Nutrition and Cycling – a layman’s view

Okay, so we’ve all got our own ideas on eating when cycling, however from my own perspective it can be either too much, too little or just the wrong stuff than what our body needs to keep us going.   Just for the record, I am not a sports nutritionist, but feel that I can give you my perspective and my strategy based on many years and many thousands of miles of riding.
So first things first.  Let’s look at what we need before we ride, what we need when on the go, and what we need after riding.   Just to be sure,  I am assuming you are reading this from the view of what to eat when “riding with intent”, rather than the 2 mile commute or ride to the shops.
 Before we ride we need to “fuel up”.   It may seem common sense that anything goes… so let’s have a massive fry up ! But hold on before committing those rashers of bacon, fried eggs and snorkers to the pan, in reality, what we need are slow release (ie unrefined) carbohydrates such as oats, muesli or bran….food that our bodies will find hard to break down and hence will last several hours.  So to your obvious disappointment, fry ups are out.  Would I recommend a smoothy or fruit juice ?  Only if combined with low release foods to offset the high sugar content which would otherwise give you a quick hit but will soon send your blood sugars to the floor.
 Is pasta or rice or other processed carbs for breakfast good ? This depends on how much carbohydrate your body can cope with before getting cramps. I have seen athletes neck bowls of the stuff, so it must be okay yeah…but to a point.  All carbs are not equal, with simpler carbs less likely to cause cramping issues than those with a high fibre content, but consider your stomach to be a funnel with a wide cone at the top and a small pipe at the bottom.  In general, most of us have a small pipe, meaning that if we keep shoveling in the carbs before we can use it, our funnel overflows….ie cramps. As athletes have trained their guts to use carbs over many months or years, their “pipe” is larger, meaning that they process and so can cope with much more carb intake than the recreational cyclist.  Get the idea?   Not to stress the point, this is why if you gorge yourself on high carb training energy bars, gels and the like, it is going to backfire…sometimes literally !
 I got talking to a guy during the London 100 ride a few years ago; we were waiting at the bottom of a steep climb, stopped because it was a bottleneck and the guy had a twisted expression and beads of sweat across his brow. I asked if he was okay and he told me that he was suffering a little from the energy gels he’d consumed. I asked how many, and he said nine…we’d only been going a couple of hours.  He certainly proved that cramps come with overdoing the gels as certain as ..well now you get the bear picture.
 In some circumstances it is necessary to do a “fasted” workout….but these are generally limited to 2 hours. This doesn’t preclude a coffee or two before setting off, but no carbs – this has been shown to be a good way to shock your body into using your fat stores more effectively.  If you intend doing a fasted ride, take some food with you just in case you need it.
During Rides.  So having had a hearty breakfast what should you expect to be able to eat whilst riding/training.  Again, it depends. On long endurance rides where you will be in the saddle for several hours, pretty much anything goes as along as you match your carb intake too your level of exercise (the amount you burn). There are many variables such as lean muscle and fat mass, metabolic efficiency and environmental factors, but the typical person can tolerate approximately about 60grams of glucose or 90grams of fructose per hour.  An energy gel is 21-26 grams per sachet (or approx 100 calories), so when you read take 3 per hour, that’s 300 calories you are consuming per hour and you maximum intake the average person can cope with. so you’d better be burning a lot of calories and be able to cope with a high carb intake…which is why I hear so many seasoned cyclists limiting their use to be being the “emergency gel”, to be used only as a last resort if you run out of steam before the end of a ride (it’s called ‘bonking’, or “the man with the hammer visits you”).
On a long ride I will typically take a bag of almonds, some cereal/muesli bars and bananas (not only a good source of natural carbs, but a great source of potassium that your muscles  and digestive system need during exercise).  At stops I’ll try to find a flapjack or granola bar rather than cake, or if you are on a budget, take a tuna sandwich with you, or homemade flapjacks – and consider that gels and bars are there for convenience, but at a cost.  If it is warm, remember to eat sources of salt, crisps, salted nuts, etc.
Also remember that you need to drink water, preferably with zero calorie electrolytes.  I have stopped using energy powders in my water as these can quickly and unthinkingly  push you over your hourly carb intake.  I usually consume about a litre every hour (more in the summer), not only keeping me well hydrated, but also improving my feeling of well being and lack of grumpiness.  A good study on hydration can be found here.
If the ride requires a lot of long hill climbing then I take a bag or two of Jelly Babies or Rowntrees Randoms – both small but effective doses of quick release energy, and more calcium gram for gram than milk 🙂    If you like the idea of sweets, but prefer a natural product, I can recommend guava energy bars as an easily digestible alternative – though not cheap.
On short ride, I will just take a banana and perhaps an energy bar as an emergency backup. There is a line of thought that if you are riding for less than two hours then you shouldn’t eat during the ride, including that mid-ride cake…but I’m sorry that goes out of the window if it is a “Sunday Social” ride of course !
I have been deliberately non-prescriptive in the amounts you can eat because how much or little you consume is so dependent on the factors already described, so is a bit hit and miss; however as a guide, look at how many calories you are burning during an exercise.  As an example I’m 55 years old and weigh 75Kg, and typically burn approx 500 calories an hour.  My maximum burn was 3,500 calories on a ride over 100 miles with 2,800 metres of climbing, so I could afford a few pork pies that day, but when I started I burnt only 250-300 calories an hour as I was on beta blockers and hence couldn’t exercise intensely. So don’t worry if you are a little heavier than you want to be, perhaps you are just starting out on your journey to fitness, then you may be burning 600 or 700 calories per hour on intense rides, unless you are on medication.  Use Strava or TrainingPeaks or whatever App you use to work out what you are burning, and try to eat well, but less than what you burn….let’s keep the maths simple.  In essence, if you are looking to lose a little weight by cycling, then an hour’s ride may not mean that you can indulge yourself.   As a guideline, a slice of pizza can be approximately 400 calories and a couple of beers approximately 160 calories a pint!, so it is quite easy to undo all that hard work.
After a ride I advise taking a protein drink or bar within 20 minutes of finishing.   This is important as our bodies will begin to repair itself from the strain you placed it in during the exercise (which is also why rest between exercise is so essential) and if there is no fuel in your body it will take energy from your muscular glycogen stores (which take a long time to replenish), so it is important to give your body a good dose of protein to use instead. If you enjoy milk, go for that, otherwise there are plentiful choices of post-exercise protein drinks and bars you can get from your local bike shop or on-line.
So eat normally, keep to unprocessed, natural foods and take solace from the fact that each time you cycle you are training your gut to be able to cope better with carbs, and if you are not replacing the calories burned with little (or not so little) treats….then you will see a drop in weight, a greater tolerance to processed carbohydrates and improved metabolism with regard to handling sugars.
Eat well and enjoy your cycling !

