Benefits of beetroot juice


beetroot-juiceVarious studies have suggested Beetroot juice is able to increase endurance and delay fatigue for athletes in long distance races. A recent study reported in Cycling Weekly suggested drinking Beetroot juice can also improve speed in short distance races.

According to this small study, in a 10 km time trial, cyclists reduced their average times from 965 seconds to 953 seconds – quite a significant time gap. (Pro rata – works out at nearly 1 minute for 25 mile TT)

“The amount of oxygen required 
to sustain 
sub-maximal exercise 
(ie at 45 per cent and 65 per cent of maximum power) was lower when the active beetroot juice was consumed. More importantly, though, was the finding that compared results to the placebo drink. The active beetroot juice significantly enhanced time trial 
performance – the 
average time recorded fell from 965 seconds to 953 seconds. This was confirmed by the fact that the average power output during the time trials 
rose from 288 watts in the 
placebo trial to 294 watts in the active beetroot juice trial. Again, this was a 
significant improvement.

This study gave cyclists a drink of beetroot juice two hours before the test. In one group the nitrate was removed from the beetroot juice. In the other group, the natural nitrate was left in the beetroot juice. The group with nitrate in, managed to reduce their times.

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Cycling food

In the pre-scientific age of cycling (i.e. pre 1980s) Cycling food used to be

  • Raw steaks for breakfast (Raw steaks were also allegedly used as a primitive treatment for saddle sores)
  • Minestrone soup for lunch
  • Pasta and red meat for dinner.

A more modern cycling diet may look something like:


  • Fresh fruit
  • Porridge  with soya milk, sprinkled with blueberries
  • Toast / eggs


  • Quinoa / rice / salad
  • Or maybe no lunch just eating energy bars on the bike


  • Lentils / rice / quinoa e.t.c.
  • Lean white meat / fish
  • Potatoes
  • Vegetables

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Clif builders Protein Bar review


I have been sent a box of Clif Builders Protein bar for review. I’ve been munching away the past few weeks.


I eat a lot of protein bars. Not just for recovery, but on longer rides of three hours plus. Perhaps because I get fed up with just eating all the simple sugars and carbohydrates, it feels good to be eating a more well balanced bit of food. Protein bars have the advantage of being lower GI than most energy bars so you get a slower release of energy without the surges and spikes of sugar.

I had two flavours – Mint Chocolate and Chocolate. It tastes quite pleasant, nothing amazing, but quite palatable for an energy bar. I preferred the non-mint version – though the mint version is still quite mild.

Like many protein bars, it requires quite a bit of chewing and eating. It’s not something to eat in a race because it doesn’t slip down easily. It feels quite compact and it’s a big job to get it all down. Having said that, a protein bar is really for after a workout rather than during it. You will also need to take water with eating it. It means quite a lot is packed into the 68 gram bars. The main thing is 20 gram of soy protein which is quite a lot of protein for a protein bar.

It is based on soy protein. As I take quite a lot of whey protein products, it’s good to have a variety of protein. Even if just because ‘Whey can make you a bit windy.’ and it’s good to have something different for a change.

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Best recovery drinks

Recovery drinks are useful for after a long ride or race. If it is a fairly easy training ride, I probably won’t bother – just rely on water and normal food. But, when you’ve really exerted yourself, a recovery drink can be helpful for rehydrating and taking on energy and protein. Many studies have suggested that just after exercise is the best time to take on nutrition. It is at this time, when the body is empty, that the body is most receptive to nutrition. Recovery drinks can play a role in maximising recovery. It might sound obvious to take on water and nutrition after big effort, but if you’re a bit disorganised you can struggle to find the right food and drink. Recovery drinks can make it easier.

There are quite a few different recovery drinks to choose from. They will all have some combination of carbohydrate / protein. The most common recovery drinks are based on carb (maltodextrin/ fructose) and whey protein. There are also soy recovery drinks. The most important thing is not so much choosing the ‘right’ brand, but just making sure you take something in the right quantity.

Some of the recovery drinks in the house.

High 5 Recovery

The High 5 Recovery sachets are pretty handy. Often I take a recovery drink after a race. Having a few sachets in your bag, makes it easy to make a drink without carrying a large carton or recovery powder.

