Breakfast for cyclists: what to eat when

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Breakfast. Whether it’s a smoothie, eggs, bacon, oatmeal, cereal, sweet potatoes or pancakes there are so many options and they’re all delicious. But not all breakfasts are created equal.

Eat too much and you’ll feel bloated, under-fuel and you won’t have the energy for hard efforts, too much fibre and you’ll get the equivalent of the ‘runner’s trots’.

While finding out what exactly works for your system is a personal journey, we talked to exercise scientist and nutrition consultant Lizzy Marsh (whose delicious and gut-friendly recipes you should check out in our Ella Eats series!) about some general tips and suggestions. From recovery days to long days in the saddle, here’s what to eat when.

Breakfast for cyclists

Healthy fats: avocado, poached egg and salmon.
Healthy fats: avocado, poached egg and salmon.

– When I’m commuting to work or doing only a short morning ride, should I eat before or after the ride?

“This is a pretty personal preference, as some people find it really hard to stomach food in the morning! It also depends a lot on the intensity and duration of the ride,” said Marsh. “However, I do believe that having a little something can start to get the body ticking over and kickstart the breakdown of food for fuel. Ideally, try to avoid spiking your insulin response first thing in the morning.”

Marsh’s suggestion: try hard-boiled egg(s)

What’s the best breakfast for:

– a recovery ride

“I tend to encourage my clients, particularly athletes, to avoid adding potentially inflammatory foods into the digestive system when possible,” said Marsh. These foods include anything high in sugar, transfat, refined grains, alcohol, dairy, processed meat and artificial additives.

“This is why I am an eggs and veggies girl! For most people, eggs and veggies will add lots of nourishing fats, fibre and keep you full for longer compared to a high carbohydrate breakfast like cereal.”

Marsh’s suggestion: “For a recovery ride, I tend to go for fat and protein options to boost muscle recovery and promote satiety (fullness). If you’re after something a little lighter, a green smoothie or chia pudding can be great, too.”

Nut butter and banana toast.
Nut butter and banana toast.

– a short but intense race (like cyclocross or criterium)

“Things can change a little when we are heading into a race and looking for performance. This is when we might want to look for a higher carbohydrate component to the meal and possibly a little less fat,” said Marsh. “I would recommend eating a higher volume meal about 3-4 hours before the race, and then something like a low fructose gel or banana closer to the start time.”

Please note: Pre-race meals are a very individual things and a lot of psychology comes into those ‘lucky meals’. Experiment with meals during training, not on race day.

Marsh’s suggestion:  Roasted sweet potato with veggies or a gluten free toast with smashed banana and almond butter or avocado and salt.

– a long day in the saddle

“As the ride gets longer and at a lower intensity, I recommend upping the fats. Fats provide a long, slow release fuel source that can keep us going for hours and hours,” said Marsh. “It is important to consider though, that we do need to get used to running on them and many people are very reliant on carbohydrates and sugar instead. This transition can take some time for the body to adjust to.

Marsh’s suggestions: Roasted sweet potato, mixed veggies and eggs. Or something like a high quality toast with smashed avocado and eggs. For a bonus probiotic, you can add some fermented veggies or Kim Chi.

– a day off

“For some people, recovery days may or may not impact food intake. We can sometimes play with these macro-nutrients, depending on the person. For some, it works well to increase protein and fat and reduce carbohydrates on recovery days to boost recovery, immune function and hormonal balance,” said Marsh.

Roasted sweet potatoes and poached eggs.
Roasted sweet potatoes and poached eggs.

– everyday breakfast for an active person?

“The important thing to me is to look at nicely balanced meals (protein, fat and carbs) and reducing the inflammatory load on the body. For an active person, this is particularly important as they are most likely contributing to this inflammatory load with a high training volume,” said Marsh.

“As mentioned above, high quality fats (eggs, avocado, coconut products), complex carbs (veggies, sweet potato and potato, sprouted or properly prepared grains, fruit) and protein (eggs, meats, soaked and appropriately prepared legumes) are all great building blocks for a healthy start to the day.”

Looking for some breakfast ideas, here are some from our Ella Eats series:

Breakfast crumble
Sweet Potato Cakes
– Skin food pre-ride smoothie
Loren Rowney’s epic omelette
Pumpkin Protein Cakes
Roaring Red Smoothie
Bumper Banana Bread
Allergy-free porridge

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