Cycle Training Apps – Overview and “How To” videos

When it comes to Cycle Training Apps, there are two types of App:

  1. The first can be used for both road cycling and indoor training.  Examples are Strava and TrainingPeaks
  2. The second type are pure indoor Apps.  Examples are Zwift,  Trainerroad and Sufferfest.

Let’s look at using these in turn.



Strava is the default App to have.  There is a saying in the running and cycling community, which some people take seriously, that “if it isn’t on Strava, it didn’t happen”. It is one of those Apps where you will quickly become hooked!

Once you have a Strava account (the basic account is free), download the Strava App to your phone and start/record rides (indoor and road).  If you have a cycling computer, connect your Strava account to your Garmin Connect account or Wahoo Elemnt account so that you can upload your rides from your cycling computer directly into Strava.

Strava is primarily for the road, but can also be useful to capture your indoor workouts. It comes with training plans, but is not really designed to be used for structured workouts per se, it is designed to record your ride or other activity.

Once you start to use Strava, you can review your workout data, compare with previous workouts, or connect with one of the tens of millions of people using Strava, including Strava friends, and compare your performances for fun, or as friendly rivalry.



TrainingPeaks is a App for people who want to train seriously either by themselves or in collaboration with a coach (which is why I use it for my coaching business  Once a training plan is created or “loaded” into your profile, the workout is sync’d to your cycle computer for you to follow ether on the road or on the indoor trainer.  After your workout the data is uploaded for you to review (by yourself or with a coach).

