All about carbohydrates & sugar for cyclists

Friday, March 22nd, 2024

Marine LENEHAN, Sports Nutritionist, Massage Therapist & Yoga Teacher

It is an important goal for athletes of any level to provide their bodies with enough energy to fuel the body to maintain and enhance performance. The body gets energy from carbohydrates, protein and fats. The body’s main source of energy is carbohydrates.

Timing and quantities can have a great impact on performance. Here are a few facts on carbohydrate consumption before, during and after training.

Also, the quality and type of carbohydrates should be considered.

Why eat Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the body’s rocket fuel. Through metabolism, the sugar found in carbohydrates is broken down into ATP, the body’s energy source. Eating carbohydrates before exercise can help restore and maintain glycogen stores, which may be called upon during prolonged training and during competition.

Carbohydrate intake before exercise

A pre-exercise meal has 2 goals, it prevents you from feeling hungry before and during training while optimizing blood glucose levels for the exercising muscles.

3-4 hours before the Competition

700 kcal = 175g carbohydrates

2-3 hours before the Competition

300-400 kcal = 75-100g carbohydrates

1 hour -30 min before Competition

30g carbohydrates

1 hour- 30mn before Training

30g carbohydrates

Carbohydrate intake during exercise

Carbohydrates intake during exercise only increases performance on efforts that are more than 1 hour long. Carbohydrates intake should be prolonged during the whole effort. If the carbohydrates intake is discontinued you become at risk of fatigue and decreased performance. Keeping in mind that carbohydrate fuelling does not prevent fatigue it simply delays it. Your hourly carbohydrates intake is based on your power output.

Carbohydrate intake after exercise

Unless you’re in a stage race or a training camp, you don’t need to take in sugar after your ride. You can wait for a regular meal. If you need to speed up your recovery to be fully ready to ride hard the next day, then a small portion of sugar right after training can help.

10 healthy sources of Carbohydrates



Sweet Potatoes


Brown Rice







5 Carbohydrates before training


Rice cakes





5 Carbohydrate snacks after training

Greek yoghurt with berries & granola

Chia seed pudding

Smoothie Bowl

Fruit salad

Vegetables & hummus


5 Carbohydrates to avoid


White bread

Milk chocolate

Store-bought cereal

Sweetened yogurt

Store-bought fruit juices

The Bottomline

When being mindful of your carbohydrate intake, it’s important to choose highly nutritious foods. Balancing between slow-release and fast-release carbohydrates based on your training load. Consuming a proper amount of carbohydrates and protein after exercise is essential. It stimulates muscle protein synthesis, improves recovery, and enhances performance during your next workout. It is important not to go much longer than a few hours before refuelling with a meal or snack. Finally, replenishing lost water and electrolytes can be the cherry on the cake and help you maximize the benefits of your workout.