A Gran Fondo is no easy task, especially if you’re not suitably prepared for it. Bonking (running on fumes 😂) is also pretty embarrassing…I’ve found that to be the case anyway!
So in a bid to avoid bonking and to successfully smash a Gran Fondo, I decided to educate myself on nutrition and I’ve never looked back!
Here’s what I learned!
Pre-Race Nutrition Tips For A Gran Fondo
It’s not all about the nutrition on the day so I usually start fueling up around 4 days before a Gran Fondo.
Try to eat meals regularly and increase the number of carbohydrates you’re consuming. Whilst it may be tempting to eat them all in one go…don’t! Pace yourself throughout the day and importantly take in lots of water too!
I have always increased my salt intake too, this is usually only the day before. I’ve found it helps to keep cramps at bay. Not a lot mind you, just an extra sprinkling!
When it comes to the night before the big day, you should aim to have a decent, healthy meal. I would stay away from eating too much fiber. If you’re not used to eating many carbohydrates, then be mindful not to stock up on them too much. It’s not about binging and totally filling yourself up. You still want to be comfortable!
I don’t think I can stress enough how important it is to keep drinking regularly on the day before, right up until bedtime. If you’re like me, you might have few pre-event nerves when you wake up. I went into my first Gran Fondo having only had 4 hours of sleep!
However you’re feeling, it’s crucial to get a good breakfast down you. It’s important to get the day off to a good start in terms of fuel…you’re also going to need all the calories you can get as the day goes on!
Hydration is important also, if you’re drinking coffee take it easy and sip on it. Depending on how you deal with dairy, I suggest just drinking a black coffee!
Do remember when the teacher at school would say “failing to prepare is preparing to fail”?. Yeah, I hated it too but they were right and it’s even true in cycling.
Here’s our tips and tricks for completing your Gran Fondo.
Now you’re ready to head to the start line 🚴
What To Eat During The Race
I’m going to start by saying the aim of any ride should be to enjoy it and complete the event, not get bogged down by average speeds, how often you stop, etc. Just enjoy what you’re doing! Especially if this is your first Gran Fondo.
As you’re racking up the miles, remember to eat little and often. I’d suggest never going more than half an hour before a quick refuel.
One principle I live by and it’s worked well for me is, if I think about food, I’m going to have some. I take it as my body’s way of telling me I should eat. Let’s face it, your body knows what it needs so it’s good to listen to it.
If you need to stop to eat, then stop. Don’t worry about it. It took me a long time to be able to eat while riding and there is still some food I can’t quite manage…eating bananas on the move is still above me!
Now, what to eat. The best advice I can give you is to stick to what you’ve been eating when you’ve been training. Energy gels are great for giving you a short-term boost but if you’ve never had one before, I wouldn’t recommend the first time you try one to be your first Gran Fondo.
People have found that energy gels can upset their stomachs until they get used to them so now is definitely not the time to find out! Granola bars are my weakness. They offer a great sugar hit and you also benefit from the slow-release energy from the oats. For me, they’re the ideal long-ride food.
If you want an in-depth look at what you should be eating, Dylan Johnson is your man!
Feed stations are a highlight for me, I can’t lie. It’s a fantastic opportunity to refill your pockets and let you relax.
If it’s a particularly good feed station, you may be tempted to eat a lot, I’d advise against that and recommend that you try to be sensible. There’s usually a decent selection on offer and I do tend to ride away from a feed station with more food than I started within my pockets.
You’re going to need to stay hydrated. They say if you start thinking you’re thirsty, you’re too late. Drink before you become thirsty. I stick to that theory but I find that I need to take on a lot of liquid to prevent myself from becoming dehydrated. Some of the people I ride with, drink very little and seem fine.
As for the possibility of running out, stopping you from drinking, I never worry too much, there’s always going to be a feed station for you to refill not too far away and it’s better to not become dehydrated.
What you put in your bottle is a personal preference. Stick to what you’re used to. Now is not the time to experiment! Electrolytes are my chosen drink but I drink them when I’m doing a normal ride so my body is used to them…except the lemon flavor, I will never be used to that one!
I carry a large 500ml bottle and a smaller 300ml in reserve (I did say I like to drink a lot) and I’m yet to run out before a feed station.
Looking for a new water bottle? Check out our recommendation for the best bike water bottles.
Now that your ride is over, you probably want to forget about cycling nutrition for a while and just go for a Five Guys burgers And fries (or is that just me?) but your body will thank you if you take a few simple steps!
By taking a bit of care with your nutrition immediately after your ride, the chances of injury decrease, and the speed at which your muscles can recover increases too. Overall, it’s a fantastic idea!
You should aim to stock back up on carbs and have plenty of protein too. I also try to go for salty food as I find that helps replace what I’ve sweated out. How much will depend on how soon you intend to get back on a bike.
Are you a believer in rest days or recovery rides?
If you are intending to exercise again the next day then ensure that you take some carbohydrates on board straight after the event is over. However, if you’re planning on taking the next day or two off then aim to eat 1 to 2 grams of carbs per kg of your body weight, every hour for the first four hours after the event.
Protein increases how quickly your muscles recover. Again, how much you need to consume will depend on how soon you plan on getting back on a bike again. If you want to ride again the next day, try to take in at least 20g of protein within 3 hours of the event finishing. This puts you in a good place for muscle recovery.
Looking to be a bit more flexible with your diet? Check out our cycling nutrition guide.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I drink before cycling?
Water may be the first thing that comes to mind and if your ride is only going to be a short one, it’s a good option. Anything more than a short ride will need some sodium.
Electrolyte drinks give you that sodium, along with potassium. These drinks don’t often provide you with any carbs though so you’ll have to be getting that from elsewhere.
Then you can opt for hydration drinks or tablets. These will give you some carbohydrates and electrolytes.
The final option would be a carb drink mix, carbohydrates are the focus of this drink mix, as the name would suggest! Too many carbs can cause problems with ingestion so riders will usually have one bottle of carb mix and one bottle of water and this helps to balance things out.
What is the best food to eat while cycling?
A lot of this will depend on how far you’re cycling but as you’re reading about a Gran Fondo, I’m going to assume you’re into long distances!
Energy bars work well as they top your system up with carbs and are a fairly slow release of energy. I also find they are less intense on your gut than gels!
Energy gels give you that immediate boost. They are easy to consume and work really well. If you’ve never had a gel before, try them on a local ride first so that your body gets used to them!
What should I eat 1 hour before cycling?
For a long-distance ride such as a Gran Fondo, you should get a good amount of carbohydrates in your system.
Don’t forget about protein and some healthy fat.
All of this should give you a good amount of energy to see you to the first feed station!
There we have it! My recommendations for what you should eat before/during/after a Gran Fondo. Ultimately I would say learn to listen to your body. My riding buddies have different nutrition methods that work for them but I’d bonk if I followed them.
Where are you completing your first Gran Fondo?