Plans can be based on your rate of perceived effort (RPE) or according to heart rate, cadence and/or power zones.   A premium version exists for £11 per month if you want to get access to more data statistics.

If you use Trainingpeaks, I  recommend that you connect it to your Strava account, and your Garmin or Wahoo accounts to enable syncing.


  1. RPE based workouts do not sync to Garmin devices, you need to drag and drop the workout file directly on the device.
  2. For Wahoo devices, make sure you sync using the companion Elemnt App to get the planned workouts onto the device, and uploaded after the event.
  3. For basic accounts, you can only sync that day’s workout onto devices, whereas with premium you can sync the entire week’s workouts.





Zwift is one of the fastest growing indoor training Apps that allows you to enter immersive virtual worlds and “ride” with thousands of people in real-time from all over the world. You can join team rides, ride for fun, or follow structured workouts.

An advantage that Zwift provides when working with basic trainers is that it can calculate ‘vPower’ (virtual power), basing its calculation on your age, weight, cadence and heart rate.  This calculation results in a measurement called Watts/Kg, which it uses to calculate your moving speed in the virtual world. Trust me, it works really well.

When starting out, you may only have say 1 or 2 Watt/Kg over a 5 minute interval a so you’ll be going slow, but as you build fitness and strength, or lose weight this will increase to 3 or more Watts/Kg over the same period. To give you an indication (but not to dishearten you, a professional usually cranks out 6 to 7 Watts/Kg !).

I like Zwift purely for the entertainment it provides, it is truly immersive and the time seems to go faster than watching a blank wall or TV programme. Pricing has jumped to £12 a month for new accounts, which some people might consider steep if you are also subscribing to other indoor training services.

It may seem a little daunting on how to setup and use Zwift, so please refer to the below videos on setting up Zwift, selecting structured workouts (from TrainingPeaks), riding in its virtual world and using ERG to train to target power levels.

Setting up and using Zwift

Selecting workouts, or make you own !

Using Zwift with ERG



Trainerroad is an indoor training App for whose who want to train using coach developed workouts (in a similar fashion to TrainingPeaks but without the bespoke coach support).  It is a competitor to Zwift.  On the upside, it has better planned workouts, but does not have the same immersive feel as Zwift.   Trainerroad can also calculate vPower using your basic trainer’s power curve characteristics,etc, so you will get a good workout with the basic trainer.  You can connect sensors using Trainerroads setup screens.  When I used Trainerroad it all worked well.  In terms of pricing they do not offer a free account, it’s $12 a month.

Traineroad requires a little setting up,but is reasonably straightforward.   The following videos show how to get your TrainingPeaks workout into Trainerroad and your user experience.

Loading Workouts and using with Video

Setting up and working out with Trainerroad



The Sufferfest indoor training App sits between Zwift and Trainerroad, offering training plans and real life videos that you can follow as if you are riding with the peloton.  It’s style is that cycle training is all about the degree of suffering…you may love or hate the machoism in the names of rides  such as “the hammer” , “hell hath no fury” ..for the novice it might be daunting, or fun, you take your choice.

Where and when to use

I’ll refer you to my other article on indoor training for you to decide and as a taster, below is a decision tree intended to help you make your choice.






Indoor Cycle Training – the low down


Let’s get to the point, training indoors rather than being out riding is boring but useful, and primarily for times when you cannot get out to ride.  In term of budget, you can start with a low cost basic trainer and mount your bike onto it and off you go.   If you want to go beyond training using your own perceived levels of effort, get a heart rate monitor (Bluetooth is easiest) and connect it with your phone or laptop.   That way you can train using Apps such as Strava or Trainingpeaks to make your workouts effective.

If your budget allows, and what you want to measure as part of workout increases (see below pie chart), connect Speed/Cadence sensors and by upgrading your trainer to a smart (or connected) trainer that that either measures or simulates your power output, you will be able interact with Apps such as Trainrroad or Sufferfest or use immersive Apps such as  Zwift.

In terms of budget, you can spend from £150 to £2,000.   The biggest outlay will be the trainer itself, followed by sensors and then there is a wide choice of free and monthly subscription based Apps.  The decision tree to the right is intended to help you make those choices.   A larger image is on my Pinterest board here.

