What to Eat During Cycling?
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.
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 unit||per 100g||ratio|
|calories||87 kcal||330 kcal|
|– of which sugars||19.5g||74g||74.0%|
|High 5 Energy Gel||weight||40g||100g|
|calories||92 kcal||284 kcal|
|– of which sugars||3g||9g||9.0%|
|calories||46 kcal||380 kcal|
|– of which sugars||6.4g||52.2g||52.5%|
|calories||229 kcal||449 kcal|
|– of which sugars||30.5g||59.8g||59.8%|
|McVities Medley Chocolate Hobnobs||weight||31.3g||100g|
|calories||134 kcal||427 kcal|
|– of which sugars||10.2g||32.6g||32.6%|
|McVities Ginger Nuts Slices||weight||28g||100g|
|calories||134 kcal||478 kcal|
|– of which sugars||12g||42.8g||42.8%|
|Twix Bar (two fingers)||weight||46g||100g|
|calories||228 kcal||495 kcal|
|– of which sugars||22.4g||48.8g||48.8%|
|Nature Valley Crunchy Bars||weight||42g||100g|
|calories||192 kcal||456 kcal|
|– of which sugars||11.9g||28.3g||28.3%|
|Soreen Low Fat||weight||27g||100g|
|calories||80 kcal||311 kcal|
|– of which sugars||5.7g||22.2g||22.2%|
|McVities Flapjacks by Hobnobs||weight||35g||100g|
|calories||151 kcal||432 kcal|
|– of which sugars||11.1g||31.8g||31.8%|
|calories||75 kcal||288 kcal|
|– of which sugars||5.7g||22g||22.0%|
|calories||210 kcal||511 kcal|
|– of which sugars||22g||53.6g||53.6%|
|calories||245 kcal||511 kcal|
|– of which sugars||21.7g||45.2g||45.2%|
|Slice of Bread||weight||46g||100g|
|calories||137 kcal||300 kcal|
|– of which sugars||1.2g||2.6g||2.6%|
|SIS Go Isotonic Gel||weight||60ml||100ml|
|calories||87 kcal||144 kcal|
|– of which sugars||0.6g||1.0g||1.0%|
|calories||101 kcal||144 kcal|
|– of which sugars||10.1g||14.4g||14.4%|
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
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
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.