Episode 9 - 5 Tips for Fuelling on the Bike

5 Tips for Fuelling on the Bike

This episode is all about fuelling on the bike, or what I like to call ‘the rolling buffet’. Listen in if you’re a triathlete or cyclist that doesn’t fuel particularly well on the bike at the moment or you think it’s an area that you could improve on.

I give you my Top 5 Tips for Fuelling on the Bike so you don’t run the risk of bonking or hitting the wall, stress about getting dropped in hard bunchies or struggle to get off the couch after big sessions. 

I give you some really practical strategies to help you with this key part of being a triathlete.

If you’re looking for more real food options on the bike, check out my Fuel Your Adventure book.

If you’re ready to start nailing your nutrition, come join me inside the Triathlon Nutrition Academy! Doors are currently OPEN!!

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Episode Transcription

EP 9 – 5 Tips for Fuelling on the Bike

Taryn Richardson  00:00
Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast, the show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts. Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy to digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it.

Hello, and welcome to this episode! What I want to talk to you today about is my five tips for fuelling on the bike. What I see with a lot of clients and triathletes is that they have absolutely no plan for what they do on the bike and they significantly under fuel. You might have experienced that where you've bonked or hit the wall. Where you just completely run out of energy. If you're somebody that experiences that, then group rides can be pretty stressful, because you're worried about getting dropped all the time, or not taking your turn on the front because it's just going to cook you and often when you are in group rides like that that are stressful, you're going to fuel less because you're so worried about not getting dropped and staying on the wheel that you're not going to take the opportunity to fuel yourself properly.

So, what I really want from you is to have a clear plan for your ride and I'm going to help you with some of those strategies today. I want you to feel well without bonking or getting dropped and have energy to push hard in the back end of those long rides. Not get stuck out in the middle of nowhere on your own or need to find a service station to grab a coke or a Slurpee to get your ass home.

I like to call the bike the rolling buffet, because it's really your best opportunity to fuel. Your stomach is still, it's not jiggling up and down like when you're running. You can carry food as well. You can stash your jersey pockets out with lots of things. You can carry water bottles on your frame. You don't have to carry stuff on your back like you might do with running. So, the opportunity to eat can be there and can be possible without worrying where you're going to carry everything.

So, what you do with your fuelling on the bike, it really depends on how long you're riding for. It depends on what type of ride it is as well. So, whether it's an easy aerobic base training type ride or an offseason social ride with friends, versus what I call a performance session. So, something that might be hills, which is trying to drive some strength. It could be intervals, or something that's got speed work in it to really try and drive a metabolic adaptation from that session. It's trying to help you get fitter and faster and so we want to fuel sessions like that really differently compared to something that's just an offseason, social bunchie.

You also want to have a different strategy if you're heading into a race. So, in your peak race season, or you’re on ramp into a key race, you want to have a different strategy for your nutrition there because you're basically building into what your race nutrition plan is going to be. With a lot of things with nutrition though you want to have that periodised approach so you're not doing the same thing or year. I see athletes fall into that trap all the time. Once they get a plan, or they get a strategy, or they even get some support from a sports dietitian, they go "Yep, I've got that one plan and that's it, I'm done." When really, it's an ongoing thing, where you want to build some strategy and some structure to what you're doing based on what's going on in the year, your body composition goals, and also the longer you're an athlete for then you can build into more advanced strategies.

So I like to teach people how to do the basics first and then once you've got that nailed, then I layer more complex, advanced nutrition strategies on top of that. It's constantly evolving. So you need to build your way up with your nutrition as well. You need to build your tolerance to absorb fuel while you're exercising. That's a mad skill that takes the stimulation and time to practice. Because we really need to train your gut to absorb nutrition while you're exercising. It's not something that you can go and do nothing and then suddenly start fuelling quite aggressively in your race. I've seen the negative indications of that with people just vomiting on the run. That's not that pretty. So you really do need to put the practice in to train your gut. Just like you want to train your muscles with all the training sessions that you're doing. Your gut is really trainable. So we need to do that stimulation too. Remembering that your offseason nutrition should look different to what your peak race season nutrition plan is on the bike. So here are my top five tips for feeling on the bike.