Why Use Indoor Trainers

In the previous article I wrote and video’d how to set up Garmin and Wahoo cycle computers to talk to various sensors that you need if you are considering training, such as heart rate monitors, and cadence/speed sensors.

We will also talk here about measuring power using an indoor trainers as they more readily available and cheaper than the eye-wateringly expensive power meters that are used for road cycling.

So why would you want to measure these things in the first place ? When riding your bike on the road, I agree, these are nice to haves and you can train by using your own levels of fitness as indicators of how far and how hard to push yourself. You’ll recall this is called training to your perceived rate of effort (RPE) and is used to get us started and riding up to for example 20 miles in one go without having to stop.

However, if you plan to go that one step further and use cycling as your primary means to regain fitness to a level where you could easily ride one of the many sportives, charity rides, or cycle with club riders, then by measuring your heart rate, cadence (pedal speed) and possibly power, you can train much more effectively to a specific and measurable plan.

When it comes to indoor trainers, measuring your heart rate, together with speed and cadence becomes necessary if you want the best out of your training workout.

But you may ask, don’t we just swing a leg over the bike, and pedal for a while, looking at a blank wall in the garage, shouting at Jeremy Kyle, or watching our favourite boxset ? 🙂 Nice thought, but time and again I hear that indoor workouts are boring, and because you cannot manage what they cannot measure, or if you don’t feel that all that sweating is making a real difference, it is way too easy to become seriously demotivated.

Okay,  if it is that boring, why bother with indoor training? The answer is that the vast majority of people who use indoor trainers, while considering this form of exercise a necessary evil, know that it helps them keep fit when the weather outside is not amenable, or just too dangerous due to ice, snow, floods, etc.   Other reasons for indoor training is that you may consider the roads around you are dangerous, being full of cars, vans and lorry drivers who are “out to get you”.  Or perhaps you simply haven’t yet gained the confidence to ride on the roads as you have been unwell, seriously unfit or injured and the roads just seem too daunting at this time of the year.

Either way, over the last few years a new arm of the cycling industry has popped up to help you with new Apps and advanced (or smart) indoor cycling trainers,  aiming to give you immersive entertainment, and offering you the chance to have fun, realistic and effective workouts. By capturing certain data, this new industry help you understand how your performance is improving and help you avoid having to swear at Jeremy Kyle !

Types of Indoor Cycle Trainer

Having bit the bullet and decided that you want to exercise using an indoor cycle trainer, where do you start ? It very much depends on a couple of things. The first is your budget, the second what you want to achieve and how realistic you want the indoor trainer to be to road cycling. Cycling Weekly  has a reasonable guide to turbo trainers, however my take is below.

Basic Trainers

If your budget is conservative, then you’ll probably be looking to get a basic trainer (from £150 to £450). This is the type where you mount your bike onto a frame, with the rear wheel pressed against a roller with either a fixed or varying resistance created either by magnets, a fan, or fluid-filled resistance unit.  The good points about basic trainers are that they give you the ability to do and free workout or according to a structured plan.  However there are two downsides;

(a) you cannot use them with Apps such as Trainerroad unless the trainer is vPower compatible, and you also have a speed/cadence sensor for Zwift.

(b) you cannot control the resistance, so you have to either increase the cadence or drop to a higher gears to increase power and vice versa.

Note that if you have a power meter for you bike, you can use them with the basic trainer as if you road riding, pairing the power meter to  your cycle computer or via laptop/phone to one of the above cycle training Apps (we come to those later in this article).

Smart Trainers

Moving up the scale in terms of sophistication, features and hence cost, we come to smart trainers. There are two types:

  • Wheel Drive

The first type if similar in operation to the basic trainer, the difference being that the resistance can be controlled and varied from your cycle computer, or more likely nowadays, cycling training Apps.

  • Direct Drive

The second type, and usually top of the range, are the ‘direct drive’ trainers. These work by removing the back wheel and mounting the bike directly on the trainer. The resistance can be set by cycle computers and cycle training Apps  and can simulate the feel and an create an immersive riding experience….all at a price !


