On the bike nutrition is important to every cyclist, from the rookie to experienced. We can all gain some insight for how better to provide our bodies with fuel. Over the past 10years I have discovered some portable off the shelf nutrition products that work and some that don’t. Here is my take on the ones that work for me. Let’s cover some basics first…
Bonking and hitting the wall
Bonking or hitting the wall is a condition when your muscles run out of energy / glycogen. In cycling this feels like sudden fatigue and its hard to turn the pedals. If you have never felt this it’s awful. trust me. When it happens to me my body tells me to stop and sleep, not the best thing on a ride ! Everyone at some stage experiences the Bonk and we learn from it and fuel our bodies better and more frequently. It is totally avoidable and thus eating the right food at the right time assists in avoiding the bonk all together.
When to eat?
Q: A common situation with newer cyclists and worth mentioning. How often and when should you be eating?
A: Good rule of thumb for most is to eat something every 45min to an hour. It takes a while to process food, eating frequently can help avoid the dreaded “bonk”. Timing varies from person to person but this is a good rule of thumb.
Flavour, consistency and digestibility
Eating while riding has it’s own set of challenges, if you are actually moving then packaging design becomes important. But in any case the basics of flavour, consistency and digestibility are very key to a good food.
Flavour -Some like sweet and salty, others spicy or savoury. People have different palettes and fortunately most companies nowadays offer a product in different flavours. This makes things convenient as you can decide upon other aspects of the nutrition bars knowing you can get a flavour you like. Some brands like Skratch Labs have a very creative flavour offering worth checking out.
Consistency -The texture and moisture of the bar are linked to the “swallow-ability” and this is key. Since we eat while we are moving and exercising it’s important that the nutrition can be eaten easily. Too dry, not good. Too flaky and its all over the road or trail. I say that if you can eat it without thinking about eating it – it’s a good thing. The products below fit in that category for me.
Converting that food into energy is the aim. Everyone is slightly different and it gets personal, especially while exercising. It took me a long time to understand what my body digested and converted the best. It also took me a while to identify what I needed and when. For example, some bars I need for the longer duration, to sustain (i.e. Probar) . Some nutrition I need to give me a boost of near instant energy (i.e. Clif Shot Block). I know I have a big climb coming up in 3 miles, time to prepare, what to eat? – shot blocks
Recently I switched most of my food from oat and grain based products to rice based products , you can read about it here, it’s an entirely different thing.
What to eat? Energy bar choices:
1. Probar Meal –
High in in calories and small in size. I would describe this as being dense and slightly moist and therefore easy to eat while riding. The energy from these bars is slower to burn so they are great for long rides. I normally have one of these with me on any ride over 2.5hrs. They come in a lot of different falvours with the emphasis on using a lot of natural ingredients.
360 Calories, 51g Carbs, 25mg Sodium, 8g protein. (wholeberry blast)
organic, non gmo, vegan, gluten free.
~ $3.20 most grocery stores
2. Skratch Labs Anytime Energy Bar
Small, slim and exquisite taste. Made by Skratch, I trust these guys as they do a lot of work with the pro riders and are founded by a legitimate chef. These are smaller in size and lower calories than a Probar Meal. I often find myself using one of these to supplement a Probar Meal for a long ride or just using one solo for less than 90mins.
The high point is the flavours, they tend to have the most artisan combos.: Parmesan, sun dried tomatoes & black pepper, Chocolate chips & almonds, Cherries & pistachios, Savoury Miso, Peanut butter and Strawberries, Raspberries and lemons.
200 Calories, 30g Carbs, 120mg Sodium, (peanut butter and strawberries)
non gmo, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, kosher, soy free
~ $2.60 more specialty stores
A classic, Larabar have been around for a while now. Available cheaply at the grocery store and use the minimum of ingredients, fruit and date based. They offer a compact energy source with a variety of flavours. Slightly moist and easy to eat on the bike, they provide high bang for the dollar. My favourite is the Lemon bar, its zesty flavour puts the right jolt in your mouth after a long ride of subtle flavours.
