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Intermittent Fasting and Training for Cyclists

  • Nutrition and Hydration
Intermittent Fasting and Training for Cyclists

Intermittent fasting is a trend that is rapidly gaining popularity. While it is associated with weight loss, the benefits don’t just end here. Intermittent fasting has been associated with lowering insulin levels, improving blood sugar and protecting against diabetes and heart disease. Cyclists (and most athletes) however, tend to follow the ‘carb-up’ method before and after a ride/ training session. So, does intermittent fasting help with performance on the saddle? Read on to find out.


There are two popular forms of Intermittent Fasting (IF) - the 16:8 method and the 5:2 method. The former involves consuming your daily caloric requirements in the span of 8 hours, and fasting for the remaining 16. The latter involves consuming your required calories (about 2000/day on average) for 5 days a week, and consuming 500 calories on the other 2 days of that week. Typically, a 16:8 IF Method means eating an early dinner and skipping breakfast. To incorporate a 16:8 IF into a workout routine such as cycling, would mean to train in the morning without eating and complete your workout in a carbohydrate-deprived state, relying on fat stores for fuel instead.

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Pro athletes use intermittent fasting to lose weight, improve overall efficiency while on the saddle and teach the body to use fat as fuel instead of carbohydrates. The reason training in a fasted state could be beneficial to a cyclist is that the body contains a limited amount of carbohydrate stores to use as fuel. Since the body has a much larger storage of fats than it does glycogen, regularly training in a fasted state could increase the body’s efficiency to burn fat for fuel, which in turn could improve overall endurance.

In addition to fat burning, training in a fasted state is also said to improve insulin Furthermore, the human body raises the production of human growth hormone during fasted periods. A boost in growth hormone could help increase strength and require shorter time periods for recovery.


Like most diets and ‘ways of eating’, intermittent fasting may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and should be strategically implemented. Try starting off with short rides (typically less than 90 minutes), at a medium pace - while in a fasted state. If you want to incorporate it on longer rides, begin consuming carbohydrates after you’ve been on the saddle for 90 minutes. This will help prevent ‘bonking’ while on a longer ride, and is a safer approach to fasted riding. An ideal on-saddle snack would be a banana/ a health bar without sugar. Introducing sugar to the body in a fasted state could speed up the ‘sugar rush and crash cycle’.

If you are an amateur cyclist or a recreational cyclist, on the saddle for health benefits - the 5:2 IF method might be beneficial, especially if you ride 5 days a week. This method is easier to implement, as you can coordinate your ride days with your normal calorie days and your off days with your fasting days. While you might not get the benefit of using fat for fuel, caloric restriction can help with your overall health and weight-loss goals.

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What you consume post a fasted training session is key to recovery and muscle repair. It is recommended to eat a balanced meal that includes whole foods such as whole grains, nutritious vegetables and lean protein. It is easy to go overboard and indulge in less healthy (nutrition deficient, caloric dense) foods, which could hinder muscle recovery and dampen the benefits of training in a fasted state.


Remember, a “fasted state” means not eating anything solid in the fasting period, however you can have black coffee/tea (no sugar), green tea (no honey/sugar) or a pre-workout drink before your ride. And, if you are racing, or completing long weekend rides that are longer than 3 hours, consuming some carbohydrates before, during and after your ride in a non-fasted state is still recommended for optimal performance. While intermittent fasting has many health and performance-enhancing benefits, it is not for everybody. So, it is important to listen to your body and figure out what works best for you.


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