For completeness, we need to mention rollers. Rather than mounting your bike on a frame, the bike sits on a set of two rollers at the rear and a single (connected) roller on the front. As you pedal the rollers rotate, just like a rolling road that an MOT garage users to test your car, mimicking cycling on in real life and yes the acronym IRL (in real life) is used by the indoor trainer community.  One last point,  rollers are not for the faint hearted novice as they require you to have solid core strength and ability to concentrate.

Trainer Tips

  1. If you buy the type of trainer which requires you to keep your back wheel on and mount the bike onto a frame, it is essential that you use the skewer that comes with the trainer, do not use your existing skewer, if that snaps when training, it’s going to hurt…or more seriously you may injure yourself.
  2. Use a “riser” or similar to raise the level of the from wheel to match the back wheel, otherwise the bike will be tilted down at the front, placing strain on your hands, arms and shoulders.
  3. If you intend using a roller, try placing it next to a wall so that you have somewhere to touch or grab if you use your balance.

Training using Power Zones

We have mentioned that we can capture how much power you are putting through the pedals using trainers that support vPower, and this can be useful if you are training to power zones.   More accurate measurements can be taken by using your existing cycle’s power meters or upgrading to a a smart trainer that measures power as part of its feature set.

This use of power becomes a core feature as you progress your fitness levels and has many athlete level training programmes concentrate on workouts that are based on your functional threshold power – or the maximum power that you can sustain over a 60 minute period, limited by strength, aerobic fitness and your body’s ability to manage the build up of lactic acid in your muscles that create the pain and cramps you feel when undertaking strenuous exercise.

When training using power thresholds on an indoor trainer it is important that you can match your power to the training plan you are following, whether that is a set resistance or the gradient of the road that you are following in one of the interactive/immersive Apps (e.g.  Zwift).    To help the industry developed a smart trainer mode called  ‘ERG’.  At first I wasn’t that excited about it, but it is now a cornerstone of my training. Here’s why.

Controlling your Trainer with ERG

This mode enables you to set a particular target power level for your workout and the trainer will set the resistance such that you pedal out this power level irrespective of your cadence. This allows you to do a workout with for example short intervals at high intensity, where all you need to is pedal at the same rate and the trainer will adjust the resistance automatically so that you achieve the required power output without having to mess about with your own gears.  My Zwift user experience video shows this in action.

Connecting Indoor Cycle Trainers to Gadgets that measure your efforts

Once you have chosen your indoor trainer, we need to set up the various meters and sensors so that we can train to a plan, and afterwards make sense of our efforts.

Of course life wouldn’t be the same without technology complications. If you read my blog on connecting cycling computers to sensors you will remember that there are two technologies that allow stuff to talk to each other. One is ANT+ (owned by Garmin) and the other Bluetooth (mainstreamed by laptops, smartphones, etc). Most cycling computers will talk to cycle sensors using both technologies, but before you buy, check that they are compatible.

If you want your laptop to connect to the sensors, this is straightforward if the sensors are Bluetooth, however if they are ANT+, you’ll need a USB dongle that you plug into the computer so that you can talk to the sensors using ANT+.

If you want to connect ANT+ sensors to your phone or tablet, then this is also possible. For Android your phone may already be ANT+ enabled. If you are using iPhone/iPad, then you’ll need to buy an ANT+ accessory. See here for more information.

Once we are connected we not finished. To get an immersive experience, connect your laptop or phone/tablet to a TV placed infront of your bike. Use a high quality HDMI cable if possible. Another option is to use an Apple TV and stream from your phone, tablet or macbook to the TV via the Apple TV.

If in doubt, feel free to ask me –

Cycle Training Apps

Once we have worked out which indoor trainer to use, and connected them to sensors, if we want to follow a training plan, we need to consider if we’d like to use one or more of the various cycle training Apps.

As a starting point, create a Strava account and download the App to your smartphone. As long as you have as a minimum a heart rate monitor and speed/cadence sensor that you can do a workout on the indoor training pretty much the same as on the road.

