Understanding Your Energy Use When Cycling

Cycling performance, even on non-competitive levels, is largely dependent on more than just your skills. Energy use is a crucial aspect when trying to maintain higher speeds and cover longer distances without feeling like you’re going to keel over halfway through.

In order to make the most of your energy levels, and know how to acquire energy, it’s first best to have an understanding of how it all works. Below, we’ll give a brief overview on energy use, and some tips you can use to keep your energy levels up, even during the most grueling rides.


Without going into all the science behind it know that a calorie is simply a unit of energy.

Our bodies use calories for every physical process, and we obtain calories from food and drink. There are 9 Calories in every gram of fat, and 4 Calories in every gram of protein or carbohydrate. “Unused calories” are stored in fat cells, where the body stores energy for later. This is why if you consume more calories than you burn on a regular basis, you get fat.

As for carbohydrates, they are stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, which is later converted into glucose — the body’s preferred energy source.

So, the glucose undergoes something called ‘Glycolysis’, which is when it releases some energy for immediate use. Glucose can be used to either raise energy quickly when you’re doing intense physical activity, but it does use more.

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Energy Burn Cycling

If you’re exercising aerobically, it’s combined with oxygen and fat. You are not getting as much glucose for physical energy, but you’re also burning off less, allowing you to last longer. That’s why short, intense workouts can tire you out just like longer, sustained, less intense workouts can.


During longer rides, or longer rides where you’re trying to beat a certain time or group of riders, the key is to balance your short term glucose usage, while also working off your stored glucose as well.

This all starts with properly hydrating. “It helps to start the ride hydrated,” says two-time Olympic coach Gale Bernhardt, co-author of Become a Fat-Burning Machine. “I recommend chugging down a bottle of low-sugar electrolyte drink 15 minutes before beginning the ride.”

This is a way of pre-loading your body before the start. After starting, use energy drinks, bars, and gel-packs in intervals, slowly making your way through them as you ride. This helps you sustain your current energy level, while avoiding reaching into your reserves until later when you’ll really need them.

Electrolyte drinks with low calorie count

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Another helpful hint? Start your ride slower. Coming out of the gates full speed will lead to an energy crash further down. Know your ideal pace, and keep it, while replenishing your energy with appropriate food and drinks during the ride. Do not wait until you are thirsty or hungry.


Energy usage in the body is a complicated science, but it doesn’t have to be in terms of application. By using some common sense, and using the tips we’ve provided above, you a can start making better use of your energy for future rides, and reap the results.



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