As the weather (hopefully) turns brighter and warmer our thoughts may turn to sunny bike rides in the great outdoors. There are plenty of reasons to get on your bike – regional and national cycling events, family cycle rides, sprints for fitness or just cycling to work. But what’s the best food to sustain you on your way?
Cycling is generally a steady aerobic activity which involves intermittent (anaerobic) sprints. It requires a lot of energy and you can be pedalling for a long time so eating and drinking the right things can help your performance, concentration and enjoyment.
The best food choices are healthy, natural options which are carbohydrate-rich, moderate in protein and low-fat. Glucose is extracted quickly from carbohydrates which will give you the benefits immediately, whereas energy from protein and fat takes much longer to break down and use. You should base your portion size on the length and intensity of your cycle ride. A quick cycle to the shops won’t require snacks! You will also be unlikely to need food during a ride under 90 minutes.
Professional cyclists may have their own chefs but most of us will have to organise our own packed lunches. So, rucksack at the ready? Here’s some of the best food choices for your ride:
Ok, your bike’s ready and it’s a glorious sunny day (we can’t have another rainy summer, can we?!) Whatever the weather you should prepare for your ride by eating a suitable snack an hour or so before you set off. It’s best to consume foods with long-lasting carbohydrate and lean protein. Good choices include a bowl of cereal with semi-skimmed milk, porridge with chopped banana, or toast and peanut butter.
Now is also a good time to hydrate your body so drink a cup of water before you set off.
On the bike foods
If your ride is longer than an hour you will need to top up your energy with small portions of carbohydrate-rich foods. Obviously you don’t want a big sludge of food dumped into your belly so keep the nibbles little and often. After the first hour it’s advised to eat around every half hour once on the bike to keep your glycogen levels continually topped up and your alertness high. Also try to eat before you feel hungry and before you feel thirsty. This will ensure that you never leave refuelling too late.
Many cyclists opt for energy bars and isotonic gels. Many of these have the advantage of being scientifically balanced, with some even delivering targeted energy direct to the leg muscles. Isotonic gels are concentrated energy and electrolytes in a convenient gel form which don’t require you to drink additional water. Each one provides you with energy for 20-30 minutes of exercise so you might want to take a few with you.
For those who prefer real food, carbohydrate-rich snacks are the best choices. Flapjacks are perennial favourites as they release energy quickly and taste great! To add interest, throw in some raisins or figs and consider adding spicy flavours such as cinnamon or ginger to give you a boost.
Anything squashable which can be cut into bite-size pieces and wrapped in foil are handy. Good options include malt loaf and peanut butter sandwiches. Energy bars can also be cut into pieces before the ride.
Good hydration is even more important than food. A bottle of plain water is perfect for rides under an hour but anything longer, or in very hot weather, and you will benefit from drinking a sports drink such as Lucozade Sport or mixing some electrolyte-replacement tablets into the water. You can always take a spare sachet of powder to add to more water later.
You’re exhausted, and perhaps not even feeling that hungry but it’s important to refuel your glycogen stores after a long cycle ride. Eat within an hour of stopping to stimulate your glycogen response and aid muscle repair. Aim for a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein for optimal repair. Nothing too complicated is required, just something which releases energy quickly into your body.
You could choose a specially-designed sports recovery drink, or alternatively save some money and opt for that old favourite chocolate milkshake! The carb/protein /sugar combination in chocolate milk is proven to be one of the best choices to aid recovery. If you fancy something more substantial then porridge with steel-cut oats is high in protein and carbohydrate. Top it off with antioxidant-rich blueberries and your body will have what it needs to repair any damage.
If you want to get into the cycling atmosphere this summer offers a huge number of local, regional and national cycling events and there’s likely to be one near you. For example, in June there’s the New Forest Spring Sportive and Ripon Revolution Sportive in Yorkshire, and Bike Week also takes place from June 15th – 23rd. The end of June also sees the beginning of the Tour de France.
So whether you’re content with leisure rides or are seeking a challenge, now is the perfect time to get on your bike. Just don’t forget the food!
It is nice to know what is good and specific for cycling.