200 Calories, 28g Carbs, 4g Protein, 0 Sodium, (Cherry pie)
non gmo, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, soy free
$1.25 – most grocery stores
4. Betty Lou’s Energy Ball
Local made in Mcminville, Oregon. Betty Lou’s isn’t known as cycling food, they have a large product range but the one I like is their energy balls. They come in a variety of flavours and shape of a ball. I find that you have to eat these at one time, as they are fidley to return to your pocket. They taste great but can be a little drier compared with a Probar. Most of the varieties have a high amount of protein, so theoretically they are good after your bike ride also.
210 Calories, 20g Carbs, 12g Protein, 110mg Sodium, (peanuts, chip , salt)
non gmo, gluten free, kosher
~ $1.45 harder to find specialty stores
5. Honey Stinger Waffle
The Waffle is a newer item to me. I have only started eating them in recent years. Size and shape wise they are different, they are flat and thin. This means you can stack quite a few few in your pocket. Bear in mind they are lower in calories.
The waffle provides a completely different texture to regular bars and feels like a different eating experience. This is great on longer rides when you can mix up your food. For instance ProBars, Stinger Waffle and Shot Blocks (mentioned below) give you a range of tastes, textures and functions for a longer format ride.
It’s like it says, a waffle. Its a crispy layer with Caramel or honey in the centre. and textured and ribbed like a waffle on the outside. They are easy to eat and kinda fun.
140 Calories, 21g Carbs, 0g Protein, 150mg Sodium. (caramel flavour)
organic, non gmo, gluten free, kosher
~ $1.50 most grocery stores
What do I eat? Instant Energy Choices:
Generally speaking I class Gels, Gu’s and gummies as instant energy. They often don’t have solid material in them and are high in quick absorbing sugar, quickly absorbed into the blood and can give you a faster rush of energy than a bar. In most cases manufacturers recommend you have a drink with them while digesting. This type of food is great when you need a boost, say right before a long climb, or you have been out all day and you need a kicker in the middle to get you out of an energy funk.
Clif Bloks – Energy Chews
These have been on the market for a while now. The company has tried a lot of new flavours over the years including some interesting and nasty Spearmint aka disgusting toothpaste flavour 🙂 The one I really like is Margarita, a sweet with a salty kick. Also 3x the sodium, which is great for summer rides. The lemon and black cherry are classics and you can get varieties with extra caffeine.
Shot Blocks contain maltodextrin which is absorbed into the blood as quickly as glucose, high on the glycemic index. I use Shot Blocks when I need an instant rush of energy, a boost before a long climb. The consistency is gummy, you can stack them in your mouth and they dissolve. The packaging is well designed. It forms a tube where you can push the blocks out of the end with ultra simplicity, single handed.
180 Calories, 46g Carbs, 300mg Sodium, 0 Protein (Margarita flavor)
Salted watermelon have 200mg and other flavors 100mg of Sodium
~ $2.20 Some grocery stores
Skratch Labs Sport Energy Chews –
An instant energy chew. This is the candy gumdrop for sport! The package is a little harder to open than the Clif Shot blocks but the matte texture packaging provides more grip than most. These chews have a sugary coating that has a in mouth sparkle for pop. The flavours are vibrant and the chews are slightly softer in the center. Perfect for that mid ride boost.
Orange, Raspberry, Matcha Green Tea and Lemon
160 Calories, 40g Carbs, 160mg Sodium, 0 Protein (orange)
~ $2.30 more specialty store
What about gels?
I don’t often enter races on my bike, but when I do / did my choice would go towards gels. Gel’s are performance intended, in my option they don’t taste good and have horrible texture… the least appetising but they are a good mechanism of energy in a small size in a package that works in race situations. Nowadays, more often I ride for leisure or sport leisure where I would rather fuel my body with items that taste good, with a variety of flavours and textures.
Recommendations / Best Combo’s
1-2 hour ride I suggest using the small bar (~200 calories) with a instant energy product if needed.
3 -4 hour ride I like small bar + large bar + instant energy
4-6 hour ride I like to use a combo which consists of rice cake + small bar + instant energy (then I also normally take a Probar too, as backup)
Another alternative is 2 Large bars + small bar + instant energey
I hope you found this guide useful and sets you off on either trying some new products in your rotation or setting you off on some good stuff to start.
Happy Cycling! No more Bonking!