Is on-bike nutrition the biggest performance leap of the last 20 years?

While (presumably) not doping, we’re seeing performance increase in today’s cycling. I think you’re misunderstanding the question.

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Was there a presumption of no doping in the OP that I am missing? In my opinion the increase in performance is artificial and not related to increased carbohydrate intake.


Let me rephrase the OP as a statement - of all the cycling advancements in the last 20 years (training methods and measurement, aero, etc…), on-bike nutrition is providing the biggest performance gains.

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Not how I read it but fair enough.

Reference to the 90’s was to contrast the CHO intake then verses now, not to highlight doping in the 90s

According to my favorite expensive bicycle brands, it appears to be integrated cockpits, internal cable routing, new proprietary bottom bracket standards, computer modeling of thousands of virtual designs to discover maximum aerodynamic performance, feedback from sponsored world tour racers and custom carbon layups based on the latest engineering innovations from aerospace and auto racing.


Having raced myself at a fairly high level in the 1990s I can attest that on and off bike nutrition is definitely a key aspect. Especially for recovery.

However, I would say there are many other factors contributing equally (if not more):

  • better talent/genetic freak identification.
  • more professionalism from early on
  • grey area doping, especially in the context W/kg.
  • with the exception of altitude training I don’t really see where coaching/training has changed a lot since the 1990s. Racing has changed, therefore training had to adjust but overall I wouldn’t say there have been huge changes.

It should have though at the power certain folk were putting out :joy:

How much carb/hr did you take in back then? I agree w/ the talent identification. With power meters so common today, and communication so easy, it’s much easier to identify top talent.

Cyclists have long consumed high amounts of CHO during longer races. As I said, however, the evidence that this is highly beneficial is limited. Most important is that you don’t suffer from overt hypoglycemia. Even if you do, however, it is possible to salvage things and not have your performance suffer, at least if you can restore and maintain plasma glucose levels quickly enough.

(Both Highly Cited articles.)

As for exogenous ketones, the jury is still out on whether they are beneficial at all. It’s been known that muscle will avidly oxidize ketones since the 1930s. In fact, there was a time when it was thought that they were THE lipid used by muscle (see my chapter in either of these two books:

). The problem, as with practically all small, osmotically active molecules that aren’t normally found in higher concentrations in our diet (e.g., MCTs), is that aren’t readily absorbed, leading to osmotic diarrhea. Commercial entities claim to have overcome this problem sufficiently to deliver enough to enhance performance, but the actual science is weak.

So again I say, no, these nutritional strategies are not revolutionary.

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You spent a lot of time digging up irrelevant studies, so go find me an example where cyclists from 90’s/early 2000’s consumed 100+ g of carbohydate per hour. I’ll wait.

All I have do is look in the mirror.

(I laugh when folks refer to the 1990s/early 2000s as “back in the day”.)

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You keep mentioning how much they consume on the bike, but I can remember all the media accounts of massive plates of pasta during every meal back in the day. Are they really consuming more carbs or have they just changed the timing? Also, they were constantly eating on the bike. Bananas, potatoes, rice cakes, etc. were very common and very frequently eaten. I think we can argue that they now DRINK far more carbs, but are they actually taking in that many more per day? Or is that just something that has trickled down to the average competitive cyclist?

No matter, put me in the camp that thinks something gray is happening and this is just the latest common excuse being told to the media. Hell, anyone else remember Floyd Landis saying it was Jack Daniels? Or the poor innocent victims who ate “tainted steak”? To me, “I drank a bunch of carbs” is just the latest version of that. Remember when we were told Froome’s advantage was that he was “keto” while he was actually eating carbs and there were jiffy bags floating around?

There will always be people who believe they are clean right up to and even after the moment they are caught. There will also always be people who think they are dirty even though the only evidence they have are race times and unbelievable performances. But most importantly, there will always be people who will do ANYTHING to get the tiniest advantage and exploit it.


“Back in the day” cigarettes and whisky were seen as great stimulus. :grin:

I think while the advise about nutrition has changed, there is (and always has been) limited control over how much athletes really eat, and when. People that are hungry will likely eat more, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen pro cyclists just dump food from their pockets that they didn’t want.

