What to eat on the bike

During any training work out, blood sugar is a counting factor on how well you feel and perform, therefore it is vitally important to maintain your sugar levels by eating or drinking appropriate fuels on the bike during any ride longer than 90 min. The calories burned in these rides must be at least partially replaced during the training or race or blood sugar will drop and you will feel tired. Most cyclists seem to think that the fatigue is a lack of endurance training, but very often it is simply low blood sugar.

By eating every 15-20 minutes after the first 30 minutes of a 2 hour plus ride, you can avoid this “false fatigue”. First you need to plan ahead and set up your stall, remembering that you need to eat regularly and you have to carry it on your person or bottle cage(s) and it has to be digestible, I will advise you more later on but for now a typical example:

Bananas, fig bars, energy bars and carbohydrate drinks etc.

All these foods are readily available and easily digested on the bike. Avoid high fat foods, they take ages to digest and won’t provide you with the steady flow of energy you need which will slow you down. The main fuel your muscles burn on a ride is simple carbohydrate, so it make sense to refuel with these.

Eating on the bike does not come naturally; the physical stress of exercise suppresses the brain’s hunger craving. This is especially true during extreme intensities when “hunger” might not appear apparent until the blood sugar has dropped dangerously low. You need to practice this and make it part of your training discipline. You’d never fit a new piece of equipment just prior to a race without testing it first – the same goes for eating and drinking during a race: Try it during training first and when you’ve found something that suits you stick with it.

Not eating enough on long rides normally results in the “Knock” or “Bonk”, and at one time or another every cyclist has experienced it. When blood sugar falls so low, that further riding becomes more difficult, feeling light headed, drained, this is the Knock/Bonk and it is not nice, in fact the loss of balance and co-ordination makes it down-right dangerous. There is only one thing you can do if you want to continue. Find something sweet to eat-right away and get those blood sugar levels up.

The Knock or Bonk has a longer lasting effect on your body other than a bad experience, it will have drained your body of nutrients, set in fatigue and decreased your ability to recover and could have an effect to your future training plans.

Earlier, I mentioned, setting up your stall and planning ahead. If your ride is 1-2 hours, (assuming you had adequate breakfast) 1 bottle of a carbohydrate type drink would be enough to get you around. Make this up according to the instructions (never adding more powder or less water) unless it is very warm when you should add slightly more water – or use less powder.

If your ride is going to be 3-5 hours long it will require a different menu. You will be eating for energy and not just relying on liquid fuel. Start off with solid food. Liquids are still very important – a 1% loss of fluid will give a 10% performance loss. Make up two bottles of energy drink more dilute than on the instructions and alternate eating bananas, fig roll bars etc with drinking your carb drink every other 10-15 minutes.

You do not demolish your food intake in one go, “little and often” or a bite or two is usually enough, . The opposite is true for your liquids. It is much better to take around 100-150mls (about 1/5th of a bottle) at a time. Science has shown that this stretches the stomach muscles and triggers the mechanisms by which we absorb the fluid. If you just sip you could end up feeling very bloated as the stomach will only have stretched gradually and not set off the appropriate emptying message! Even on this basis (food plus good gulps of liquid every 15mins) two 750ml bottles would last you 3 hours in normal temperatures. If it’s hot – remember more fluid, so that you consume the same amount of energy but in three bottles plus the same amount of solids.

Further in to your 3-5 hour ride, your body’s organs ability to function effectively will diminish and you will need to rely more on instant fast acting energy replacement. It would be advisable to have your bike set up to carry 2 bottles for this reason, as you will be dependent on your carb replacement drink. You may need to adjust your feeding times on “Feel” as you might start experiencing some fatigue setting in, so increase your feed times to every 5-10 minutes if necessary. The more “normal food” you can consume the better your guts will feel.

Written by Padraig Marrey

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