Fueling Choices for a Big Ride


On one of my early centuries, I mistakenly thought I could get away with having a big lunch midway through the ride, and nothing else. That was a learning experience. When I hit mile 95, I lost every last bit of energy. It was a major bonk. Those last few miles felt like another 100, with every hill feeling like a mountain.

Since that day, I have been determined to never let it happen again. On the other hand, the last thing I want to do is eat too much, and not benefit from all the calories burned on the bike. Through a lot of experimentation, I have developed a routine that allows me to stay properly fueled and fits with my tastes and preferences.

This post is about the stuff I like to eat before, during, and after a big ride. Like with anything, your mileage will vary (pun intended). My tastes may not be the same as yours, so I welcome feedback from others.

Breakfast Before the Ride

I like a good-sized breakfast that is high in carbs and protein, preferably at least two hours before I ride.

Eggs – I’ll usually go out of my way to eat an egg-based meal. It can be either a small omelette, or even a boiled egg or two. Eggs are great sources of protein.

Yogurt – I prefer yogurt to fruits, probably more because of the acidity content. I’ll usually have a container of a light yogurt.

Bagel – I love bagels, but pretty much the only time I’ll eat them is the breakfast before a ride. They are pure carbs and I’ve noticed a difference on the bike. A little bit of cream cheese is a must, but not something to overdo.

Coffee – This is a given. It probably doesn’t help with my fueling, but the caffeine is a must. My preference is a latte or cappuccino with almond milk.

I try to avoid heavy sugar-heavy dessert items. That means no donuts or muffins.

Immediately Before the Ride

I like to eat a little something light within an hour of the ride. I should have plenty of fuel in my body from the breakfast, but this seems to hold me over just a little further.

Bananas – I love me some bananas. I’ll have one or two before the ride. The carbs help with fuel, and the potassium can help prevent muscle cramps.

Clif Mini Bar – I’ll only eat this if bananas are not available. It is small enough (100 calories) to not weigh me down, tastes good, and has some helpful ingredients.

During the Ride

This is the area where I have experimented the most. I prefer my food to be portable, tasty, that is easy on the stomach. Fuels I have used in the past that I no longer use are Power Bars, regular Clif bars, energy gels, Honey Stingers, and countless more. I have moved on from these because they are either tough to eat while riding, messy, or both.

Clif Shot Bloks – This is the perfect bike fuel for me. For the last year, it is pretty much only thing I will carry on a long ride. The best part is I can eat it while on the bike. A pack of six bloks sits comfortably in my jersey pocket. I can open it with my teeth, and will squeeze out 2-3 bloks at a time. They taste good, can be digested easily, and are easy to measure. Since a full pack is 200 calories, I know that I need to eat at least one pack every two hours for minimum fueling.

Sports Drink – I know there are lots of options for this. I most commonly use Gatorade because it is easily accessible, but I can also use Skratch Labs, Powerade, or a home brew. On a long, difficult ride, I like to fill one bottle with ‘high test’ sports drink, or full Gatorade. The other bottle will have a diluted, light version, usually some Gatorade Low mixed with water. The full Gatorade can take a toll on my stomach, but I will rely on it for difficult riding (like climbs), and the lighter stuff for hydration and electrolytes.

A Meal – This is the tough part. I like to eat something substantial midway through a difficult, long ride. Last year on the Assault on Mount Mitchell, I tried having a Subway sandwich before the climbing began. That didn’t work too well because it took too long to eat, especially when my stomach was not settled. Usually I will try to eat some sort of substantial lunch-like whole food. I am still experimenting with this.

After the Ride

This is the tough part. If it is an organized ride, I don’t always have a choice. I have to eat what they feed me. Below are my ideal food types.

Protein drink – This is for immediately after the ride. Since usually I am mobile and cannot store my own, the drink varies by what is available. Ideally I will have some sort of drink that has between 15-25g of protein. A Muscle Milk or something like that will do the trick. Chocolate milk works too.

Something Mexican – I’m a sucker for Mexican food. Not only does it taste awesome, but it has a healthy mixture of different types of ingredients. This is my post-ride meal of choice if available because it usually has some grain, carbs, animal protein, and calcium (cheese!). I try to avoid anything fried.

