Did you know that Tour de France riders can burn around 6,000 calories for each stage and eat 9,000 calories each day?

According to Esquire’s food blog for pro rider Thor Hushovd, he has rice, cereal, oatmeal, toast with ham, and a 2-egg omelette for breakfast; while biking, he eats a Panini, a rice cake, five Clif bars, 3 Clif gels, and 2 packs of Clif shots, and drinks 7 bottles of a ‘team race drink’. Once off the bike, he’ll have chicken and rice, followed by a dinner of stewed turkey, avocados, spaghetti, beet salad, curry rice, zucchini, tomatoes, prunes, and sorbet. Phew!

Anyone who’s ever watched the Tour de France knows that cycling is a gruelling, exhausting sport, but those numbers and that kind of eating are insane. If the average rider tried to load up on calories like that, they’d be lucky if they could get on their bike, let alone ride it!

But just because the average person riding their bike for exercise isn’t going to need to go to that extreme, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain dietary lessons that can be learned from the professionals. These are things that are important for any rider to know if you want to get the most out of your ride each single time you get on your bike.

Generally speaking, the nature of biking as an aerobic exercise means that you want to stay fuelled before, during, and after your rides with foods that are high in carbohydrates and protein, and low in fat. Below, you’ll find some of the best kinds of foods you can eat to stay healthy and maintain optimum energy for each stage.

Before Your Ride

Your pre-ride meals are most helpful when they contain lean protein, as well as carbs that are rich in fiber. You should also strive to minimize the amounts of refined flours and sugars you eat. This is true for people who want to have a healthy diet in general, but it’s especially important before engaging in aerobic exercise.

Why? Because while sugary and refined foods will certainly give you a boost of energy, this will only last for a short burst before you come down from the “high” and start to feel lethargic. In contrast, proteins that are lean and carbohydrates that are chock full of fibre will stay with you for the long haul, burning away slowly as you work the muscles of your body.

Examples include:

  • Rolled oats
  • Fruit
  • Yogurt
  • Brown rice
  • Tofu
  • Chicken
  • Peanut butter

Ideally, you should attempt to eat this protein and carb-rich meal about 2-3 hours before your workout begins. That way, your body will have enough time to digest the food and transform it into energy that you can use to keep you going strong.

During Your Ride

Of course, sometimes even having a great, energy-rich meal before the ride isn’t enough. If you’re out there for long enough, your body will burn through it all and start eating away at whatever reserves you have. So for those of you biking warriors out there who routinely log hours at a time in the seat, it’s probably wise to ignore the age-old advice that “you can’t take it with you” and bring along some healthy snacks to keep you going.

What kind? Well, it should come as no surprise that more protein and more carbs are on the menu – preferably in easy-to-carry and easy-to-access containers that make it simple for you to munch without stopping your pedaling. But for those who need to eat while they bike, it’s also important to add a bit of fat and – no surprise – hydration options.

A word of advice before people start loading up on snacks for their morning rides, though. The most important thing amateur riders need to know is that unless you’re riding for longer than 90 minutes, most likely you’re not going to need to eat while working out. Doing that is overkill and will likely leave you with extra calories and fat that you have to burn off in some other way.

For those who do need them, though, here are just a few recommended items:

  • Energy bars
  • Snickers bars
  • Rice cakes
  • Gatorade
  • Electrolyte-replacement tablets
  • Water

A bit taken aback by the presence of Snickers on that list? Clearly it’s not the best option available, but if you’re out of energy bars, Snickers isn’t half bad because it’s got the right balance of protein, fat, and carbs. And no, tablets aren’t technically food, but if you don’t have a drink with electrolytes with you, the tablets can be a lifesaver.

Our Guide to Protein Bars gives further info.

After Your Ride

By now, you can probably guess what you need – protein and carbs! Within an hour of finishing up your ride and cooling down, you should eat foods with ample amounts of both.

It’s incredibly important to do this because it will help your glycogen stores to replenish and heal any muscle tissues that you tore during the ride. Cringing at the thought of tearing muscles? Well, don’t – it sounds bad, but tearing your muscles is a natural part of working out and is actually what helps to build them and make them stronger the next time.

In order to help them heal faster and get them back to full strength, you can go with chicken and rice if you want to be like Thor… or try a few of these other options if you’re in the mood for something else:

  • Eggs
  • Low-fat chocolate milk
  • Ovaltine
  • Fruit and yogurt smoothie
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries

Along with the aforementioned carbs and protein, the berries give you lots of helpful antioxidants. And it’s always smart to add something with a bit of fat in it so that you feel fuller and don’t want to keep munching on everything you see.

Of course, these foods are just examples. There are plenty of other options out there you can use depending on your preferences and dietary restrictions. The important part is that you find foods that fuel your body in the right way.