journal

Keep a journal in which you note down the day’s accomplishments and what you have gratitude for while lying in bed.  This offers a sense of completion to the day’s events.  When you have established a sense of

You are now ready.  The final steps.  Turn all lights off, keep electro-radio-magnetic devices away from the bed and sleep should be effortless.  A job well done.

Those are my thoughts on the subject.  Incorporating these strategies into your routine will vastly improve your recovery and fuel your next cycling sessions.

There are 4 comments for this entry. Leave a comment below »

  1. Lynn Daniluk August 04, 2011

    Great post! Thanks for the tips. I am currently doing high intensity running twice per week and will use these tips to recover. Have you heard of a product called ‘Calc-Acid’ by Nutri-West? I find it helps with recovery.

    Cheers, Lynn

  2. Coach Campbell August 07, 2011

    @ Lynn,

    I have heard of ‘calc-acid’ yes.  It essentially is a buffering agent, an attempt to make the body less acidic.  Induced alkalosis is hypothesized to aid in the recovery process.

    This technique has long been around in bodybuilding circles and even seen in Russian and Eastern-Bloc sports-trainig literature - however, the compound actually used was Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate).

    I feel as though the jury is out in terms of whether or not this is effective.  I quick research review delivers mixed results.

    My suggestion is to stick to adaptogens such as Holy basil, rhodiola rosea, licorice root, and Korean ginseng.

  3. Andrew August 27, 2011

    Greetings Coach!

    First of all, thank you for this article. I am getting more deeply into distance running and cycling at the moment (training for my first Duathlon as we speak!), and so reading this was definitely clarifying and helpful on multiple levels smile

    Secondly, my questions pertain to the supplemental use of Maca and drinking water. What are your thoughts on Maca as a means to regulate adrenal function, mitigate the effects of probably higher than ideal cortisol levels, and increase energetic output and athletic performance? Also, what are your thoughts on Reverse Osmosis water for everyday use and as a constant source of hydration from athletic activities?

                With Thanks and Gratitude,


  4. Coach Campbell August 28, 2011

    @ Andrew,

    Thank you for your comments and questions. 

    First let’s talk about water.  Water treated by reverse osmosis must be re-mineralised.  You can easily accomplish this by adding a pinch of sea salt to the water.  A small pinch of sea salt - Celtic, Himalayan, lava, and so on, will add the necessary minerals to help your body absorb the water more effectively.

    On to Maca - it is a very effective adaptogen.  A quick google search will return a number of sources reporting maca’s effect on suppressing Adrenocorticotropic hormones and cortisol.  So yes I feel this a worthy addition to a stress-mitigation strategy.

    Caution though, I have received reports from some clients of digestive complaints, so there seems to be some individual differences in terms of tolerance.

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