High 5 Energy Gels

What to Eat During Cycling?

Have you ever wondered what the best snacks are to eat during a bike ride, well this article guides you through a few of the best foods to eat.

We’ve written our fair share of guides on nutrition, such as the best cycling diet, stop dieting, lose weight cycling and cycling for weight loss.

We’ve also produced a number of guides on this topic, including, guide to protein bars, guide to whey protein, guide to energy drinks and foods and a review of the myprotein ener:gel.

What we haven’t done is publish anything on what to eat during a bike ride or cycling event.

Carbohydrates for Cycling

This is the part you probably already know. Nutrients are important and as a cyclist, eating carbohydrates will give your body the extra fuel it needs to boost your energy on long bike rides. You convert carbohydrates into glucose (blood sugar) and your body uses this sugar for energy in cells, tissues and organs.

High carbohydrate foods like pasta and wholemeal breads aren’t something that be eaten during a bike ride as they are not able to be digested quickly enough to be converted to energy, in the time you need it.

Slow-release foods like this should be eaten two to three hours before a ride. During the ride, you want to eat foods that deliver energy into your system, quickly. These are know as high GI (glycaemic index) foods, such as sugary foods and sugary drinks.

Energy drinks and gels contain easily digestible carbohydrates, like fructose and dextrose. These are generally mixed with water so that they can pass easily into the blood stream via your digestive system. During this process, your pancreas releases a hormone – insulin – which helps transfer the glucose to your cells where it’s ‘burned’ via a chemical mix with oxygen to create fuel for the muscles and nerves. The glycerol is then transported to the liver where it’s either stored or released on demand to become glucose.

Stop Bonking

No, this isn’t about no marital-exercise before a bike ride, it’s the cyclist version of hitting the wall.

To bonk, or bonking, refers to that awful moment when there’s suddenly nothing left in the tank, your energy levels fall through the floor, legs turn to jelly, you feel light-headed and quite faint.

Bonking occurs during exercise when the human body runs low of glycogen, which is the energy required to maintain performance. When the glycogen goes, the body has no more fuel. It’s your body’s way of telling you to eat, in the same way that pain tells you that hitting your thumb with a hammer isn’t a good idea.

Studies have shown that consuming between 30g and 60g of carbohydrate energy per hour is the optimum range. However, we’re all different so it’s worth spending some time working out what’s best for you personally.

Best Cycling Snacks During A Ride

Cycling rides less than one to two hours shouldn’t require you to snack at all

Short rides can be fueled with a decent carb based meal, such as pasta, porridge or bread, coupled with good hydration. However, rides longer than 90 minutes will require you to snack. But which snacks are best during a bike ride?

The following chart details the amount of carbohydrates for some of the most popular cycling snacks. It’s ranked from high-to-low on the ratio of carbohydrates per 100g.