Sub Sandwich – A whole wheat sub with veggies and meat is a good option. It is substantial enough to fill the hunger hole, while not being too heavy or unhealthy.

A lot of rides will serve stuff that is tasty, but not the best post-ride meal for me. I’m looking at you, pizza. Sometimes I’ll ‘suffer’ through it and eat what they offer, especially if I have raging hunger after an exhausting ride. On a few occasions, I have bailed on the post-ride meal and picked up a Subway or Chipotle on the road.

So what type of foods do you prefer?

20 responses to “Fueling Choices for a Big Ride

  • bgddyjim

    PB&J’s are popular mid-ride treats up here and I love ’em. Perfect on the stomach. I tried pizza mid-ride once and that was enough, never again… After I like a double Quarter Pounder with a Coke – the salt helps balance me out. It normally would turn my stomach but I absolutely crave it after anything more than 90 miles.

    On board I like Jelly Belly Energy Beans though they are a pain. I’m going to try the Shot Bloks (thanks for the tip) this year.

    Pre-ride, 15 minutes before, I LOVE Gatorade Prime! My best, most enjoyable rides have started start with that.

    Great post man, thanks.

    • aaronwest

      I should have mentioned PBJ. That’s my go-to middle of the ride food if available, but I only eat it at rest stops. Too difficult to carry with, especially on a sunny day.

      I have tried sports beans and they are tasty, but not easy to eat while on the bike.

  • stickyjumper

    Pre-ride: Agree with Aaron, bagels are the best. I also down a GU Roctane about 15 minutes before the start.
    Mid-ride: Bonk Breaker Bars are my fav. Small, but pack a ton of calories. And they are real, baked food, instead of the typical processed laboratory food. I also like Honey Stinger waffles.
    Post-ride: Immediately, I go for the chocolate milk. Then after about an hour I hit up something carb laden like Mexican or Chinese.

    • Doug Jansen

      Pre-ride: Egg and cheese on toast, cereal with milk.
      During ride: Ham and Vermont cheddar sandwich nibbled on over first couple hours – carbs, protein and sodium. Only for rides >4hrs and not planning to go deeply anaerobic. Supplement with gels, gel blocks, Nature Valley “F’n Crumbs Everywhere” granola bars (cheap at Sam’s club), and Gatorade to drink (powder also cheap at Sam’s). Fancy mixes with maltodextrin give me severe gastric distress after the ride. Zero caffeine just before and during ride, as this exacerbates cramping problems.
      Immediate post-ride: Chocolate milk, coffee.
      Within an hour post-ride: usually Mexican.

      • aaronwest

        @ Doug – Interesting. I never would have thought of the Vermont sandwich option. Usually on the early part of a ride I stick with the Shot Bloks since I’m still digesting the breakfast. I’ve found that caffeine helps me during a ride. There’s a ride that serves Coca Cola at a rest stop before a climb, and I always make it a point to have some.

    • aaronwest

      @ Matt – I haven’t tried Bonk Breakers. I’ll give them a shot sometime. Honey Stingers taste amazing, but they are too difficult to eat while riding. Even if you stop to open the package, you have to finish it there. Lots of crumbs too.

  • Cherry

    I’ve tried Shot Bloks last year but I find it’s not substantial enough to cure the hunger, but I may have been eating too few. I don’t believe I finished 1 pack in 2hours. So I’ll give it a shot again this year. Aren’t Shot Bloks similar to Honey Stingers? I guess the Honey Stingers package is a bit clumsier? …. I like pizza – carb, cheese, veggie. It does make me sleepy though haha!! I definitely want to try out PB&J as commented above this yr.

    • aaronwest

      I’d say Shot Bloks are more like energy gels, but in a more solid and less messy form. They are not enough to sustain me alone on a long ride, which is why I search for solid food at some times. I’ve had pizza the night before a ride and that helps a lot.

  • Steve

    Great post. I only know enough about in-ride nutrition/hydration to know that it’s important and that I screw it up regularly. Thanks for the tips!

    P.S. I’m on board with the Shot Blocks, but they’re tough to chew on cold days. I gotta think some more about cold weather rides.

    • aaronwest

      Thanks, Steve. I have noticed that they are a little tough on cold days. Fortunately, I do everything possible to stay off the bike in the colder weather, so it’s usually not an issue.

  • Warren Hammond

    Before a big ride – oatmeal, orange, boiled egg, coffee.
    During a ride a I use HEED & add Elete Add- in, Hammer Enduralytes ever 4 hours, shot blocks ( black cherry & orange), Lara bars (I chopped those up and put them in my speed box, they are easy to grab and are not messy). I carry a flask do raspberry gel sometimes but it can be messy and if I am carrying extra water bottles in my jersey I lose the flask. a rest stop I go for PBJ, oranges,fig newtons.
    Post ride – whey protein or chocolate milk and some more sports drink of some kind to start rebuilding glycogen stores. Next I am looking for a burger, this spring I have become fond of the ones at the Holly Springs Country store at hwy 11 & hwy 178. They shut the grill down at 2:00 it is good incentive to ride hard so you can be back in time.

    • aaronwest

      I tried the flask a couple times, but found that it made everything else in my gym bag sticky. Also I could never squeeze the last serving or two out without major effort.

      I had Heed on an organized ride and it seemed to work well.

      Forgot to mention in the post that I’ll try to add a salty snack for sodium.

  • Mark

    Skratch is hands down my favorite drink on the bike. It’s the only one that provides enough sodium, other than maybe EFS.

    • aaronwest

      I love Skratch too, but it isn’t easy to get around here.

      • Brian Lube

        Some of the local bike shops around here have started carrying it. I got mine at BikeStreet in Greenville just recently.

        I’ve really liked the GU Brew as well. Slightly easier to find, and I’ve found it to be slightly easier on my stomach. I’m still looking to conquer the “feel ill 3/4 of the way through” issues. I don’t think I’m eating enough early on, though.

  • suzecycling

    Big breakfast. Big dinner the night before.

    Smoothies post,- and sometimes pre-ride. Yogurt, berries, banana, whey protein. It is rarely warm here:-( so I can often leave one in the car for post-ride.

    I’ve mostly relied on gels (coffee) and PB+J during rides, though have bought shot blocks, I haven’t yet used them.

    Absolutely yes coffee. I once carried a baggie of chocolate covered coffee beans and peanuts. Not such a good idea.

    • aaronwest

      I’m a coffeeholic, so going without is just unthinkable! I’ll have to try Smoothies. I have a pretty good cooler and might be able to transport them provided the ride is close to home.

  • fionnghal

    Interesting article. I too have come to Gatorade and Shot Bloks, the latter being pretty much the best for me as I can’t take gels and most other bars contain nuts or nut paste. (I am not allergic – just don’t like ’em.) Have moved on to Torq protein drink (is that available in the US?) for after the ride. My issue is I can’t eat much before or during a ride without it making me feel sick, so I generally settle for yogurt, banana and coffee beforehand and something similar during., What I would be interested in your take on is what should I do differently on the BP MS150 in a few weeks time given that it is going to be significantly warmer than I’m used to riding in. We’re talking about 8-10C/16F warmer.

    • aaronwest

      Hi Fiona, haven’t heard of Torq so I’m guessing it is not available here.

      As for your MS150, I would suggest trying to work in some sodium. A lot of my friends carry salty snacks (pretzels) or supplements (endurolytes) to help get offset sweating from the heat. I would suggest you drink more as well. If you cannot eat much on the bike, then probably go full strength Gatorade, maybe even add a little extra salt. Good luck!

  • James Tobias

    Some of my favorites to add. Though I’m not sure dietitians would agree:

    – Oatmeal. Lots and lots of plain oatmeal.
    – Peanut Butter Toast

    Pre Ride Snacks:
    – Quaker chocolate chip chewy Bars – 100 calories (1 or 2 depending on length of ride). Do NOT get the low sugar ones. They have something in them that tears my stomach up….plus I need the sugar/carbs for the ride!

    During Ride:
    – Oatmeal Creme Pies. 1 every hour. ($1 for 12…can’t beat that)
    – Snickers at Store Stops

    After Ride:
    – Chinese. Lots of chicken and rice. Yum.
    – Ihop/Cracker Barrel. Pancakes and syrup. Yum.

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