Nutrition for a cyclosportive

A cyclosportive can be daunting: the distance, riding in groups, the climbs, the descends, perhaps the weather: it could be very hot, or it could rain or it could be windy. Most feared by most riders, novice or experienced, is running out of energy. “What if my legs can’t take me over the last hill, what if they fail halfway through?” This is why fueling is so important. No engine will run without fuel and no engine will perform if you don’t use the right fuel.

Two main fuels

We use two main fuels, carbohydrate and fat. Carbohydrate is the performance fuel, fat is the diesel. “Diesel” is great for long distance but when it gets really steep and/or we really have to step on the gas, we need carbohydrate: the performance fuel. Although you often read things like “and then you switch to fat metabolism”… this is not how the body works, there is no “switch” and we always use a mix of the two fuels. Sometime we use more of one than the other. How much we use of each fuel, depends on how much of carbohydrate is stored, when we have eaten, how trained we are (well trained cyclists will use more fat) and so on.

Carb loading

Unlike the average car, we have two fuel tanks: one for carbohydrate (which is relatively small) and one for fat (large, even in lean athletes). Because the carbohydrate storage capacity (read the carbohydrate tank) is only small it is important to start any hard event with a full tank. One way to achieve this is through carbohydrate loading. The term carb loading was introduced in the 1960s and is still being used by athletes today. Carbohydrate loading techniques have changed over time. Methods were very extreme in the early years and nowadays it is thought that such extremes are not necessary. For a sportive it is wise to start carb loading 2 days before the event. This means paying more attention to carbohydrate intake and assuming you will be resting (or at least not training hard those 2 days) an intake of about 7 grams per kilogram bodyweight should be enough to really fill your carbohydrate stores. Carbohydrate loading is sometimes confused with eating as much as you can but overeating and carb loading are definitely different concepts! There is no benefit of overeating!

For a sportive it is wise to start carb loading 2 days before the event.


In the morning of the sportive, wake up early so that you can have a breakfast 2-3 hours before the ride. Your carbohydrate stores in the muscle will be full from the carb loading the two days before. Your carbohydrate stores in the liver, however, will be very low when you wake up in the morning. Liver carbohydrate stores are important to maintain your blood glucose. When blood glucose drops during your ride you will start to feel weak, dizzy, nauseous and performance will drop! Running out of energy is usually because your blood glucose has dropped and your muscle carbohydrate stores are running low. This is when you hit the wall! In cycling it is more often referred to as bonking (and yes, I do realise that this has a different meaning in German).

In order to fill your liver glycogen stores you need a breakfast that contains carbohydrate, 100 grams of carbohydrate at least. This is the equivalent of 2 bagels or a large bowl of porridge or a large bowl or cereal, or 4 pancakes or 6 slices of toast with jam.

nutrition for a cyclosportive

What to take on the ride

Of course you also need to prepare the food on the ride. Make sure you have two bottle, one with a sports drink (typically these drinks contain 30-40 grams of carbohydrate per bottle when prepared according to instructions and not diluted) and one with plain water.

Then calculate your carbohydrate needs and as a very general rule use 30-60 grams per hour. In reality your needs will vary depending on the level of cyclist you are, the distance you are riding and the time it will take you but 30-60 grams as a guide is a good start. For more detailed and advanced advice read