I love snacks. Snacks make life better. They constitute about 50% of the reasons I ride. They’re fun, delicious, and the best part is, they’re totally necessary during a long or strenuous ride. Snacks are one of the greatest perks of being a cyclist.
How much or how often to snack on your bike depends on your body, your level of fitness, and the degree of difficulty of your ride. You will need to experiment to find the right formula for YOU, however, here is a basic rundown of what your body needs to keep your muscles properly fueled from start to finish, and beyond.
These should be your focus. Why? Because they are easy for your body to break down into glucose, which it burns as fuel during exercise.
Glucose is also stored in the muscles as glycogen. Your muscles have enough glycogen to supply fuel to your body for about 90 minutes of exercise. This means if you’re riding for 90 minutes or longer, you’ll need to take in carbohydrates along the way.
You also need carbohydrates both before and after your ride. Before, to stock up on that glycogen we just talked about, and after, to replace the glycogen you’ve burned up during your ride. Get it?
A COOL TRICK YOUR BODY DOES:
After a workout, your body is pumping out a higher-than-normal amount of insulin into your bloodstream. Why? Because insulin is the gatekeeper of your cells, and opens the door for necessary sugars to get in there and replenish your glycogen stores. So IMMEDIATELY after your workout is the OPTIMAL time to get those sugars (read: carbs) in. Immediately means within 30-60 minutes after you get off your bike. Otherwise, your recovery won’t be optimal. Your legs will tell you if you’ve missed that window.
FATS AND PROTEINS:
Listen up! Fats are good! Proteins are good! Fats are energy! Proteins build muscles! You need both of these things to be a cyclist and to get stronger.
It’s a good idea to include some fats and proteins in your pre-ride meal, though carbohydrates should still be your focus. It’s definitely a good idea to include fats and proteins in your daily diet.
During your ride, however, carbohydrates are still your best bet, as it takes a lot less work for your body to break carbs down into energy it can use right away. Fats and proteins have a longer process time. However, having some fats stored away in your tank will help your longevity in general.
It’s a good idea to get some protein in (along with carbs, obv.) immediately after your ride too, to start re-building the muscles you’ve just DESTROYED on your ride.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Here are some examples of what to eat before, during and after your ride. Remember, everyone is different, so experiment with some different foods to figure out what you like and what your stomach can handle while you’re on the go.
BEFORE YOU HEAD OUT
- Bagel with peanut butter (bagel for the carbs, PB for the aforementioned fats and proteins)
- Bananas (carb-tastic + potassium to ward off cramps)
- Oatmeal (naturally occurring carbs)
- Granola bar (justifies chocolate for breakfast)
IN YOUR JERSEY POCKET
- Gel (if you can handle the icing-like consistency)
- Gummies (cyclist candy)
- Electrolyte drink mix (a scoop in your water bottles adds a little zing of flavor and keeps your electrolyte levels in a good place)
- Dried fruit (real food, good source of sugar)
- Cookies/waffles (does this need justification?)
AFTER (BUT BEFORE YOU EVEN TAKE YOUR HELMET OFF)
- Recovery drink mix (most brands have an idiot-proof mix of carbs and protein)
- Chocolate milk (also a great mix of carbs and protein, plus if being a cyclist makes it OK to drink chocolate milk over the age of, like, 10)
- Fruit smoothie (carbs + if you add a little protein powder, carbs AND protein; also delicious)
- Burritos (rice = great carbs, chicken/beans = protein; really any substantial meal with a mix of both is a great idea right after a ride)
Though everyone is different, my general rule of thumb is: WHEN IN DOUBT, EAT A SNACK with plenty of water, of course. Staying fueled and hydrated is the key to avoiding a big BONK, especially if your ride is at all lengthy or strenuous. The right fuel will keep your legs happily spinning mile after mile, and that’s the goal, isn’t it?