By Holly Larson, MS, RD
Proper nutrition is the key to maintaining energy throughout your bike trek. When exercising, your body is largely fueled by carbohydrates. Some carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles, but you need to continue fueling your body during a long bike ride. Starting with a full tank and keeping hydrated are important, but the longer you ride and the more hills you power up, the more you depend on snacks to keep your energy up. Snacks should be on board for any bike ride over an hour.
But what makes a good biking snack is about more than just energy. It needs to be portable, provide your muscles with the nutrients they need, be eaten on a good schedule and can't melt. Pack more snacks than you think you need. In general, aim to have a few bites of food and a few sips of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes.
Here are five super snacks for you to tuck into your jersey pockets:
- Powered by the Peel: Bananas are snacks ready to roll; they are famous for their potassium and contain carbohydrates that may provide advantages to your muscles' ability to use the fuel efficiently. More fuel reaching your muscles means more pedal power for you. A recent study compared bananas to commercial sports drinks in a trial of bicycling performance and found them to be equal.
- Peanut Butter Jelly Time: PB&J's are perfect pocket fuel. The bread and jam (or honey) provide carbohydrates and the peanut butter offers protein and fats. Allergic to peanuts? Try almond butter if you can tolerate tree nuts or sunflower butter if not. Swap a tortilla for bread to prevent having a squashed sandwich. Cut your sandwich into quarters and have one piece each 15 to 20 minute increment.
- Trail Mix: Dried fruits and nuts are a concentrated source of carbohydrates. Dried apricots, prunes and raisins have the added benefit of potassium. Mix your favorite fruits with nuts and seeds to keep your body supplied with energy, vitamin E and magnesium. If you have a heavy sweat rate, you may want to choose salted nuts and seeds.
- Water Works: In general, if you're planning to bike for an hour or less, water is the best way to stay hydrated and to prevent drinking the calories you just burned. If you're going to be rolling for more than an hour, if you have a heavy sweat rate or if the weather is exceptionally hot, consider having two bottles with you: one for water and one for a sports drink. You may purchase a sports drink for the sake of convenience, but making your own with black or green iced-tea, a splash of juice, some sugar and a pinch of salt is easy and provides an added antioxidant boost. Take sips of fluid often to maintain hydration and alternate between the two drinks if packing both.
- Energy Bars: While energy bars are convenient, they can also be expensive. If you would like to use energy bars, look for one that has ingredients such as whole grains, dried fruits and nuts.
After completing a long trek, your recovery and readiness for the next ride depend on your post-ride food choices. Research indicates that having recovery fuel within 30 to 60 minutes after exercise is ideal. What is best? A small meal that contains a mix of carbohydrates, protein and fats, as well as a glass of water. One good option is a parfait of plain low-fat yogurt layered with cubes of cantaloupe and sprinkled with nuts.
Reviewed April 2013