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Cycling fitness: 25 top tips to be a fitter rider

From diet to training to recovery, there are plenty of gains to be made

Improving your cycling fitness brings a number of key benefits: you’ll enjoy your riding way more, you’ll see new places because you can go further, and you won’t be last one up the hills, to name just a few.

Read on for our list of 25 pieces of friendly advice, follow as many as you can and watch your fitness soar.

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  • How to measure changes in your cycling fitness. Visi
  • UK readers: can you help us get more people on bikes? Whether you’re a keen cyclist or a complete beginner, we’d love you to get involved in our Get Britain Riding campaign, in association with B’Twin. Click here to sign up!

The biggest gains are made by improving your diet, working on cardiovascular fitness and strength, and getting plenty of rest. There’s a lot more to it than that, but these are the three key areas.

There are other ways to achieve it though, from Fartlek sessions to cutting out the junk food, banning TV and other devices in the bedroom to perfecting your own recovery smoothie recipe.

Read on for 25 effective ideas on how to improve these three key areas and build your cycling fitness to a whole new level.

Improve your diet

Diet is the first thing personal trainers look at and for good reason
Diet is the first thing personal trainers look at and for good reason Michael Dannenberg / Immediate Media

This is always where personal trainers start and for good reason — no matter how much training you do, you can’t maximise the results if your diet is rubbish.

We won’t lecture you on cutting out alcohol, but we will suggest some improvements that, when combined, can start to add up.

1. Shed some weight to improve your power-to-weight ratio

Remember that BMI charts are hopeless for athletic individuals — they’re designed to identify unhealthy weights for the general population.

A body composition monitor is much better for cyclists. Body fat numbers to compare yourself against are 15–18 percent for the average male, 8–10 percent for a well-trained rider, and 4 percent for an elite cyclist.

Try varying between long, easy rides and short, intense ones to optimise your body’s fat-burning ability.

2. Don’t cut fat completely from your diet, though

It plays an important role in repairing muscle tissue after training and helps provide shock absorption for feet and organs, thus preventing injury.

There are different types of fat, with solid saturated fats (found in things like butter and animal fat) being the one to avoid. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that are liquid at room temperature (like olive oil) have multiple health benefits, including lowering cholesterol levels.

3. Pack in the protein

Your body can only absorb 20g or so at a time though, so snack throughout the day and remember to have a recovery shake or bar immediately after training.

Bear in mind that protein’s only recruited to build muscle when you’re training hard and most people can’t build more than 1kg of lean muscle in a month. So try eating more like Ron Swanson, mix your own protein shakes and get biltong and nuts to graze on throughout the day.

4. Drink enough water

It’s crucial for maintaining your body’s ability to burn fat, rid itself of toxins, and absorb nutrients from food.

We recommend getting a water bottle to keep by your side at work and filling it regularly from the water cooler or tap.

5. Cut out the refined sugar

We all know that it abounds in ready meals, fizzy drinks and junk food, and is one of the leading causes of obesity and diabetes. But did you know it can also weaken your body’s immunity system and plays havoc with your energy levels?

Natural sweeteners like agave syrup are a much better alternative for your morning coffee and cereal, but it’s even better to wean yourself off entirely.

6. Get into the habit of snacking

You want to avoid starve-binge patterns, as these tempt you to indulge in all the wrong things. Plan your snack times so you’re never without food or drink for longer than four hours. Nuts, fruit, yoghurt and dried meat are all good bets.

7. Try keeping a food diary

We don’t mean for longer than a few weeks — it might start to become an obsession — but smartphone apps like MyFitnessPal are quick, easy and intuitive to use.

They can help you get a good idea of what your diet currently looks like and identify areas where you could improve. Visit



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