When you know what to eat and when to eat, eating natural, non-processed foods is a simple and effective way to fuel your workouts.

For more nutrition tips check out Ask a Cycling Coach Ep 250.

Non-Processed Nutrition

Drink mix, gels, and protein bars are the go-to’s when it comes to quickly fueling workouts. While these products get the job done, your nutrition doesn’t stop here. You can replace traditional fuel with meals and snacks prepared from high-quality nutritious food.

Timing Your Fuel

What to eat before a workout largely depends on when you eat and when your workout is. As a general rule, the more simple sugars a fuel contains the closer it should be eaten to your workout. The heavier the food is and the less simple sugars it has, the further it should be consumed from your training session.

Big Meals

Proper fueling doesn’t begin right before your workout. What you eat in the many hours before a workout has an impact on how you feel during your workout. The fuel you get from full meals can be utilized in a workout if it is properly spaced from that workout.

If you want to utilize the fuel from a full meal, the meal should be eaten at least three hours before you ride. Depending on who you are, and how sensitive you are to gastrointestinal distress this might be closer to four hours before a ride.

While you can confidently eat a full meal three to four hours before your ride this doesn’t necessarily mean you should eat just anything. Simple and balanced meals like burritos, rice and vegetables or filling salads are all potential options. Heavy meals that sit in your gut, take a long time to digest or cause gastrointestinal distress should be avoided.

What to Eat: Try eating full meals that consist of whole, nutritious foods. These should be foods you can eat comfortably four to three hours before a workout.


If you eat a big meal more than three or four hours prior to your workout, you should consider eating something else in between your workout and your primary meal. Whole fruits like grapes or dates are all excellent options. These are simple enough to eat within two hours of a workout but substantial enough that you will benefit from the nutrition they offer within two hours of eating them.

If fruit doesn’t sit well with you, but you’d still like to do some snacking before your ride you can also try a simple multi-ingredient bar. There are a number of brands that make bars that only consist of a few ingredients. These bars are not as processed as traditional bars but have a lot of the same benefits.

Food Tips: Whole fruits or simple five-ingredient bars are simple but substantial fuels that can be eaten within two hours of a workout. Fruits like grapes, dates, and bananas are all good options if you like fruit.

Quick Snacks

Anything you eat within an hour of riding should be simple and primarily consist of simple sugars. Honey, agave syrup, and maple syrup are all examples of simple sugars that can be eaten within an hour of a workout.

If you eat something with a lot of simple sugars too far from your workout you won’t be able to utilize the nutritional benefit that comes with that fuel. If you want to explore this option, try experimenting with the timing of this fuel. Depending on how your body responds to these fuels, you might need to eat this fuel closer to your workout. You might also find success with eating these fuels on the bike!

Food Tips: Honey, Maple Syrup and Agave syrup are all simple sugars that can be eaten within an hour of riding

Nutrition is Individual

While these principles work for a lot of athletes its important to remember that when it comes to nutrition, every athlete is different. Something that works well for one athlete might not work at all for another. How you go about integrating non-processed fuel into your diet will be unique.

Be mindful of your own individual needs as a person and an athlete when you make a change. You don’t need to feel pressure to do something that works for someone else and you should always try things at your own discretion.

Trial and Error

Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things. Changes that work come with some trial and error. If something isn’t working for you, scrap it and try something else. If you really like something, keep it. Make one change at a time so can easily eliminate options that don’t work, and add things that do.

While trial and error is a good thing, there are times when you shouldn’t be doing too much experimenting. Experiment with nutrition when the stakes are low and you have room to make mistakes. Don’t make any dietary leaps the week before a big race or in the middle of a strenuous training block. Make appropriate adjustments when you have the time.

Mindful Nutrition

Making a conscious effort to eat more high-quality foods, isn’t just a way to cut back on refined sugars and use less packaged food. It can also improve your nutrition as a whole and change your approach to fueling. Improve your nutrition one meal at a time, and the results may surprise you.

For more cycling training knowledge, listen to the Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.