It is very easy to mix. Just put some powder in, give a little stir, and it’s ready to go. It tastes very pleasant and is easy on the palate. Often I find recovery drinks hard work, but this is very easy to drink. The taste is fairly neutral and not-sweet, just easy to take down. The nutrition is the most common combination of carb (maltodextrin and fructose) and whey isolate protein. They say whey protein is better protein than beef, so it makes a good recovery drink. Some sports drinks can be acidic. But, High 5 recovery mixed with milk is neutral, which makes it welcoming post hard ride. It is similar to High 5 4:1, but has a higher protein content. It has roughly a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein. It is probably my preferred recovery drink.

The High 5 4:1, you could use as a recovery drink. I sometimes use as last bottle on a long ride, to help start the recovery.



Skimmed milk is an excellent recovery drink – and also cheap!

Milk contains a blend of casein and whey, which have amino acids in a pattern similar to muscle protein. Milk is quite a dilute recovery drink, in that 100ml provides just 1.7g of protein and 4.5 of carbohydrate. But, the advantage is that (skimmed milk)  makes it easy on the stomach making it less likely to cause stomach bloating or stress. (benefits of milk at Bike Radar) Milk also has many micro-nutrients that are helpful.

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Cycling nutrition

When cycling any distance food and nutrition plays an important role. The most important things are

  • Taking on enough food and energy to sustain energy levels during the ride.
  • Eating the right combination of foods to fuel both the ride and recovery.
  • Long term nutrition, which helps promote good health to sustain high intensity training and nutrition.

The three main types of energy

  • Carbohydrate – the main source of energy whilst cycling.
  • Protein – important in recovery. Can play some role in fuelling a ride.
  • Fats – Good in the correct proportions. Not recommended to take whilst riding very hard, but on long rides, is fine in suitable proportions

Glycaemic Index.

In short ,the GI of a food tells you how quickly it converts into sugar. It is useful to know the GI of foods. As a quick rule of thumb, limit very high GI foods unless you are in the process of riding.

  • A low GI, like oats (26) is ideal for breakfast, giving a long slow release of energy throughout the day, without energy spikes.
  • A high GI gives an immediate release of sugar e.g. pure glucose has a GI of 100. High GI foods are OK, whilst riding, because the sugar will be used straight away. But, it is still advisable to take a mix of GI Index when riding – using both complex carbs and simple sugars.
  • However when stationary, high GI foods cause spikes in blood sugar that raise insulin levels to store it. Big spikes in blood sugar levels are not helpful to maintaining constant energy levels.

Food pre-ride / Breakfast

A typical cyclists’ breakfast is porridge / muesli. Oats are a very good food because they have a low glycaemic index; also they are gluten-free and can be easier to digest than a heavy wheat based diet. I am not gluten intolerant. But, I still like to take gluten free carbohydrates.

I choose a muesli without sugar added. I have quite a sweet tooth, but I don’t like sugar in my breakfast cereal as it is unnecessary. It is better to have foods with low GI for breakfast. To sweeten the porridge –  honey or some chopped natural fruit is the best.

If it was a really long ride, then I may take some eggs for breakfast during the ride as well.

Pasta for breakfast? There was a time when I though pasta was the holy grail. I heard Procyclists took pasta for breakfast so I did too. But, now I hear that is quite rare. I never fancy pasta for breakfast.

Things to avoid pre-ride

  • High GI snacks
  • Excess fibre
  • Excess fatty foods.
  • Spicy foods
  • Very heavy doughy foods (like Pizza is)
  • Red Meat (the days of pros eating rare steaks before long rides are long over)
  • Anything you’re not used to eating.

When to eat before cycling?

It depends on the effort involved. If it is a steady ride, then I can go out soon after eating breakfast. If I’m racing, I don’t take solid foods for 2-3 hours before the race. If it is a moderate intensity, like a sportive, an hour before should be fine.

Carbo Loading

Carbo loading is the attempt to fill the body with carbohydrate for the day of a big race. It may be useful for a rider doing a one-off ultra distance ride. Generally, it involves have 3 days of low carb consumption, followed by a day of heavy carb consumption, the day before. This can increase your weight as you take on more water and energy. Bear in mind,

If you eat much more food than usual, it can put too much pressure on the stomach, causing problems on the morning of the race.

Carb loading is not really used by pros, because they are racing on consecutive days anyway.