1. Have a plan

It goes without saying right well, I think it's obvious that you have a plan. But most triathletes don't have a plan for their fuelling on the bike. Now, the longer and harder the ride is, the more carbohydrate you need to consume. I like to give clients a worksheet to actually calculate what their hourly intake plan and goal should be and that changes. It's not always the same. Depending on where you are in your season, what your body composition goals are, etc, etc. That hourly target will evolve. So I have a table that includes a whole heap of sports nutrition products, and how much carbohydrate they contain as well as we want to try and calculate sodium and caffeine and protein, fluid. The type of fluid and the amount. It's more complex than just picking some foods and aiming to eat them each hour. We really want to have a plan for how much carbohydrate we're having per hour as a baseline. Then we're going to build more complex strategies on top of that, depending on what's going on. So it's really important to have a base plan to start with and then we're going to build on that with complexity over time.

So a couple of indicators that tell me you haven't got your fuelling dialled in for the bike. Don't worry, you're not alone if any of these are resonating with you. Number one is bonking or hitting the wall. I had an athlete recently tell me that she pulled up at the service station towards the back end of a group ride, just feeling dizzy and ready to pass out. So that might be some of the symptoms that you might feel if you are pretty low on your fuel stores or feeling like you just can't scrape yourself off the bitumen, like you've just hit a wall, you've got no energy, your legs are really struggling to work. Often your concentration has gone there as well. So you can't do the fine motor skill things like using your brakes and changing gears etc. or holding on to a wheel, all that stuff is going to start to become difficult when your fuel levels are really low.

Another indicator you haven't got your fuelling dialled in, is if you're stuck on the couch for the rest of the day after long rides, because you're just smashed. That's it, you've used up your energy, there's not a lot more that you can do for the day and if you have a family or a partner, that's not that fun. Not that fun for them, not that fun for you. You can't get your other life laundry done for the rest of the weekend and you're just stuck inside watching Netflix. If you're single, and that's how you on a roll, then who cares. But if you've got other responsibilities, then you might want to sort out your nutrition.

The other indicator that you haven't got your fuelling dialled in, is if you're running off the bike after those long rides, which you'll often do in preparation for a race, and you just suck. You've got no energy, mentally trying to battle your way through it and you're just dragging your ass through that run off the bike, then you probably need to do a better job of fuelling on the bike. Your bike in a triathlon really is just set up for the run. So the people that have the most success in traffic on are the ones that get to the run, and minimally affected by the swim and bike. So your bike, which is why I call it the rolling buffet really is your opportunity to get more fuel onboard for the run in a race as well.

So I encourage you to develop a custom plan for you. Don't blindly follow what your training buddies are doing. What I love about my clients is that they go for group rides with people, and they spend a lot of the time eating because you know, that's what you need to do and their buddy next to them is not doing any fuelling and they have this conversation around what's going on what are you doing and why you're not eating or why are you eating so much. I think it's really important that you are more aggressive with your fuelling on the bike because it's going to set you up later.

I'd encourage you to spend maybe 10 minutes a day before a long ride, putting together your food for that next day. That way, you're not just grabbing random things as you're running out the door or you're forgetting something because you know early in the morning, it's dark, you're tired, your caffeine may not have kicked in yet and you're less likely to make good choices. Particularly if you're new to triathlon, you want to prep your bike the day before you go on a long ride. A lot of people do this anyway, like if you've been doing this sport for a while you probably do this. You pump up your tires, you make sure everything's working, check a bit of chain lube on. Make sure all your kit,  shoes and socks and helmet are laid out, so you don't forget everything. Your bike computers charged. Layer your food prep onto that as well. It's not going to take you very long, but just get your bottles sorted, figure out how much you going to take and what you need per hour that's planned for the ride. Pack a bit extra too just in case things go overtime or you get lost, or you feel like you need it. A bit of organisation here is key.