From then on, the choices become a little complex, but let me try to simplify :

  • If you would like to have a training plan with structured workouts then all the Apps offer training plans, some better than other, in my opinion in the order of  functionality:
    • TrainingPeaks (preferred due to (a) the comprehensiveness of the plans, (b) ability to be used with or without a coach and (c) can be used on both road and indoors)
    • Trainerroad
    • Sufferfest
    • Zwift
  • If you plan to use training plans when you are riding your bike on the road, then TrainingPeaks is the only way to go as it does both road and indoor.
  • If an immersive experience (entertainment) is more important than the quality of the plans, then create the workout in Trainingpeaks and use Zwift (fun) or Sufferfest (more hardcore) for the workout.

Now here’s a thing, if you want the best of all worlds, you can get free accounts with Strava and TrainingPeaks and then buy Zwift (£12 per month) and use your TrainingPeaks workouts in Zwift for a serious, but entertaining workout.  If you wish to are a data freak, or want to use a coach, buy a premium TrainingPeaks account (£11 per month).  Rather than discuss each training App in this article (let’s Face it, it’s long enough!), I have created a separate article with a series of videos that show you how to use a structured workout from an App (in this instance Trainingpeaks) and use your indoor trainer with two of the most common indoor training Apps, namely Trainerroad and Zwift.

Putting it all together – the options

The good news is that once you’ve sorted out the connections, you can use both the basic and smart trainers with your cycling computer or favourite training Apps.  Let’s look at the options:

  1. Cycling Computer with Basic Trainer. With this setup you mimic road riding. As the trainer has a set resistance, you use your gears in the same way as you would ride up an incline, choosing lower gears if you want to spin your legs, or a high gear if you want to grind it (not recommended). If you use your heart rate monitor, speed and cadence sensors, this will be picked up by the cycling computer so that you can train to a particular speed, cadence or heart rate, then upload these to your favourite cycling App (Strava or TrainingPeaks for example).
  2. Cycling Computer with Smart Trainer. These trainers allow you to control the resistance from your cycle computer. You’ll need first of all to load your workout onto the device from for example or created a structured workout on the device itself. Before you buy, check that the cycling computer will connect to your sensors – the vast majority are compatible, but I have found that some devices (not to pick on them, but for example the Wahoo Elemnt) will not talk to some power meters even if they both use Bluetooth. I recently had that problem with a Bolt and Kinetic Smart trainer, meaning we had to resort to using option 3 (below) to capture power. This wasn’t a problem as we were able to merge the files from the cycling computer and the Kinetic.Fit App once they were upload to TrainingPeaks, so no big deal in the end.
  3. Cycle Training Apps with Smart Trainer.  If you want to get more out of a basic trainer, buy one that support “vPower”. When used with indoor Apps such as Trainerroad and Zwift, the Apps can calculate your virtual power (vPower) and hence can be used with power-based workouts and simulate your road speed in their virtual worlds. Sounds geeky, but is a highly entertaining experience.
  4. Smart Trainers’ own Smartphone/Tablet Apps. Companies such as Tacx, Wahoo, Kurt Kinetic and others provide “companion” Apps (iPhone, iPad or Android) that connect your trainer and sensors to your smartphone/tablet enabling you to run workouts using those devices rather than a cycling computer. These Apps can also be used to create structured workouts, but you may need yet another subscription, so I’d only recommend as a last resort and would suggest using one of the Cycling Training Apps as discussed below.



In conclusion:

  1. For indoor trainers, open a Strava account, then get the smartphone App and use with a HR and speed/cadence as a minimum.
  2. Choose a sturdy indoor trainer, preferably one that supports vPower to future proof your investment.
  3. Get a TrainingPeaks account (or Trainerroad) and link that to Strava so you can start to train to a plan. If you need entertainment to keep motivated, buy a monthly Zwift subscription…or Sufferfest if you want something more realistic and hardcore.
  4. As a next step up the ladder of complexity, but really a nice to have, instead of buying a basic indoor trainer, spend the extra few pounds and get a smart indoor trainer so that your training rides can simulate riding outdoors and you can train according to power zones.
  5. As for cycling computers, they can be used with your indoor trainer, but check the model and the indoor trainer you plan to buy are compatible, ie Bluetooth, ANT+ or both.

Still confused, then get in touch and I’ll walk you through your options based on how you plan to regain fitness and wellbeing.