Carbohydrates to Fuel Your Rides

During exercise we mainly use two types of fuel: fats and carbohydrates (in the form of glucose). The ratio between these types of fuels used depends on several factors such as the duration and intensity of exercise, training status and nutrient availability. So, let’s explain how you can fuel during your rides and make sure that you perform optimally.

Glucose is the preferred type of fuel for our body, especially during high intensity exercise or competition. Glucose, sometimes known as the “fast fuel”, is more easily converted into energy in the body compared to fats and therefore an efficient type of fuel. We can store a limited amount of glucose in our body, in the form of glycogen. In general, we store 300 to 600 glycogen in muscles and about 80 to 120 grams in our liver.

Depending on the intensity of exercise the internal glycogen storage can already be depleted within 45 to 90 minutes. When stores are empty, you are likely to hit the wall and you will suffer performance. But what to do when your ride is over one hour; how do you make sure you can still keep up performance?

Especially in rides over one hour, your glycogen storage alone will simply not be enough to keep you going on a relatively high intensity (needed for example in competition). Therefore, it is important to fuel your body with carbohydrates during your ride. You may better start this fueling early, since we are not able to simply eat and drink as much carbohydrates as we actually need:

In general, your body can absorb and utilize 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour from an exogenous source (eating and drinking). When you consume more than this, you are risking gastrointestinal problems. Consuming 60 grams of carbohydrates is sufficient (in combination with your glycogen storage) for rides over 1 hour, up to 2 hours. But when you are up for a prolonged ride (>2,5 hours) you might want to prevent glycogen depletion and an impaired performance even more.

Luckily there is a way to increase carbohydrate absorption. By consuming different types of carbohydrates namely glucose and fructose (ratio 2:1), you could increase total carbohydrate absorption up to 90 grams/hour or even slightly more, which is beneficial. However, keep in mind that the latter is quite hard to reach and you might need some nutritional training to practice this intake as well as training your gut.

In short

How much carbohydrates you will need to consume exactly during your training or race depends on the duration and intensity of your ride, your training status and your nutritional intake before the ride. In general:

  • For rides of less than 1 hour a carbohydrate intake of 30 grams/hour suffices most of the time.
  • When riding 2 to 3 hours a carbohydrate intake of 60 grams/hour is sufficient.
  • If you are riding more than 2.5 hours aim for a carbohydrate intake up to 90 grams/hour (provided it comes from glucose + fructose), in order to keep up performance.

Do you want to know how much you will need during your specific ride? The EatMyRide app provides you a personal nutrition advise based on your planned training/race, whereafter you can create your own nutrition plan.