2. Eat regularly

Now I know it might seem obvious, but it's really easy to get wrapped up in your ride and before you know it. Two hours have flown by and you haven't eaten a thing. It's really common to not feel hungry as well because we know that exercise blunts our appetite. So don't be guided by that when you're out riding. By the time you feel hungry, often it's too late. You're probably well on your way to being depleted and it's really hard to play catch up from here. You're going to pay for it at the end of the ride, or often into the next day as well. I love watching the Tour de France riders eat. I have watched that from a sports dietitian perspective and just love watching them eat a huge amount of food while they're exercising at high intensities. So I encourage you next time to watch the Tour de France riders. As soon as the pace is off, everyone is dipping into their pockets for their nutrition or drinking from their bottles like they're constantly fuelling because they know they have to. They have to keep on top of their fuelling for that ride and also to back up again and ride the next day and the next day and the next day.

So get on the front foot with your fuelling. You're likely to burn way more carbohydrate per hour than you can digest and absorb anyway. So from a fuelling perspective, you want to be ahead of the game, not on the back foot. If you suck at eating on the bike, set an alarm on your bike computer say every 30 minutes or so, as just a little reminder to eat or drink. Automate that process so that you don't have to think about it. Because once you've dug yourself into a hole, it's really hard to get yourself out of it.


Let me know if this sounds like you. Do you feel exhausted by the end of the training week? Do you crave sweets in the afternoon and feel like you need a nap? Training for three disciplines can be absolutely exhausting if you haven't dialled in your nutrition. It can be frustrating when you can't quite piece together the solid race performance you know you're capable of and confusing when there's so much information out there. But you're not sure what's the right method for you.

My goal for you is to unlock your true potential and feel like a supercharged triathlete, firing on all cylinders full of energy and not only smashing quality training sessions, performing in every race too. If you're finally ready to start nailing your nutrition, join a powerful community of like-minded athletes in the Triathlon Nutrition Academy Program. Head to dietitianapproved.com/academy to check it out now. For less than the cost of a coffee a day, you will finally have a plan for your nutrition instead of winging it and hoping for the best.



3. Plan your pre-ride meal

What you eat before you ride makes a huge difference to how you feel on the bike, and also how you feel as part of your overall plan. Depending on what you're eating before you ride, that may just cover you for that first hour. So that can be part of your fuelling. It's also a good opportunity to practice what you might be doing before your race.

With cycling, we don't actually load our bones. So one key component that's quite important here is a bit of calcium, because we know that we lose calcium in sweat and having some calcium before you ride actually attenuates that loss in our sweat. If you're somebody that has low bone mineral density, or you're a menopausal female, then calcium can be super important before you ride when you're not actually doing that bone loading. I find a lot of people can tolerate much more with their pre-ride fuelling as well compared to say running or even swimming. So it could be a good opportunity to be more aggressive here and test and trial a few things.


4. Make the most of fluids

If you're not used to eating or fuelling, maybe start with fluids. Once you find the right things that work for you, it's going to be a breeze. But if you aren't used to fuelling or you don't know where to start, start with just fluids. So I'd encourage you to go and find a sports drink that you like, because having something that you like will encourage you to drink it. There's no point having something you don't really love, because you're going to go, "I don't really feel like that and I also think I can probably get home without it so I'm just not going to have it." We don't want that. I want you to go out and find one that you love the taste of because it's going to encourage you to consume it.


Fluids are also a really great way of getting nutrition on board. If you're doing really hard rides, or in a really intense group situation. If you're stressed about being dropped, or you don't want to take your hands off the handlebars, then grab some fluid quickly. It's going to be way easier than trying to grab something out of your back jersey pocket undo wrappers, chew, breathe. Use fluids to your advantage in rides like that.



5. Change it up  

You want to have a different strategy for your in-season versus off-season and it's okay to use different foods and fluids all the time like constantly evolve. Sometimes you can get kind of sick and over your sports drink or gels that use for a particular race. You just might never be able to face that ever again and that's okay.

