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How Many Calories To Eat Per Hour Cycling

How Many Calories To Eat Per Hour When Cycling

Table of Contents

When riding your bike, there’s much more to think about than just pedaling. You need to know how to fix your bike if you have punctures, know what to carry in case of adverse weather, and, even more vital, know where the best coffee is in your local area. 

As a cycling coach and very seasoned ultra cyclist over my many years on the bike, I have noticed that the biggest challenge for many cyclists is eating enough while riding on the bike. It’s not rare for even the best cyclists to bonk sometimes, and cycling nutrition will always be an ongoing battle for many.

In this article, we will be telling you everything you need to know when it comes to eating the correct calories while riding your bike. Here’s what we’re going to be discussing:

  • The Importance Of Properly Fueling Your Cycling
  • What Are Calories?
  • Carbohydrates, Fats, And Proteins
  • What Factors Affect Calorie Burn?
  • How Many Calories Do You Need For Cycling?

The Importance Of Properly Fueling Your Cycling

It’s easy to forget how important eating correctly while cycling is. It can greatly affect the body and turn a great ride into a pretty awful experience. I have trained many cyclists in my time, and so few have come to me with a solid nutrition plan when riding. If you don’t fuel properly, you can expect:


The term bonking refers to when cyclists don’t eat or drink enough on a ride to the point they need to stop. This is an awful feeling, you have no energy, your mood is awful, and fatigue and weakness are at their strongest.

Mental Fog

The next issue you are going to face is mental fog. This is where you are so malnourished that you can’t think straight, you get stressed, and you can even go dizzy and start forgetting important details of your ride. Mental fog is the last thing you need on training rides and will do nothing for exercise performance.

Lack Of Performance

Then we have a lack of performance. You will see your body struggle physically when you haven’t eaten enough. The cadence drops, the power will be less than half what you would normally produce, and it hurts to try and ride fast. You might even get cramps, which are going to stop you quickly.


In worst-case scenarios, you might see hypoglycemia. This is where the blood sugar is so low that you can suffer from confusion, shakiness, and even a rapid heart rate. This cannot be pushed through and, for some athletes, has even resulted in a loss of consciousness. Lot of people use a sports drink to battle this starting to happen.

Snack For Cyclist

What are Calories?

A calorie is a unit of measurement used to value the energy a food can give you when consumed and metabolized. That energy doesn’t just go to helping you move around and ride your bike, but it’s vital to ensure your body functions such as blood circulation, breathing, and even digestion. 

Humans require a lot of calories. Most health bodies recommend that a man will need 2500 calories per day and a woman will require 2000 calories daily. On top of this, if you are exercising, you will generally require more. 

Different foods have different calorie values. Some foods are very high in calories, and others are very low in calories. To find out the calorific value of a food, you can look at the packet. A more scientific approach to looking at calories is to look at the macronutrients. 

Carbohydrates, Fats, and Proteins

Macronutrients break food down into one of three groups. Fats, protein, and carbohydrates. Depending on what groups your food is, it will offer a different calorie amount, and your body will be able to use the calories differently on different metabolic pathways. Here’s what you need to know:


4 Calories Per Gram

Carbohydrates are amazing when it comes to cycling. They offer fast energy, which the body can metabolize very quickly. Carbohydrates are the go-to source for the body when it wants to work at high intensities and needs to be firing on all cylinders because your emptying glycogen stores fast. Carbohydrate intake is very important when exercising to help keep muscle glycogen stores full.

You get 4 calories per gram when it comes to carbohydrates. Although very low, you can consume carbohydrates very quickly. Examples of carbohydrate foods are oats, bread, pasta, sports drinks, and even energy bars. The higher the glycemic rating, the quicker you can metabolize carbohydrate-based foods. 

Some cyclists before events do a process called carb loading. This is where they eat lots of carbs to feed carbohydrate stores so when they exercise they have all the carbs and full glycogen stores. Perfect for longer rides and for some an important part of nutrition strategy.



4 Calories Per Gram

Then we have protein, and this is excellent when it comes to recovery. Although it can be used as an energy source, the main benefit is muscle repair. Perfect for after long bike rides or after fast, intense sessions. Protein and rest is the key to good recovery in cycling training programs.

When it comes to protein, you get 4 calories per gram. Protein makes you feel very full and, for the body, is harder to metabolize and digest than carbohydrates. A good example of protein food is chicken, fish, beef, or, for quick convenience, a protein shake. 


9 Calories Per Gram

Finally, we have fats. Fats are what the body loves to store and use in case of an emergency when it doesn’t need carbohydrates and protein. They are perfect for very low-intensity exercise and great for people who like to cycle slowly and far. 

With fats, you get a whopping 9 calories per gram. That’s over double protein and carbohydrates. The drawback to fats is they take a very long time to metabolize and, for fast, quick sessions, cannot be converted to fatty acids then energy fast enough. They can be useful on a long ride but it will be slow.

What Factors Affect Calorie Burn?

There are a lot of different factors that affect calorie burn, which we are going to discuss.

Body Weight

The first factor is rider weight. The heavier the rider, the more calories you will burn because there’s more to carry. Another factor when it comes to weight is muscle. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, firing them up.

Workout Intensity

Intensity is a big part of how many calories you burn in an hour. If you’re working at 80% of your heart rate for the whole hour, you will burn a lot more calories compared to 60% of your heart rate. 


From a scientific point of view, men generally burn more calories than women when exercising. Not only are men typically bigger, but they also have more muscle mass. This has to be taken into account when it comes to calorie burn.


Age is also another factor. When you’re younger, you generally burn more calories compared to being older. This is a mix of many things, such as metabolism and the fact you can operate at higher heart rates at a younger age. 

How Many Calories Do You Need For Cycling?

So now for the fun bit, let’s start discussing calories you burn while cycling for an hour. The first and most important thing to mention is it will be very different for everyone. Here’s a small table telling you some calorie burn estimates, and we will also explain how to get an accurate measurement.

Rough Guide:

Intensity Calorie Burn Men Per Hour Calorie Burn Women Per Hour
Low (50% - 65% HR)
Medium (65% - 80% HR)
High (80% - 95% HR)

It’s important to remember that these are the calories that you are burning when cycling. You have calories in reserve in your body, so you could, on a multi hour events, get away with replacing half and still have the ability to make it to the end of a ride.

Accurate Measurement

If you’re looking for a more accurate measurement, then you need something to take good data, put it all together, and then give you a calorie burn figure that makes sense. Many great devices, such as Apple Watches, FitBits, Garmin Cycling Computers, and even Smartphones, can do this for you. 

These devices will ask you for details, and then you can link sensors to them, such as heart rate monitors and power meters, and it will give you a more accurate calorie burn for the hour you spend on the bike. 

A Final Note

Cycling is an excellent way to burn many calories without putting a huge amount of stress on the body or the joints. Knowing the amount of calories you’re burning can help you as a rider because you know what you will need to replace to lose weight, maintain, or gain weight.

Picture of Robbie Ferri

Robbie Ferri

Robbie picked up a bike ten years ago at the age of 26. It started with a ride from London to Paris. Since then, he couldn’t get enough of big mile cycling and started bikepacking and eventually ended up racing ultra distance and even breaking world records.

Robbie has also worked in bike shops and closely with brands to design bikes and new products. Now he loves to share his knowledge and experience to add value to other people's cycling.

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