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The night before I go on a ride I like to assemble everything, so I can spend the minimum amount of time getting ready and therefore manage the maximum amount of sleep. When I’m doing this, I’m always trying to find a reason to ditch that extra item I grabbed so I don’t have to fit it in my back pocket. I dread carrying too much. Though, I’ve learnt this minimalist attitude isn’t such a great idea when it comes to ride nutrition. If there is one thing that’s clear, it’s that bonking is way too high a price to pay for a light load.
The preparation is definitely the first part of getting fuelling your ride right and there is no more basic component of that than actually having something with you to eat! But let’s not forget the consumption part. You can have a whole portable chiller full of goods, like I did the time when I did an Everesting, but if you don’t eat it then it’s not much use.
Sometimes, though, eating it is the part of the equation that’s easier said than done. For some, simply manning a bike and chomping down fuel isn’t easy and then if you go and throw in tricky packaging that’s hard to wrangle it is game over. Others also struggle with the consistency of ride snacks. Gels can sit badly with some and make them feel queasy, and sometimes solid foods can be too much and feel too heavy.
So, the question is how are you meant to eat and ride with all these complications?
Before you even get on the bike
Know all your options
There are many ways to fuel and it’s all about what works for you. Gels, carb drink, real wholesome foods, Coke, energy bars, muesli bars and much more. I’ve seen some pretty interesting products consumed on bikes, but as long as you’re eating and what you’re eating works for you that’s a plus.
When Everesting – which is riding up and down the one climb till you reach 8,848 metres of elevation – I definitely wasn’t hungry for so much of it. I was actually very sick of food… except bananas and lamingtons. I packed such a variety of snacks from sweet to savoury to make sure I had something I always felt like, but lamingtons and bananas seemed to be the only thing I could stomach the whole time. And it was a long time, over 39 hours in fact.
Then there are those times when you really don’t feel like anything pre-packaged, or perhaps allergies make it hard to find something you can eat. A great option then is to get in the kitchen and get creative. There’s plenty of inspiration to help you do that on Ella, including recipes from Meg Gillmer, who is better known as The Wholesome Athlete, to this piece by accredited sports dietitian Alan McCubbin, Skip the gels with DIY sports nutrition. Then there is a particular favourite of mine, the Chewy Mocha Bike Balls by my fellow Specialized Women’s Ambassador and qualified exercise scientist and nutrition consultant Lizzy Marsh.
Sorry to disappoint the weight weenies, but better prepared than sorry on struggle street. I’ve seen riders not get the packaging right and I’ve seen many full gels doing their best road-kill imitations. Things can go wrong and you never know how much you’re really going to need. I’m not advising you pack a spare convenience store, but just be a little over-prepared.
Now that you are out riding
Not very dexterous or decisive?
Preparation is more than just what you do before you get on the bike, but is something that is still part of the equation when you are out there. Endurance challenges such as Three Peaks have multiple breaks along the way. In the minutes before you ride into them think about what you need to replenish your body straight away and the supplies you need for later. That way you are less likely to make bad decisions or waste too much time being pulled into the food force field.
Also, while you are off the bike at the stop think about how to make the food you’ve grabbed easy to reach and eat once you are pedalling, as you don’t want to be parking up again in ten minutes time. If you know it’s going to be a real task opening your ride snacks, try a little tear prior to taking off.
Not hungry? Doesn’t matter, eat
The idea of fueling on a ride isn’t about hunger – it’s about nourishing the body to avoid bonking. There’s some pretty simple logic behind the statement “carbohydrate intake needs to start before you hit a hunger flat” in the Australian Institute of Sport factsheet on cycling nutrition. Effectively you need to pre-empt losing all the energy in your body and fuel before your tank hits empty. It takes time for the treats to be processed, so this is why it’s important to eat before you’re on empty legs.
Some additional sneaky tips to avoid packaging dilemmas
We all get what a hassle wrappers can be, but it’s really important not to be that person on the ride that litters, just find ways to make dealing with the packaging easier:
The Banana. Ever seen that cyclist with the banana in their back pocket? I’ve often been that person and the advantage is bananas have no wrappers to dispose of and the peels are biodegradable. Don’t throw them on the road though, you wouldn’t want your mates to be part of that slapstick comedy. There’s a fantastic video on many different ways to peel a banana, but perhaps leave the ones using a knife for when you are off the bike.
Tear it up. Never tear a gel all the way across so that it becomes two pieces, make a little rip so that way it’s only one piece of rubbish you are stuck with.
The bib tuck. My favourite tip with wrappers is to roll them up and then tuck them into the bottom of your bib shorts. There’s a great advantage of the bib-short tuck and that is if there is any residue, hopefully it’s wrapped up and unlikely to leak in your back pocket, instead it may dribble down your leg a little, but trust me, it’s easier to clean off your leg with a bit of water then out of your kit.
Carb drink has no wrappers. Carrying the fuel in your bidons can be pretty helpful and sometimes easier to manage than undoing packaging, but it’s important to carry water as well.
LONG STORY SHORT:
I’ve purposely stayed away from providing any diet regiments or suggesting anything in particular nutrition wise for your ride because that always comes down to individual needs and rides. You also can’t take a man’s requirements and apply that to a women or even compare woman to woman side by side. You absolutely need to do what’s specifically right for you. The main advice I can provide though from my experience is to always pack food you like as this will encourage you to eat even when you don’t feel like it. Also, always be over-prepared, stay hydrated and don’t forget to consider those after you when it comes to disposing of the ride snack evidence.
Got a burning cycling question on another topic you want answered? You can send us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop us a line on Facebook and you just may find the answer in one of our upcoming Ask Ella columns.