Ask any roadie and they will tell you that mountain bikers survive on a diet of burritos, pizza and beer or soda. While that is mostly true, it turns out that good nutrition helps out no matter what kind of cycling you do.
Food preferences are fairly subjective, so you will need to experiment a little to see what tastes good and works for you, but this should give you some ideas to try out.
There is a plethora of scientific research about sports nutrition, and if you are training for a race, you will want to consult an expert. This is intended to be a guide for recreational riders looking to do better than the stereotypical cheeseburger and Coke.
Before the Ride
It is important to eat enough before a ride so you have the fuel to get started, but you don’t want anything so heavy that it will make you sick under heavy exertion. If I have a couple of hours before a morning ride, I will eat a breakfast burrito or sausage, egg and cheese bagel. But if I’m riding right away, I will instead do oatmeal or a bagel with cream cheese. Apples and bananas are also an excellent choice, or maybe even a pop-tart or cereal/granola bar, if that’s your thing. If coffee is your morning pick-me-up, have it, but also drink plenty of water or sports drink before you arrive at the trailhead. For an after work ride, I like a Clif bar or $0.99 chicken sandwich from the drive thru on my way to the trailhead.
During the Ride
Staying fueled and hydrated on the ride is crucial for avoiding cramps, headaches or outright bonking. While riding, try to eat one energy snack every 30-60 minutes in the saddle, depending on the intensity of the ride. I like to bring a hydration pack with water and a bottle with sports drink. I drink the water as needed throughout the ride, and the sports drink every time I stop for a break. In addition to flavor preferences, also consider the delivery method of various energy snacks. If you’re on a laid back rec ride with frequent stops, clif bars and other “hands-on” foods will be fine. If you’re in a race or any ride with minimal downtime, gels and other “one-handed” items are the ticket. For the latter situation, I love the Hammer Gel flask. It holds the equivalent of 5 packets of gel and the ounces are marked on the side for easy nutrition monitoring. I have also seen riders duct tape energy gel packets to their bike stem, allowing the packs to be ripped off / opened with one hand. The tabs don’t end up on the ground and the duct tape is available for trailside repairs if needed. Genius! But I still prefer the flask…
After the Ride
With all that extended effort behind you, your body will be craving fluids to make up for any hydration deficit, and protein to rebuild broken down muscle tissue. To kill two birds with one stone, check out a protein recovery drink like Hammer Nutrition Recoverite or Muscle Milk.
Now you can hit Sonic and grab that bacon double cheeseburger dripping with awesomeness. Or maybe a pizza is more to your liking. Chicken and fish are healthy alternatives, but whatever your preference, have a sensible meal, hydrate as much as needed, and check out the aforementioned protein drinks.or even regular milk.
As a side note, alcohol does not really help your biking nutrition in any way. It has no place on the actual ride, and it usually hurts more than it helps before or after. As always, use your head and enjoy responsibly and you’ll be fine. Just don’t expect to get rid of your beer gut with more beer.
- Hammer Nutrition Products – Hammer is a sponsor of a club I belong to so I have tried most of their stuff
- Jelly Belly Sport Beans – great for kids
- Clif Shot Bloks – also great for kids
- Clif Bars
- Honey Stinger Waffles – these are 160 calories of pure awesomeness, soaked in honey. If you haven’t tried them yet, go get one right now!
As I mentioned before, taste preferences are purely subjective so I recommend making a trip to the local sporting goods store and getting one of each thing that looks interesting. Over your next few rides, see what tastes good. Learn what feels right in your body, and soon you’ll have your riding nutrition plan dialed in!