I only practise carb loading in moderation. If I have a long race, I will make sure I take a good amount of complex carbs, the night before. I keep a usual evening meal, but perhaps a bowl of oats for supper or possibly extra carbs as liquid food.

Food during the ride

During a ride, you need to take a lot more calories than usual. It is helpful to have a rough idea how many extra calories you will be burning. This will depend on your weight, duration and effort level.

I have written in more detail at energy consumption during a ride. But, to summarise,

The body can absorb around 60-80 grams of carbohydrate per hour.

  • Therefore, for optimal energy replacement, this should be a target. This means you should try and take 2-3 units of energy (25g energy bars) per hour.
  • For 1-2 hour rides, you will have enough energy stored not to really need much food. But, for long rides of 3-4 hour+, you need to start fuelling from the first hour to maximise energy uptake.

Food on a ride

Maltodextrin – a good complex carbohydrate, which is the most popular ingredient in sports energy drinks. Sometimes I like to have just plain maltodextrin. It is easy on the stomach and avoids problems associated with high fructose. I buy this Torq natural organic energy – which is 97% maltodextrin. Torq energy at Wiggle

Fructose / maltodextrin 2:1. Energy drinks now often have a mix of maltodextrin and fructose, some studies suggest this can enable a higher level of carbohydrate uptake because the gut  can process fructose and maltodextrin separately, and so is good for long rides. Just be careful not to overdo the fructose consumption, it can cause digestion problems. High 5 2:1 energy drink 1 Kg currently just £9.99

Carb – Protein 4:1 Another energy power mix is Four parts carb to 1 part protein (usually way protein). Studies suggest this can help for long distance endurance riding. The protein can be used as a source of fuel. It can also help the recovery process towards the end of a ride. I have bought a few boxes of 4:1 sachets. If I have 4 bottles of energy drink. I may have this for the 3rd or 4th bottle. I wouldn’t use for short distance, as I would prefer just a carb solution. High 5 4:1

Electrolyte / carb drinks. Quite a few energy drinks are marketed as ‘electrolyte drinks’ These are energy drinks which generally have higher levels of salts (electrolytes) and relatively lower percentage of carbs. I rarely get too hot on the bike, so only really need these in the height of summer or abroad. Again, I would be unlikely to just rely on electrolytes. For example, if I had a long ride, I may save the electrolyte drink for later in the day when it really hots up and it gets very sweaty.

GI index. During a ride you don’t have to worry about the GI of foods as much. For a short 2 hour race, I would take just mainly high GI foods. For a long ride, it is still good to get a mixture of food and slow release carbs, like oat based cereal bars.

Energy Bars

I take a lot of different energy bars. I don’t really have a favourite brand. Though I often buy boxes of 24 powerbars and 24 Torq bars. As well as these more expensive energy bars, you can take some cheaper bars that you find in a supermarket, like Nutrigrain and Fruesli bars. There energy composition is often quite similar to bars which cost twice as much.

There is a more in depth review of energy bars here.

Other non-specific Energy foods

  • Banana – The cyclists’ food. Ideal for popping in back pocket. Good source of Carb, relatively high GI of 65. Lower GI if more green and less brown.
  • Malt loaf – A good complex carb source. Gives you something solid to chew on. Not the easiest thing to eat, but can make a nice change on long rides.
  • Figs – I’ve never seen attraction of taking figs during a ride, but it’s often mentioned.
  • Marmalade sandwiches. Never did Obree any harm.

Recovery foods

After a ride, the first hour is very important to get good nutrition.  During the first hour, the body is most receptive to absorbing nutrition. It is a mistake to wait for a long time to start refuelling. If it was particularly hard, I like to take a recovery drink because.

  • Easy to absorb.
  • Helps rehydrate.
  • You don’t always feel like eating after a big effort.
  • Keeps you going until you’ve had time to prepare food.

Quite often I start with recovery drinks food towards the end of a long ride. I like these protein recovery bars, I may have this at the last hour of a long ride. Recovery drinks can come in the form of Soy or Whey / milk powder. Again, I have both, I’ve used SIS recovery which is Soya.

Post ride meals

There is no hard and fast rule about what to eat after a ride. I try to get a good balanced meal – carbs, protein, fats, fresh vegetables. I like lentils for a low GI and mix of carb and protein. Usually I take with vegetarian (tofu/ quorn) sausages and quite a lot of vegetables.

