Food is great. Everyone likes food, and it’s pretty simple. You eat when you’re hungry right?
That’s what I thought when I embarked on my San Diego to Los Angeles ride with my friends. (If you missed out on that adventure, you can read more about it here). Long story short, we greatly underestimated the amount of food we needed. That could have been avoided with a little more planning. But, more importantly, I now know how important it is to eat before you start getting hungry. Chances are, if you’re riding super long distances and you start getting hungry during the ride, it might already be too late.
At a glance, nutrition seems to be pretty simple and intuitive. You walk up to the shelves and you pick up anything that looks appealing just like you would at the snack isle at the supermarket. Salted caramel is my personal weakness, and I used to just pick up a random product based solely on the flavor. But if you ever spend a little extra time looking at all the different options, you start to realize there are so many different types of nutrition, and each package seems to be covered in marketing speak. It’s certainly hard to decipher and understand, especially if you’re still relatively new to cycling. However, once you understand the differences and the specific uses for each type of nutrition, you can make sure you’re eating the proper stuff in any given situation.
At this point, you might be thinking, does it really matter what I’m eating as long as I’m eating? Well, it depends on the length of your ride. If you are cycling for under 2 hours, it probably doesn’t matter too much if you are grabbing a gel, bar, or chew. However, when you start spending a lot of time in the saddle on a ride, your ability to digest food decreases as blood is being diverted away from your stomach to other parts of your body. What this means is that 4 – 6 hours in, you’re not really going to want to wolf down a harder to digest power bar at that point. I know I’ve felt funny before eating super-dry bars near the end of a long ride and I just dismissed it as a consequence of last night’s Taco Bell binge dinner.
Here’s my personal timeline example of what I’d be eating if I were to spend 4+ hours on the bike.
- (Optional) For certain rides, you may opt for pre-workout nutrition. Think of pre-workout nutrition as a preventative option. If you know you’re going to be working super hard on a ride, a pre-workout supplement can certainly help you feel better during your ride. Osmo Preload Hydration would be my go-to choice in this category. They recommend you take a serving the night before and another serving 30 minutes before your ride. If you’re not a huge fan of breakfast like me, something like this will help me stomach food a little easier earlier in the ride.
- Water is boring don’t you think? As a kid, I was always a huge fan of Gatorade and other sports drinks such as Propel. Flavored water just helps me drink more so I tend to find it easier to stay hydrated. Osmo makes a during-exercise hydration mix, but I personally prefer Skratch Lab’s pineapple flavored hydration mix. This power contains electrolytes among other useful nutrients that plain water simply does not have. Skratch labs also has a matcha + lemon flavor that I’ve been itching to try as it is naturally caffeinated. This is a big plus for those super early sunrise rides. Naturally, with two bottles, you can always dedicate your second bottle to just water.
- As I mentioned previously, if you need to eat, eat before you get hungry. And if you’re going to eat your solid food, you’re going to want to do that in early stages of your ride. Any bars of your choice would be a good option here. Personally, I love the Rip Van Waffles. I became addicted to Stroopwaffles back when I was first introduced to them years ago, and I was thrilled to see them as an option for cycling nutrition. Alternatively, it makes a great compliment to your morning coffee as well.
- Chews would be next on the list. These are going to be easier to digest than your bars, which are relatively dry and harder to digest. Chews do tend to get pretty sticky, so it is recommended to take it with a generous amount of water. Shot bloks were the first chews that I’ve ever tried and I’ve generally stuck with them. They also come with a caffeine option, so if you need that extra kick to get you through your ride, that makes for a good choice. However, I’ve been meaning to try Glukos gummies. I’ve heard that they’re a bit lighter than the Shot blocks which I might actually prefer a bit more.
- At this point, you’ve probably been on your bike for a decent amount of time. Stomaching a bar at this point would make my stomach super uncomfortable. The best option at this point would be to take a gel. Gu is my go-to option in terms of flavors. However, these gel shots are still pretty thick and water helps assist you finish off the pack. Again, Glukos seems to have come out with a “light” version gel. The Glukos gel is much more like a liquid, making it easier to consume.
- Now that you’ve finished your ride, time for recovery nutrition – pizza and beer! Or doughnuts? You were probably waiting for the part where I tell you its ok to eat 5 doughnuts after your ride. I don’t condone that type of eating, but I’m not going to tell you you can’t do that. Personally, I have a habit of frequenting dirty fast food establishments after a ride, but that tends to be more for the recovery of my soul. Actual post-ride nutrition is high in protein. As mentioned before, Osmo makes specific nutrition for each stage of your riding. If you’re more of a one type does all kinda person, Glukos is the way to go. You can use their powder pre, during, or post-workout.
Each of you will probably develop your own preferences for specific combinations / flavors, but this list should provide you with a starting point for proper nutrition.