Nutrition for Endurance Bike Rides

Cycling for a longer distance or duration takes training and endurance. What you put into your body has a profound effect on your performance that day. If you are planning on riding for two to five hours, you need to have a plan.

I’m not just talking about crushing your PR for a metric century. Nutrition can play a role on whether or not you can actually finish what you set out to accomplish. What you eat while on your ride can be the difference between having the ride of your life, or a bad experience that will question your very reason for living.

There are three important steps to nutrition on your bike ride.

Pre-Ride Meal

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And this is doubly so before a big ride. You are essentially setting your body up to begin burning carbohydrates and fat for the rest of the day. Jump-starting your metabolism if you will.

I usually eat 30 to 60 minutes prior to exercise. So I need something that is easily digestible. While steak and eggs or a breakfast sausage and bean burrito may seem like a great idea, you are not going to be able to begin digest a complex meal like this in 60 minutes.

I like to eat a whole grain bagel with almond butter. Or a bowl of steel cut oats. These complex carbohydrates are going to stay with you for the duration of your ride. But won’t sit at the bottom of your stomach when it comes to step two of your plan.

You may want to experiment with the timing and the types of food that work best for you. I do this on days when I am planning a normal training ride without anything on the line.

Hydration on the bike

“Hydrate or die” is the slogan for CamelBak. And they use it for a very good reason. Staying hydrated on the bike is the number one way you can increase your performance in any endurance sport.

You will not feel the effects of dehydration until it is too late. Muscle and stomach cramping can be painful and cut your ride short. Thirst is a delayed response to the condition. It does not matter whether you ride in the heat of summer or the cold of winter. You may or may not realize it, but you are always breathing and sweating. These are the two biggest contributors to water loss and dehydration.

I take a drink every 10 minutes while riding. This way I do not need to figure out or remember how much I drank or how much more I need to drink. At this pace, I go through a typical 20oz bottle in about one hour.

If you are exercising for less than an hour, your body does not need anything more than plain water. If you are going out for that metric century, you are going to need something more.

It seems like every week, a new product is out on the market. Just like eating, finding finding a hydration mix will take some trial and error. The most important factor for me in this category is taste. If I do not like the taste, it is going to be a long four hours.

Generally, I avoid energy drinks, especially carbonated drinks. They do not sit well with me while out on a ride. I do use a exercise hydration mix. Lately, I have been using Skratch Labs lemon lime exercise hydration mix. It provides me with enough electrolytes (which is what is responsible for actually keeping you hydrated) and tastes like real fruit. You can find their complete line of drink mixes at The Feed.

Eating on the bike

So you had a good breakfast and you have been staying hydrated on your epic ride. You are going to need to stay fueled while cycling.

Your first thought may be to conserve calories if you are trying to lose fat or eat protein if you are trying to gain muscle. Now is not the time to focus on that part of your nutrition program.

What you need are calories and lots of simple carbohydrates. This is why gels and chews are so popular. Along with water, they provide the energy you need for intense bouts of exercise. Think about how you want to feel at the top of that 45 minute climb, with two hours of riding to go.

One of the ideas that excites me most as a food lover is the concept of eating real food while on a long ride. I invested in this great book called The Feed Zone. There is a section devoted to portables and rice cakes. These are not the dried wafers you find in your local health food store. I’m talking about soft and delicious snacks that are easy to carry and digest while on the bike.

My favorite is the cashew and bacon rice cake. There is something decadent about eating real food while on the bike. Each time I unwrap one, I feel like I am riding in a fully supported Gran Fondo. There is even an entire book dedicated to Portables. You are bound to find a flavor profile that matches your tastes. Rice cakes definitely take some preparation and these portables are well worth the extra effort.

Let’s hear from you. So how do you stay fueled for long rides? What has worked for you in the past? What excites you to try in the off season? Is there a drink you like to carry in your water bottle during the winter riding months? Let me know in the comments below.