Askany 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.

Creative Commons Licensephotocredit:jameskadamson

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 heavyexertion. 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 apop-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 theequivalentof 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 hydrationdeficit, 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 bacondouble cheeseburger dripping with awesomeness. Or maybe a pizza is more to your liking. Chicken and fish are healthy alternatives, but whatever yourpreference, 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 itusuallyhurts 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. 😀

Here are some energy foods I have tried and liked. Your preferences and mileage may vary.

  • Hammer Nutrition ProductsHammer is a sponsor of a club I belong to so I have tried most of their stuff
  • Gu
  • Jelly Belly Sport Beans – great for kids
  • Clif Shot Bloks – also great for kids
  • Clif Bars
  • Powerade
  • 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 looksinteresting. 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!

# Comments

  • Jeff Barber

    Great primer. I’m thinking you could do another 3 articles (pre-ride, in-ride, and post-ride) and there would still be plenty to talk about!

    Mudhunny is a big believer in eating a good meal the night before a big raide (must be her marathon training) – pasta, Chipotle burritos, etc. I’m a fan of PB&J sandwiches and bananas during the ride but post ride, pretty much anything will do – as long as there is a lot of it!

    I’ve also come across a lot of weird advice about MTB nutrition over the years. Like eating packets of mustard when you get leg cramps; at first I thought it was some kind of jokey hazing but it turns out some people swear by it. Taking a shot of almost pure sodium like that when you have leg cramps seems counter-intuitive but I guess it works for some folks.


    Just reached into my bin of cliff bars and blocks. apparently my mice have taken up[ mountain biking while I’ve been gone. Will re-stock with special mouse food.

    I’ve found a snack pack of raisins to be a good pre-ride snack, egg McMuffin will do the trick too.
    Also found that stopping, and doing the Pizza Hut lunch buffet before doing the last 1000′ climb is not a good idea.

  • slipfinger

    Good read maddslacker!

    As mainly a roadie until this past season, I can’t say enough how important refueling is during rides be it, mtb or road bike.

    To date I personally have not done any epic rides on my mountain bike but have done many centuries on the road, from experience if you don’t get the right fuel into you at the right times your body suffers bad.

    I can remember on one long ride in particular I didn’t getting enough into my system and I bonked hard. I struggled bad for the last 15km, it got to a point with less then 5km left, I had to use all my power to not call the wife to come and pick me up at the side of the road.

    Nutrition is mainly learned by trial and error, what works for one person does not always work for others, but what does work is getting food into your system long before your body needs it.

  • mtbgreg1

    I think this is one of the reasons that serious cycling doesn’t work as a weight-loss strategy. You need to be replacing all of the calories that you burn as fast (or faster) than you burn them. If you’re riding for performance, you’ve got to be constantly stoking the fire of your internal engine. If you are trying to cut calories in order to lose weight, you won’t be able to perform well on the bike.

  • maddslacker

    On a related note, it looks like several of the online bike retailers have energy food on sale for Black Friday…

  • dozzerboy

    I like Power Bar Energy Blasts. They are a little chewy with juice like stuff inside. Just don’t get the cola flavor…!

  • steve32300

    To add to the Honey Stinger catagory,I really like the organic chews,especially the pomegranate passion chews.Also the Honey Stinger gel honey packets that include B vitemins and electrolytes.I’m gonna have to give the power bar energy blasts a try dozzer.
    As for other pick me up/energy,I’ve been drinking the amy&brian coconut juice,potasium and electrolytes makes for a nice pick my up and hydration drink.

  • brianW

    Snickers! about the same calories/carbs as a powerbar and taste so much better. Really like the sport beans and Honey Stingers stuff.

  • dgaddis

    My drink of choice: Gatorade G Pro, mixed at 1/2 or 1/3rd the recommended dose (too sweet at full strength). I put 1 scoop per bottle. http://www.gatorade.com/default.aspx#gseriespro?s=gseriespro-perform-enduranceformula-powder

    I’m a fan of the Hammer Apple Cinnamon gel, and yes, the flask is the way to go.

    A LOT of people seem to really like those Honey Stinger waffles, but I’m not a fan. I seem to be in the minority there for sure.

    Payday candy bars work well for me too, and there’s nothing to melt and get messy if you put them in a jersey pocket. But I usually just stick to gels, unless I’m going to be stopped for a while, then I’ll eat something solid.

  • maddslacker

    @dgaddis, if you like weak gatorade, definitely try Hammer Nutrition’s Heed drink mix. Dump one packet in your 24oz bottle, fill with water, and the bumps of the trail will mix it for you.

  • dgaddis

    @madd – I’ve tried HEED and didn’t like it. It was too weak flavored. It tasted like I had regular gatorade in the bottle the last time I used it and didn’t wash it. A lot of folks love HEED because it does have such a mellow taste, including a bunch of the guys I ride with, but it just isn’t for me.

  • Fitch

    Gatorade G2 is my favorite pre-ride drink. It’s got about half the sugars as Gatorade, so you’re not going too over the top.

    As mtbgreg said, for great super riding, you do need to ingest a lot of calories. But you can ingest the right kinds!

  • mvvdsteen

    Has anyone ever tried the Isostar Long Energy (or equivalent) drink? It contains both an isotonic mix and some very slow carbs (starches I think). This means it’ll give quick + long term energy. I’ve a can but I don’t really use it as I didn’t see any difference (ride only up to around 3 hours) but curious if anyone uses it during longer rides maybe…

    anyway, for me, isotonic drinks cover the load. when it’s very hard, some bananas, when it’s very hot, some extra water (in a camelbag on my back)

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