One very rough rule of thumb is that a colourful plate is likely to have a good range of nutrition (excluding the tomato and brown sauce)

Cheaper recovery food drink

  • Milk – is an excellent recovery drink, unfortunately, I just don’t like drinking straight milk.
  • Coconut Water – excellent for de-acidifying the stomach after long ride.

Training and food uptake

Food intake depends on the rider in question. An experienced rider will train the body to better and burning fat. Therefore, they can get by on less carb intake than an untrained cyclist.

Long term nutrition

Western diets can be unhealthy, unless we are careful. There is a lot to be said for avoiding processed / fast food and eating a well balanced diet, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. If you eat a balanced diet, you should gain the trace minerals and vitamins that the body needs. Many riders like to take vitamin supplements on the basis that you can ensure you don’t miss out. Personally, I always buy and then forget to take.

Supplements for cycling?

Are there any supplements worth taking?  Some suggest Beetroot juice and Beta Alanine. – see Supplements

Managing a balanced diet is the best way for long-term weight maintenance.

Related pages

Energy packs and free bottles

Recently, I’ve been buying quite a lot of these packs of energy gels with water bottles. Firstly, it’s convenient to have lots of sachets for travelling and carrying in back pocket to top up water bottles during long rides. It saves having to carry around 1.5kg tubs. Secondly, buying a pack with a free water bottle, is a good motivation to throw away some rather manky looking water bottles that have been sitting around my cupboard for God knows how many year. Generally, the packs are good value, and much better and more convenient than buying the odd gel and energy bar everytime you might need one. If you’re lucky, you might see some packs on special offers. It’s always worth checking with the manufacturer site, as they may give a free starter pack if you register with them. I know ZipVit were doing this for a while, but seem to have discontinued the practise at the moment.

These are some of the endurance packs that you can pick up in cycle shops or online.

SIS Endurance Pack


  • 2 x SIS GO Isotonic Gels;
  • 2 x SIS GO Energy Sachets;
  • 2 x SIS GO Electrolyte Sachets;
  • 2 x SIS REGO Rapid Recovery Sachets;
  • 2 x SIS Go Energy Bars.
  • Free 800ml SIS bottle is also included

10 * energy sachets = £11.99 £1.19 per item. It could be more expensive to buy separately. I quite like this SIS pack and have bought a couple. There is a good mix of sachets and I find myself using all the different products. The water bottle is high quality and makes a good replacement for some old ones.

The recovery powder is based on soy protein

The energy powder is based on maltodextrin/fructose 2:1 combination.

SIS Endurance pack at Evans

Alternatively, you can spend £10 on SIS products of your choice at Evans and get a free water bottle with code SIS10

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Energy bars for cycling

Over the years, I’ve taken a huge variety of energy bars and food on rides. These are a quick review some of the bars I buy most often.

A selection of energy bars I have a the moment. I might take this kind of selection on a long 5-6  hour ride.

What to look for in an energy bar?

  • High level of carbohydrate / low fat.
  • Mostly complex carbohydrate, with some carbohydrate which sugars. Medium GI index.
  • High concentration of energy for size.
  • I tend to take a variety of energy bars. I’m not particularly fussy which brand. But, a bit of variety helps in various aspects – even if just making eating of the bike more palatable.

Specific Cycling energy bars vs non-Specific energy bars

For a specific energy bars developed for the cycling market, you will pay around £1 – £1.50. You can get a similar level of carbohydrate through much cheaper non-specific energy bars. For example Kellogg’s Nurti Grain contains around 35g of Carb, but only costs 40p. If you don’t want to pay £1.20 for 30 grams of carbohydrate, you don’t have to.

However, I still like to pay ‘through the nose’ for branded energy bars because:

  • Psychological habit. You just assume if it’s more expensive, it must be better. ( a common attribute of cycling shoppers)
  • The energy bars tend to be more concentrated, and relatively lower fat.
  • I would get bored of eating Kellogg’s Nutri Grain and the like all the time.
  • I always like to believe manufacturer’s claims that eating their energy products will make me go ‘15% faster’ – even if it is rather a dubious claim!
  • Proprietary energy bars often contain trace elements and electrolytes which may help in different aspects of nutrition and energy consumption. (even if I’m not entirely sure how)
  • It’s handy to buy a big box of 24 energy bars. You always have something in stock to take on long rides.