 per unitper 100gratio
Jelly Babiesweight26.4g100g 
 calories87 kcal330 kcal 
 carbohydrates20.5g78.5g78.5%
 – of which sugars19.5g74g74.0%
High 5 Energy Gelweight40g100g 
 calories92 kcal284 kcal 
 carbohydrates23g71g71.0%
 – of which sugars3g9g9.0%
Jaffa Cakesweight12.2g100g 
 calories46 kcal380 kcal 
 carbohydrates8.6g70.8g70.8%
 – of which sugars6.4g52.2g52.5%
Mars Barweight51g100g 
 calories229 kcal449 kcal 
 carbohydrates35.3g69.2g69.2%
 – of which sugars30.5g59.8g59.8%
McVities Medley Chocolate Hobnobsweight31.3g100g 
 calories134 kcal427 kcal 
 carbohydrates21.5g68.8g68.8%
 – of which sugars10.2g32.6g32.6%
McVities Ginger Nuts Slicesweight28g100g 
 calories134 kcal478 kcal 
 carbohydrates18.4g65.6g65.6%
 – of which sugars12g42.8g42.8%
Twix Bar (two fingers)weight46g100g 
 calories228 kcal495 kcal 
 carbohydrates29.8g64.6g64.6%
 – of which sugars22.4g48.8g48.8%
Nature Valley Crunchy Barsweight42g100g 
 calories192 kcal456 kcal 
 carbohydrates27.1g64.5g64.5%
 – of which sugars11.9g28.3g28.3%
Soreen Low Fatweight27g100g 
 calories80 kcal311 kcal 
 carbohydrates16.5g64.2g64.2%
 – of which sugars5.7g22.2g22.2%
McVities Flapjacks by Hobnobsweight35g100g 
 calories151 kcal432 kcal 
 carbohydrates21.7g62.1g62.1%
 – of which sugars11.1g31.8g31.8%
Soreenweight26g100g 
 calories75 kcal288 kcal 
 carbohydrates15.6g60g60.0%
 – of which sugars5.7g22g22.0%
Peanut M&Msweight41g100g 
 calories210 kcal511 kcal 
 carbohydrates24.2g59.1g59.0%
 – of which sugars22g53.6g53.6%
Snickers Barweight48g100g 
 calories245 kcal511 kcal 
 carbohydrates26.2g54.5g54.5%
 – of which sugars21.7g45.2g45.2%
Slice of Breadweight46g100g 
 calories137 kcal300 kcal 
 carbohydrates18.2g39.7g39.7%
 – of which sugars1.2g2.6g2.6%
SIS Go Isotonic Gelweight60ml100ml 
 calories87 kcal144 kcal 
 carbohydrates22g36g36.0%
 – of which sugars0.6g1.0g1.0%
MyProtein Ener:Gelweight70g100g 
 calories101 kcal144 kcal 
 carbohydrates25.2g36g36.0%
 – of which sugars10.1g14.4g14.4%

So the food with the highest ratio of carbohydrates are Jelly Babies, followed by the High 5 Energy Gel and Jaffa Cakes. However, these also contain anything from 284 to 380 calories (kcal) so we get the short range energy boost and a belly full of calories.

I cycle at 12-14 mph on most rides so I’ll burn around 560 calories per hour – how many calories will I burn cycling? – so if you are cycling to lose weight, you need to watch your intake against your burn-rate.

Carbohydrates vs Calories

The following chart shows the foods listed in the table above in graph form; percentage ratio of carbohydrates against the actual number of calories, for a 100g portion.

As you can see, Jelly Babies, High 5 Energy Gel and the Jaffa Cakes all show a high level of carbohydrates and a relatively low amount of calories, compared to the other foods. On the other hand, Peanut M&Ms and Snickers, both show high volume of calories due to the peanuts.

Chart of High Carbohydrate Foods vs Calories

Chart of High Carbohydrate Foods

Carbohydrates vs Sugar

This next chart again shows the percentage ratio of carbohydrates against the percentage ratio of sugar.

As you can see, Jelly Babies should clearly not be given to hyper-active children or people worried about dental care. Wow, just look at the ratio of sugar, a whopping 74%.

Chart of High Carbohydrate Foods vs Ratio of Sugar

Chart of High Carbohydrate Foods

Conclusion – Best Cycling Snacks During A Ride

If you are looking for a mid-ride snack which is high in carbohydrate, a moderate level of calories and low in sugar, the answer is the High 5 Energy Gel.

In our list of test snacks, only Jelly Babies had a higher ratio of carbohydrates but they also contain significantly more sugar.

There is of course the practical aspect of this. Do you really want to consume, or even carry, 12 gels over a six hour period? Perhaps it’d be more pleasant to alternate the gels with a handful of Jelly Babies and a slice or two of Soreen and Flapjack?

Then there is the small matter of us all being different and responding to foods in different ways.

I started this article in the hope that I’d find the ideal snack to eat during my 4+ hour bike rides and whilst I intend to try the High 5 Gels, I’m not sure I’ve actually reached a satisfactory conclusion.