What Does Bonking Mean? Avoiding Fuel Depletion and Its Impact

Learn about the meaning of bonking in cycling, its impact, and how to prevent it. Fuel your rides for optimal performance and avoid energy depletion.

Have you ever experienced the dreaded bonk? Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or just getting started, join us as we explore bonking and discover how to prevent this dreaded phenomenon. So grab your helmet, and let’s pedal into the captivating realm of what bonking truly means in cycling!

What does bonking mean? Bonking refers to the complete depletion of glycogen in your muscles, leaving you with a total inability to continue, marked by nausea, extreme weakness, and cognitive impairment. It’s a state of exercise-induced hypoglycemia that can bring even the toughest riders to their knees.

What is bonking?

Have you ever wondered what exactly happens when you “bonk” during a ride? Let’s dive into the details of this energy crisis and uncover what it means to experience a bonk.

Two cyclists riding bicycles outdoors. Source: unsplash
Two cyclists riding bicycles outdoors. Source: unsplash

The depletion of fuel: glycogen story

When you’re out on a long ride, your body relies on fuel to keep those pedals spinning. One of the main sources of fuel is glycogen, a carbohydrate stored in your muscles. But what happens when your glycogen reserves are completely drained?

Running on empty: the effects of bonking

When you hit the wall and experience a bonk, your body enters a state of functional depletion of glycogen. It’s like running out of gas in a car—it brings everything to a screeching halt. The lack of available fuel leaves your muscles unable to perform, resulting in extreme physical weakness, poor coordination, and a feeling of complete exhaustion.

It’s more than just fatigue

Bonking goes beyond feeling tired or fatigued—it’s a physiological and psychological ordeal. It’s not just about running out of energy; it affects your whole body and mind. You may experience nausea, shaking hands, dizziness, and cognitive impairment. It’s like your body’s emergency alarm system going off, signaling that it’s time to refuel or suffer the consequences.

My favorite bike (at the moment):

State Bicycle Co. Black Label 6061

Best overall fixed gear bike state bicycle co 6061 black label v2
My favorite bike (at the moment):

State Bicycle Co. Black Label 6061

This is my daily ride, my trusty Black Label It’s lightweight and beautifully crafted. It looks like a beast and rides like one too. I upgraded the saddle, but everything else is pretty much as it was out of the box. I highly recommend it.

Why is bonking bad?

Bonking isn’t just an inconvenience or a temporary setback—it can have long-lasting effects on your body and overall performance. Let’s explore why bonking is a cyclist’s worst nightmare.

1. Muscle loss and a weakened immune system

When you bonk, your body enters a catabolic state of stress, where it starts breaking down its own muscles for energy. This means your body essentially starts “eating itself” to keep going. Not only is this detrimental to your muscles, but it also weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses.

Recovering from a bonk takes time, and the effects can linger even after the acute symptoms have subsided.

2. Disruption to training and physical danger

Bonking disrupts the rhythm of your training plan and can derail your progress. It creates unproductive fatigue and stress, hindering your ability to perform at your best. Moreover, the physical and cognitive impairment that accompanies a bonk can lead to dangerous situations on the road.

3. Recovery and beyond

Recovering from a bonk takes time, and the effects can linger even after the acute symptoms have subsided. Your body needs rest, nutrition, and time to bounce back. Ignoring the recovery process may result in prolonged fatigue, compromised immune function, and setbacks in your training.

What are the symptoms of bonking?

Recognizing the symptoms of bonking is crucial to addressing the issue promptly and avoiding further consequences. Let’s take a closer look at the signs that indicate you might be experiencing a bonk.

The early warning signs

Before the full force of a bonk hits you, there are often early warning signs that something isn’t right. Pay attention to these cues and listen to your body:

  1. Increased Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE): You may suddenly feel like your effort level has skyrocketed, even though you haven’t changed your pace or intensity.
  2. Feeling Hungry or “Hitting the Wall”: A sensation of hunger or hitting a wall mentally can be an indication that your body is running low on fuel.
  3. Negative Self-Talk: Negative thoughts or an inner voice that starts doubting your abilities might be a sign that your energy levels are dropping.