Some of the best Energy bars I buy

Powerbar 55 gram- Energize


  • Contains slow release carbs, = brown rice, oats and maltodextrin for slow release energy.
  • Contains 2:1 Glucose / Fructose, which is claimed can increase total energy uptake
  • Some electrolyte (sodium) + vits and minerals, such as magnesium.
  • 1.9g fat per bar
  • 38 gram of carbohydrate (sugars 23g) , per 55 gram bar. Quite a high % of carbs which is sugar (from fructose)
  • Review: Quite concentrated energy source. Needs a bit of chewing and you need to take some water with it. I do like the taste of the chocolate variety. Not too sweat.  Good for long rides, and very thin for slipping in  back pocket. One of most expensive though. I wouldn’t use in a race, because it does slow you down a little chewing through the bar.
  • 25 *55g Powerbar at Wiggle £29.99

Torq 45g Energy bar


  • Mixture of GI foods. usual maltodextrin, oats, plus fructose based energy
  • 30 gram of carbohydrate per 45 gram bar 22g sugars)
  • Review: These are pretty enjoyable to eat. They are moist and tasty. This is important for long rides, where you often need something attractive to get you to eat. 30 gram of carb makes it easy to calculate – 2-3 an hour. I wouldn’t just rely on eating these on a very long ride, it becomes a bit too much fruit.
  • 25*45 gTorq bars at Wiggle

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Energy consumption whilst cycling


Eating sufficient calories for cycling should, in theory, not be too difficult, but in practise it is easy to get it wrong.

It is surprisingly easy to ‘forget’ to take on enough energy. But, at the other extreme you can try to take on too much in a short space of time – food the body can’t digest leaving you just a bloated stomach.

It is not just amateur cyclists who struggle to get the calorie intake correct. I’ve heard many coaches of pro-teams say one of the hardest things is to get Pro-cyclists to eat and drink in sufficient quantities. I’ve heard many times Director Sportives say of a pro-cyclist – he’ll be fine so long as I can get him to eat and drink. The problem is that when you’re racing, it can feel like an effort to eat and drink.

On a personal note, I’ve often messed up 100 mile time trials (4 hours) because I didn’t take the correct levels of energy / drink. This post is partly for my own benefit.


Top tip for optimal energy intake

  • The maximum rate of carbohydrate consumption per hour is 60-75 g.
  • This figure is very important as a rough guide to how much you should eat for long rides; you want to be aiming to keep a constant carbohydrate intake around this figure.
  • If you are taking more, e.g. 100 grams +, you will just get stomach problems because you can’t ingest it all, the food will be sloshing around your stomach, making you feel bloated / sick.
  • If you only taking less –  e.g. 20 grams or less, you are under-fuelling and more likely to run out of energy and end up with the dreaded ‘bonk’.
  • One easy way is to split up food into 25 gram units – and take 3 an hour. Or 2*35 gram units
  • It does requires discipline to actually take what you need. When racing, you may not feel like drinking / eating, even though you need to. You can’t rely on the normal hunger / thirst indicators. Sometimes, you can just feel too exhausted to reach for a drink. In a Timetrial you can get stuck in the aerodynamic position and not want to move around to get food.
  • Twice in a 100 mile race, I didn’t stop to pick up a third bottle because in the racing mindset I didn’t want to lose 5 seconds  picking up a bottle. But, I ended lost a few minutes because I took on too little energy.
  • Don’t do something in a race, you’ve never done in training. e.g. don’t suddenly drink litres of fructose / glucose energy drink if you’ve never done that before. Your stomach may not like it! You don’t want to find out in a big sportive / race.
  • Remember there’s a big difference between a steady four hour endurance / training ride and racing for four hours. The calorie consumption increases significantly the more effort you make. You might survive a steady training ride on little food, but if you race hard, the energy consumption will be significantly greater.

Easy to remember hourly units of  60-70g of energy

  • 400 ml of energy drink mixed at 5% solution (35 grams) + one energy bar (35 grams )= 70 grams
  • 800 ml of energy drink at 6% solution (70 grams)
  • 3 * Energy gels (25 grams)
  • 3* bananas (25 grams)

(you will need to check the carbohydrate levels in the energy drinks / bars that you use, and make sure you check the concentration – as this alters the energy levels)

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