Your morning coffee might make you feel energetic and ready to tackle the route you’ve got planned for the day, but you’ll need more to fuel your ride. “If you want to move your legs and contract a muscle, that’s mechanical work, and mechanical work requires energy,” explains Allen Lim, Ph.D., exercise physiologist and founder of Skratch Labs. You get that energy from calories in food, but your body has different nutrition needs depending on if you’re riding or not.
On the Bike
Slide a snack in your pocket for a long ride.
For longer distances, your primary fuel is carbohydrates, but your body will likely also break down some muscle tissue and use protein for fuel. We'd encourage people to have real food in their pocket and aim to eat every hour. While energy bars are convenient, they can be highly processed and include ingredients that don’t provide efficient fuel. We recommends whole foods such as a peanut butter or turkey sandwich, hard-boiled eggs, or baked goods.
For short rides, look for simple sugars.
In some cases, you may not need to eat during a short ride, but if you have an intense set of intervals on your training plan, you’ll want to keep your glucose topped off. Every interval you do, burns some glucose in your system. If after seven of them, there’s no more glucose left, your intensity is going to suffer. Candy like gummy bears, energy gels, a cookie, or a light-weight drink mix will help you get those intervals done.
Even if you’re trying to lose weight, be sure to eat to ride.
You’ll want to keep tabs on your calories off the bike, but while riding, it’s important to keep your energy levels consistent. That way, you’ll be getting the most out of your ride time and building fitness for your future adventures. You won’t be in the hole when you ride the next day.
Don’t forget to hydrate.
If you forget to bring a snack on your ride, your body can draw on stored fat and muscle tissue for fuel, if necessary. But if you run out of water in your body, you are done. We recommend consuming a small amount of sugar or glucose, sodium, and potassium with your fluids. The sugars and electrolytes help ensure that your cells can actually absorb the water you’re drinking. Most energy drinks are formulated to speed this process.