The full-blown bonk

When the bonk fully takes hold, you’ll experience a range of intense symptoms that can be both physical and mental:

  1. Extreme Physical Weakness: Your legs may feel like jelly, making it almost impossible to continue pedaling.
  2. Nausea: A sense of queasiness and an upset stomach often accompany a bonk.
  3. Poor Coordination: Shaking hands, loss of balance, and unsteady movements can make simple tasks challenging.
  4. Dizziness: A lightheaded feeling or dizziness may occur due to a lack of energy and reduced blood sugar levels.
  5. Cognitive Impairment: Confusion, difficulty focusing, and impaired decision-making are common symptoms of a bonk.

To steer clear of bonking, here’s a handy table of dos and don’ts:

Fine-tune your nutritional strategies on training rides.Neglect proper hydration during your rides.
Develop a fueling plan before getting on the bike.Rely solely on sugary snacks for quick energy boosts.
Use reminders or cues to follow your fueling plan.Overexert yourself without paying attention to nutrition.
Dos and don’ts of avoiding bonking

Remember, if you start experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s essential to address the situation promptly and take the necessary steps to refuel and recover.

How to avoid bonking

Now that you understand the risks and effects of bonking, it’s time to arm yourself with strategies to prevent this dreaded experience. Let’s delve into some practical tips to help you avoid bonking and keep those pedals turning smoothly.

Develop a fueling plan

Having a well-thought-out fueling plan is essential to ensure you have the necessary energy to sustain your rides. Consider the following steps:

  1. Calculate Your Nutritional Needs: Determine your calorie and carbohydrate requirements based on your body weight, ride duration, and intensity.
  2. Pre-Ride Nutrition: Consume a balanced meal or snack before your ride, rich in carbohydrates and moderate in protein and healthy fats.
  3. On-the-Bike Fueling: Regularly consume carbohydrates during your ride to replenish glycogen stores. Aim for around 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour, depending on your intensity and duration.
  4. Hydration is Key: Don’t forget to hydrate adequately before, during, and after your rides. Sip water regularly and consider electrolyte replacement drinks for longer rides.

Fine-tune your nutritional strategies

To optimize your fueling plan, it’s essential to experiment and find what works best for you. Consider the following tips:

  1. Practice During Training Rides: Use your training rides as an opportunity to fine-tune your nutritional strategies. Experiment with different foods, energy gels, or sports drinks to determine what fuels your performance effectively.
  2. Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to how your body responds to different fueling methods. Some riders may prefer solid foods, while others find gels or chews more convenient during intense efforts.
  3. Use Reminders: Set reminders or cues to prompt yourself to eat and drink regularly. It’s easy to get caught up in the ride and forget to refuel, so a friendly reminder can help you stay on track.

Train smart, ride strong

Training plays a crucial role in preparing your body for the demands of cycling and avoiding bonking. Consider these recommendations:

  1. Gradually Increase Ride Duration: Gradually build up the duration of your rides to allow your body to adapt to longer efforts. This helps improve your glycogen storage capacity.
  2. Recovery and Rest: Ensure you prioritize recovery days and give your body ample time to rest and repair. Recovery is essential for replenishing glycogen stores and preventing fatigue.
  3. Balanced Training: Incorporate a mix of endurance rides, interval training, and strength workouts to enhance your overall fitness and energy efficiency on the bike.

Fixed gear cycling and fueling

When it comes to fixed-gear cycling, fueling becomes even more critical. The constant pedaling and lack of gear shifting demand efficient energy management. Make sure to apply these fueling strategies specifically for fixed-gear rides:

  1. Plan Ahead: Before heading out on your fixed gear adventure, ensure you’ve fueled up properly. Eat a balanced meal or snack with adequate carbohydrates to sustain your ride.
  2. Stay Hydrated: Hydration is key to maintaining performance and preventing fatigue. Keep a water bottle within reach and sip regularly throughout your ride.
  3. Listen to Your Body: Listen to any signs of hunger, thirst, or fatigue during your fixed gear rides. Don’t ignore your body’s signals, and refuel as needed.

Remember, prevention is key when it comes to avoiding bonking. By fueling your body smartly, listening to its cues, and training intelligently, you’ll be better equipped to conquer your rides without hitting the wall.

A cyclist holding his bike as he drinks water. Source: unsplash
A cyclist holding his bike as he drinks water. Source: unsplash

Advantages and disadvantages of fueling strategies

Fueling strategies play a crucial role in maintaining performance and preventing bonking during cycling. Let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of implementing effective fueling techniques.

