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Bike Shorts: Don’t Skip Breakfast Before Your Bike Ride

It’s a scenario the dedicated cyclist knows all too well. 

You’re in a hurry to get to the big ride. You overslept a few minutes and you’re worried you’ll be late, so you consider skipping breakfast before your bike ride to save time. After all, you could just chug a cup of coffee on the go and get the energy you need for the ride, right?

Wrong. That pre-bike-ride breakfast is essential — and it matters just what’s in it, too. 

Longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie has seen far too many cyclists ignore the importance of properly fueling up before a big ride. The truth is, coffee won’t cut it. Let’s look at why, what and how much to eat before your morning bike ride.

What You Eat Affects Your Strength

Coach Darryl learned the connection between a good breakfast and his strength decades ago, before his cycling career ever began. In those days, he was working out with weight machines at the gym. 

On one occasion, his work schedule changed and made it such that he had to do his workouts early in the morning, before work. Not used to going that early, he did what so many do: skipped breakfast. 

He noticed the effect immediately. On each weight machine, Darryl was only able to lift about two-thirds the amount that he normally would. After this problem repeated itself on his next gym outing, he decided to change things up and eat breakfast. Lo and behold, he was back to his normal weight-lifting levels.

“Not having the breakfast meant that my body was down in carbs,” he explains. “The muscles didn’t have the glycogen they needed to do what they normally do.”

Essentially, without the right kind of food for fuel, your muscles simply don’t have the energy they need to keep up. 

What You Eat Affects Your Stamina

More than just draining your strength, though, skipping breakfast before a bike ride will sap your endurance. 

Darryl encounters this with other cyclists frequently. They’ll come to him complaining about having no energy three or four hours into their morning ride. When they bring this up, Darryl will ask what they ate during the ride. The typical answer? Just water or a sports drink. 

When he hears that, Coach’s next question is what they normally eat in the morning. Invariably, they describe a full meal and maybe even a morning snack. And therein lies the problem: They’re working much harder than they typically do at the office, yet they have given their body a fraction of the energy they usually give it. 

This inevitably causes you to run out of gas in the middle of a ride. If you’re not prepared, it can even lead to bonking, a dangerous mental fog that comes when your body exhausts its energy stores. 

The Pre-Ride Recipe: Carbs, Carbs, Carbs

The only way to prevent these problems is to eat enough before your ride. If you’re experiencing a loss of strength or running out of energy, your body is begging you for more fuel.

But not just any fuel. It may seem like a big, hearty sausage and egg breakfast is the answer, but that’s not what your body is asking for. What it wants is simple: carbs, and plenty of them.

Coach Darryl actually has a rough formula for this. His typical breakfast is a half-cup of oatmeal and a handful of fruit. That gives him enough for an average day, even for a ride of under 35 miles. On longer rides, getting close to 100 miles, he’ll double the recipe. On rides that are 100 miles or more, he triples it. Along with sports drinks throughout the ride (more carbs), this ensures his muscles have plenty of fuel to stay strong and steady all day. 

We’ve talked elsewhere about how to use carbs to recharge your muscles after a ride. But now you know how critical they are in the hours before you get on the bike, too. Next time you’re thinking about skipping breakfast before your bike ride, think twice — and down those carbs.

Prep your bike and your mind for your next ride by checking out our latest articles. 


Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash