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?