Try and shake it up all the time, so you're never getting bored. It's really common to get flavour fatigue in longer course racing or longer type training sessions. So think about a four or five, six-hour ride, it's going to suck if you're just having sweet products for that entire time. A lot of sports nutrition products are sweet, you know, sports drink is sweet gels are sweet, a lot of bars are sweet. Sometimes, even if you're a sweet tooth, you can get over that. I like to give my clients some secret strategies to combat that flavour, fatigue, and also some alternatives to sweet.

Now, I don't know of any savoury gels on the market, there's definitely more products now that are being made with low flavourings and you can dial flavouring down in sports drinks and things. People are starting to realize that everything is sweet and there's definitely ways around that. I would encourage you to change it up in your offseason with more real foods. You don't need to be sucking back commercial sports drinks and gels all the time. It's okay to have real foods on the bike particularly in the offseason. Real foods are a good way to get savoury in as well.

So if you're looking for some real food recipes, then I actually developed a little fuel your adventure recipe book for this purpose. It contains lots of energy balls and bars, some savoury options, like some of my secret savoury options I give to clients. It's got a homemade sports drink recipe in there. It's just a little booklet that you can have to help you with getting more real food options in on long rides and also hikes and things particularly in your offseason. So I might actually link that in the show notes so you can have a look at it. So that you're not getting stuck just having commercial products all the time. Because if you're having real food, you can be ticking off other nutrient boxes as well. I've developed these recipes, I know that they're perfected for carbohydrate, and sodium, and some other things because I always have my sports dietitian hat on. So take a look at that if you're looking for more real food options, and make sure you do change it up.

So they're my tips for feeling on the bike. What I like to call the rolling buffet, making sure you have a plan and getting organized. There's no point having a plan and not following it. Making sure you eat regularly and before you feel hungry. It's kind of too late by then. You're already on the back foot if you're starting to feel fatigued and tired and hungry, it's a little bit too late. What you do pre-rid is also really important. And that will depend on who you are and where you are in your season and what your overall goals are as well. Make sure you use fluids as a way to easily get fuel in.

So don't discount the amount of fuel that you can get just by drinking and you can concentrate things up, you can add extra things into your sports drink too, to kind of get your overall plan just in fluids. If that's where you want to be, or it's a good place to start. I can manipulate your race nutrition plan around anything, it doesn't matter. As long as you found a couple of products, maybe one or two that you really love and you really like to consume, then I can change all of the other components to get you exactly what you need. I can even manipulate your sports drink if that's not doing the right things for you.

Finally, make sure you change it up. I always talk about having a periodized approach with your nutrition and fuelling on the bike is the same. You want something for your offseason something for your on season. You might be doing race nutrition practice, and you might just be sick of what you were using before. Imagine how it would feel to have loads of energy through your long rides, to not be stressed about being dropped and to feel really good in that run off the bike.

I had a 70.3 athlete the other day, who I gave some nutrition for on the bike, he'd never really done much before. He came in and said he had the best ride he's ever had and then he PB'd his 5k ran off the bike. That's how I want you to feel. I want you to feel good in the back end of those long rides, and feel like you have enough energy to push a good run off the bike hard afterwards because that's your most race-specific session, right? That's exactly what triathlon is being able to run off the bike and run well off the bike. So you want to support those types of sessions the best with nutrition because they are one of the most race-specific. Imagine also how it would feel to be able to get shit done after a big, long ride. Instead of being stuck on the couch, being liability, maybe running the risk of getting divorced or not playing with the kids. Those are the types of things that you can experience if you dial in your long ride nutrition. So I hope that helped.


Thanks for joining me for this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or want to share with me what you've learned. Email me at [email protected]. You could also spread the word by leaving me a review and taking a screenshot of you listening to the show. Don't forget to tag me on social media at @dietitian.approved so I can give you a shout out too. If you want to learn more about what we do, head to dietitianapproved.com. And if you want to learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, head to dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smash it in the fourth leg - nutrition!

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