How many calories does cycling burn? Well, calorie consumption depends on a number of variables, including weight, gender and age, but also speed, type of route, and wind speed, etc. So, it’s impossible to know beforehand. We can only make generalisations based on standardised tables. But what we do know is that intense exercise burns a lot.
It has been calculated that a professional cyclist burns over 100,000 Kcal in the 3 weeks of a stage race like the Giro d’Italia, and almost 7,000 alone in a single challenging stage.
Without reaching these dizzy heights, even amateur cyclists can use up huge amounts of energy on a ride. That energy must be replenished by eating properly to ensure you don’t run out of gas at the crucial moment.
So let’s see what and when to eat when you’re exerting yourself in the saddle.
The supply before cycling
It all begins with breakfast, which should be rich in complex carbohydrates to maintain a constant blood sugar level. In fact, glucose is the main fuel for muscles and can be stored as energy reserves (glycogen). A great way to start the day would be bread and jam or honey with a little fruit. There’s no need to overdo the fats and simple sugars: the former take too long to digest while the latter cause a sudden rise and fall in the glycaemic peak, which can result in you hitting the wall.
Combining a small amount of protein with your carbohydrates helps to stabilise the glycaemic index. Try yoghurt with cereal, or an egg.
The supply during cycling
During the activity phase it’s important to know how to pace your food intake. There’s an old cyclist saying that goes “If you wait till you’re hungry to eat, then you’re going to hit the wall”. Eating at the right time and in the right amounts is the secret to good performance.
In the early part of the ride, bread rolls with cheese and ham are a great fuel source because they take time to be digested. Later on, when you’re starting to feel the effort, carbohydrate gels or energy bars are best because they are easily absorbed by the body.
Needless to say it is essential to drink regularly to replenish the fluids and salts lost through sweating, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
The supply after cycling
The watchword here is recovery. After intense exercise it’s essential to normalise the body’s hydrosaline levels, particularly if it’s been hot, because you’re likely not to have taken on enough fluids during the day. So it’s important to drink lots of water and eat fruit and vegetables.
You also need new carbohydrates, to replenish the muscles’ glycogen stores, as well as protein, to repair the small structural damage suffered by the muscle cells during exercise. An excellent post-workout dinner would be potatoes, which are rich in carbohydrates, with red or white meat, or fish and cheese. After that you can indulge in a little dessert.