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Nutrition Basics for Coaches

How do you talk with student-athletes about adequate hydration & fueling? Expert nutritionists weigh in. The theme? Keep it simple, and keep it healthy!

Photo by Joshua Grow, New Mexico Interscholastic Cycling Association.

This post was provided by nutritionists from NICA partner, The Feed. 

The Feed is excited to help student-athletes and coaches keep fueling smarter and stronger via our partnership with NICA. The Feed’s nutrition coaches provide meaningful advice to help educate on the importance of proper fueling to meet the body’s demands. 

Nutrition around training can seem like a daunting, complex issue. There are recommendations everywhere saying you need “this product” or “that product”. So, how do NICA coaches best support student-athletes with questions around nutrition? Keep it simple, and keep it healthy. Make sure athletes know that they can (and should) eat while riding their bikes. 
Quick Tips:

Here are a few simple recommendations that coaches can share with student-athletes to help them develop positive nutrition habits:

  • Fuel the work: meet your demands at hand with the proper fuel. Whether it’s race day or an adventure event, riding bikes takes energy. Help athletes understand what it means to be pre-fueled, keep the energy coming in during your effort, and prioritize a recovery period. 
  • Flexibility: for intense days, like intervals, or races, energy demands will be higher. Athletes need to meet those demands with adequate food. On these intense days, it’s best if your nutrition is easy to digest. On the other hand, balancing the longer, easy days with more “real food” that is more complex and sustaining can be beneficial to your body long-term. 
  • Hydrate: riding a bike requires a lot of fluid from athlete’s bodies…add the heat of summer, dryness of the desert, and now you’ve got a recipe for dehydration. Think about pre-loading: encourage athletes to have an electrolyte mix or something other than just water on hand before their ride; this can reduce the impact the heat has on the body as training starts. Keep the fluids coming in during riding/racing AND recommend that athletes keep electrolytes with them. 
  • Practice your plan: Make sure athletes don’t just hop into events ripping tabs off of products they’ve never tried before! Encourage athletes to give these foods a trial-run during training days and practices to see how they work.

Photos by Katie Sox, Oregon Interscholastic Cycling League


While NICA races are typically shorter in duration, this means the time leading up to the event is more important for fueling up and being ready to race. This process doesn’t just start the morning of, it starts a couple of days out. Help athletes understand that nutrition and fueling properly a few days before their event can make an impact on race day.

Encourage athletes to stock up as best they can roughly 2-3 hours in advance of any event or workout. It’s not the time for the heartiest of meals, but it is the time to initiate storing fuel away – specifically carbohydrates. Stick to simpler meals like eggs with toast and jam or oatmeal. Heavy foods that have a lot of fat and protein won’t digest in time and may cause some stomach issues.

It’s also helpful to remind athletes to find things that work for them while on the road, because they may be traveling for some events!

During a ride

Most NICA race events will hover between 30 minutes and an hour in duration, so athletes may not necessarily need that much food. However, being hydrated and adding some fuel to a workout or race can improve an athlete’s potential to perform well.

To keep it simple, have riders think of these two rules: 1 bottle per hour and 1 serving every half hour.

This means to aim to drink 1 bottle of fluid per hour and eat 1 serving of fuel every half hour. It can be important to include more than just water in your bottle. Some athletes will want to have some electrolytes (namely sodium/salt) to improve hydration. At The Feed, we are big fans of products like Skratch Labs Hydration Drink Mix and Nuun Sport Tablets

For the serving of fuel, think about using straightforward foods like bars, simple snacks, and gels + chews. If athletes have a serving of these approximately every 30 minutes, you will be helping your body stay on top of its needs.

If your event is around 30 minutes, athletes may only need a bit of hydration to get you through. If it’s around an hour, then athletes can consider taking 1 bottle and 1-2 gels/chews/servings of fuel with them. Great options come from GU Energy, Chargel, and Clif for simple chews, gels, and snacks for training.

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NICA Coaches: Don’t forget to join the NICA Coaching Community at The Feed and get $80 in annual store credit ($20 every 90 days), including $20 that you can spend right away to stock up on sports nutrition. Claim your annual credit

Head Coaches & Team Directors can receive an additional 20% off orders with access to a unique code. To request a code, please fill out our coach benefit form.


The time immediately following a race or practice is a great opportunity for athletes to get a leg up on the recovery process. Not only is an athlete’s body more receptive (or accepting) to the nutrients they are consuming in this window, but it’s also more effective at replenishing those energy stores.

We suggest immediately that athletes have a recovery shake or snack following a workout, and then having a full lunch or dinner later. As you congratulate buddies and teammates, and debrief your day, be sure to remind athletes to eat to maximize their recovery.

Remind athletes to capitalize on getting in nutrient-dense foods in their first post-workout full meal. This supports all the stress going on in a body that just went through a big effort.


Coaches can be pivotal in improving an athlete’s nutritional performance. Remember: just because an athlete can “get by” on something for ride or race doesn’t mean it’s ideal. Here are three main things we can teach NICA riders:

  1. They should come prepared for practice by having had a post-school snack/meal.
  2. It’s okay to eat during workouts, practice, and races!
  3. How they can stay on top of their nutritional needs.

During practice, coaches can support athletes to make sure they are fueling properly. For example, if you see an athlete that has a full bottle in the middle of practice, check in on them about drinking. Additionally, use little breaks in practice or team rides to remind the athletes to snack or drink. They can easily forget about it, and being reminded to fuel can help instill positive habits.

To get specific, make sure athletes are consuming a reasonable amount of fuel while training, and that it is simple and easy to digest. We never want to tell athletes “not to eat” or suggest that “they’ve eaten too much”, but instead want to remind them they can (and should!) eat and drink to fuel all of their mountain bike adventures.

Last but not least – don’t forget there are resources to support NICA coaches over at The Feed!
The Feed offers FREE coaching for coaches and athletes needing a little help, and encourages you to contact them directly at Additionally, you can visit The Feed’s live chat for nutritional help, questions, and recommendations. We truly want coaches and riders to utilize these services. The Feed is always here for you and wants to improve every NICA athlete’s performance and experience in the sport.
A nutrition expert from The Feed assists a NICA student-athlete and parent.