Advantages of effective fueling strategies

  • Sustained Energy: Adequate fueling ensures a continuous supply of energy, enabling riders to maintain their performance and endurance throughout their rides.
  • Improved Recovery: Proper nutrition and fueling after a ride promote faster recovery and reduce muscle soreness, allowing riders to bounce back quickly for their next cycling session.
  • Enhanced Mental Focus: Fueling strategies that balance carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats provide the brain with the necessary nutrients to stay focused and alert during rides.
  • Optimized Performance: By fueling appropriately, riders can optimize their power output, pedal efficiently, and achieve their desired performance goals.

Disadvantages of inadequate fueling strategies

  • Increased Fatigue: Insufficient fueling can lead to premature depletion of energy stores, resulting in fatigue, decreased power output, and reduced overall performance.
  • Greater Risk of Bonking: Inadequate carbohydrate intake during long or intense rides increases the likelihood of experiencing a bonk, which can be detrimental to performance and well-being.
  • Muscle Loss and Delayed Recovery: Poor fueling can hinder muscle recovery, leading to prolonged muscle soreness and delayed overall recovery.
  • Reduced Mental Acuity: Inadequate nutrition can impair mental focus, decision-making, and reaction times, compromising both safety and performance on the bike.

It is essential to prioritize fueling and develop effective strategies to ensure optimal performance, prevent bonking, and maximize your cycling experience. Consult with a sports nutritionist or healthcare professional for personalized guidance on fueling strategies.

If you want even more great tips and information, check out the video.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions about what bonking means? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions.

How long does it take to recover from a bonk?

Recovery from a bonk typically takes at least a few days, as your body needs time to replenish glycogen stores and recover from the physical and mental stress. During this time, it’s crucial to prioritize rest, proper nutrition, and hydration to aid in the recovery process.

Can bonking be prevented entirely?

While it may be challenging to completely eliminate the risk of bonking, proper fueling strategies can significantly reduce the chances. Developing a fueling plan, listening to your body’s hunger and thirst cues, and consuming enough carbohydrates during rides can help maintain optimal energy levels and minimize the risk of bonking.

Are there any warning signs before bonking occurs?

Yes, there are usually warning signs that indicate you’re at risk of bonking. These may include increased perceived exertion, hunger, negative self-talk, headache, nausea, shaking hands, loss of focus, dizziness, and cognitive impairment. It’s important to pay attention to these signals and take immediate action to prevent or address bonking.


Phew! We’ve covered a lot of ground in this blog post, exploring what bonking is, its effects on cyclists, and how to prevent it. Hopefully, you found this information helpful and insightful in navigating your cycling adventures.

Now, it’s time to put your newfound knowledge into action! Remember to develop a fueling plan, fine-tune your nutritional strategies, and listen to your body’s cues. Stay fueled, stay focused, and enjoy the ride!

Did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on cycling. Thanks for reading, and happy pedaling!

Key takeaways

This article covered the topic of bonking and its impact on cyclists. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Bonking is the functional depletion of glycogen, resulting in extreme physical weakness, cognitive impairment, and poor coordination.
  • Bonking can lead to muscle loss, a weakened immune system, disruptions in training, and physical danger.
  • Fueling strategies, such as developing a plan, fine-tuning nutrition, and listening to your body, are crucial to avoid bonking.
  • Recovery from a bonk takes time, and it’s important to prioritize rest, nutrition, and hydration.
  • Fixed gear cycling requires extra attention to fueling due to continuous pedaling and lack of gear shifting.

Helpful resources

Bradley Knight Image
Written by Bradley Knight, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Bradley, and I've been riding fixed for years. I love all the joy and pain that comes with this unique style of cycling and the passionate community that drives it. If you love fixed-gear bikes, this is the place for you.

Nick eggert.
Edited by Nick Eggert, Staff Editor

Nick is our staff editor and co-founder. He has a passion for writing, editing, and website development. His expertise lies in shaping content with precision and managing digital spaces with a keen eye for detail.

Verified User Black 24dp


Our team conducts thorough evaluations of every article, guaranteeing that all information comes from reliable sources.

Event Available Black 24dp


We diligently maintain our content, regularly updating articles to ensure they reflect the most recent information.

Leave a Comment