Think the whole sport has got much more professional. From talent spotting, to youth training camps, to dedicated training programs. Not to mention that it has actually become professional - paying riders to ride bikes for a living. Not long ago, only the top got actually paid, and lesser known and younger riders were working at least part of the year, and led a pretty spartanic live otherwise.

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Interesting discussion with former riders DS’s on the latest Radio Cycling Podcast. iirc they mention nutrition and timing; chefs/ main meal timing; general supports for riders (e.g. buses); knowledge and practice of cooling. That’s on top of power meters; bike progress; clothing tech; tyres etc etc.

I would’ve said a number of older pro’s have mentioned the fuelling as a big change in recent years, in terms of consumption. We know the old 90 grams an hour has been disproven.

carb/hr was not really a concept known among practitioners. We would have sport drinks but these were often without carbs. We were more concerned about electrolytes. For long multi hour training rides a banana and two or three cereal bars. If at all. I don’t recall that we consumed anything in races (90-150k road races); shorter stage races). You would get fat over winter and then do 2-3 weeks fasted, underfueled riding in spring camp on Mallorca.

My brother rode for one of the first tier pro teams, I still remember him bringing home the first energy gel. Out of space. However, nutrition was pretty much up to the rider and most ignored the on-bike fueling. I’d say this all changed slowly in the 2000s. Once read an interview with Valverde, he didn’t take in any carbs during races until the last two or three years of his career.

We still had coaches who believed you shouldn’t eat anything right after training because it would be too stressful for the body. So you would underful during the training and would not eat after training. I truly believe that one of the reasons why pros were not as skinny as nowadays is that only those with some bulk/mass would withstand this constant underfueling regime.

However, we were great at carbo-loading. This was like keto-zone-2-intermittent-fasting combined in the day.


From Nicki Strobel - Dietitian / Performance Nutritionist Uno-X:

It actually was well known. 60g/hr was kind of the “standard” when racing. Anything more was thought to just cause gut issues.


You mean 2 cans of flat Coke per hour (plus bananas*, Fig Newtons, etc.).

*As a kid, I liked the taste of bananas, but disliked the texture. I only learned to eat them as a defense mechanism, because the first “serious” racing cyclist I knew liked to throw his peel into your front wheel or over his head into your face while training. To this day, though, they have to be just right in terms of ripeness.

FWIW, here’s something from a review article I wrote in “back in the day” (i.e., 1992):

"The majority of studies that have observed improved performance due to CHO ingestion throughout exercise have provided subjects with 40-75 g ofCHO•h-1 (10). Although meth­odological limitations have prevented accurate quanti­fication of the metabolic fate of the ingested CHO (i.e., absorption, oxidation, storage), these rates of supple­mentation have generally been sufficient to maintain euglycemia and the rate of CHO oxidation during the later stages of exercise. This implies that ingesting 40- 75 g of CHO•h-1 has been able to provide glucose into the circulation at =::l g,min-1 late in exercise (7).

In general, ingesting CHO at >75 g-h-1 does not appear to be any more effective at improving perform­ance than ingesting CHO at 40-75 g,h-1 (27). This may be due to the failure of progressively higher rates of CHO ingestion to elicit corresponding increments in CHO availability, or because factors other that CHO availability limit performance under such conditions. Alternatively, the potential for further increases in per­formance may be negated by the gastrointestinal dis­tress or inadequate fluid replacement that may occur with the use of concentrated (>12 g, 100 ml-1) CHOeverages (see Fig. 1 ).

It should be recognized that the optimal rate of CHO supplementation will probably differ widely depending upon the intensity and duration of exercise, the envi­ronmental conditions, the criteria used to assess per­formance, etc. Furthermore, there are substantial in­traindividual differences in the quantity of supple­mental CHO required to maintain plasma glucose availability and oxidation during prolonged exercise. Thus, although some subjects are apparently able to maintain euglycemia and adequate rates of CHO oxi­dation during prolonged exercise even in the absence of CHO supplementation (14), in another study we observed a steady decrease in plasma glucose concen­tration during ~2 h of exercise despite the ingestion of a total of 264 g of glucose ( 11 ). "

As I have mentioned before, Asker Jeukendrup probably deserves the most credit for pushing higher rates of CHO intake during exercise. (That’s after his brief, unsuccessful dalliance with MCTs, and due in part to the fact that he does/did IM-distance triathlons.). His recommendations can be found here: