by Matthew Kadey
In a perfect world, all long rides would glide you past local food markets serving up homemade baked goods and expertly pulled espresso. But in the real world, you’ll more likely park your bike in front of a convenience store or gas station when you’re in need of some mid-ride fuel. Sometimes you just have eat and drink or risk the dreaded bonk. While far from nutritional nirvanas, these outlets are not all about stuffing you full of Twinkies and hot dogs on rollers. With a bit of scrutiny, it’s still possible to make smart fuelling options that will keep your pedals spinning without a side order of a gut bomb. Here are the grab-and-go champs.
Chewy and delicious, high-octane Fig Newtons contain 80 per cent carbohydrates mostly from flour and dried figs. They’ll give you a good mix of fast-acting simple sugars for immediate energy and slower-acting complex carbs to help power an all-day excursion.
Think of these as Mother Nature’s rocket fuel. Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots, are dense in natural sugars that go toward energizing working muscles to give the second half of your ride a big boost. But since they are parched, be sure to chase them down with a few gulps of water to hasten digestion and prevent digestive woes.
When you’ve grown tired of the ubiquitous sugary energy solutions, savoury jerky and pepperoni sticks offer your taste buds a welcome respite. Plus, their sodium can help replenish what’s lost through sweat. But be warned: when you hop back on your bike your body prioritizes powering your muscles and puts processes involved with digestion on the back burner. That helps move your legs, but makes digesting the protein in jerky a slower affair. It’s best to wait a bit after gnawing on jerky before jumping back on the saddle, or make sure to go slow for the first several kilometres afterward.
Most brands are made up mostly of sweeteners, such as corn syrup. Generally, it’s not a healthy option, but when you’re in the midst of a long ride, those sugars are going to deliver a quick source of efficient fuel, much like gels and chews would. The salt in licorice is an extra bonus if you’ve been sweating up a storm.
The combination of liquid, quick-digesting sugars and caffeine (more than in a can of Coke) can give your ride a boost. Liquefied sugar, which provides the majority of calories in bottled coffee drinks, is generally absorbed by your system faster than solid sugar. Just keep in mind that it can take as longs as 60 minutes for caffeine to peak in your system, so don’t expect to perk up as soon as you’ve downed a bottle.
Yes, some stores have a few pieces of fresh fruit, such as bananas and apples, lingering by the checkout counter. They are good for riders looking for more “whole food” fuelling options with more moisture than dried fruit. Bananas decorated with dark spots indicate that much of their starches have been converted into easy-to-digest natural sugars for better gut comfort. Some outlets also sell fruit cups.
Clean eaters may scoff, but Skittles are little sugar bombs that can quickly top up your gas tank if you’ve let it run dry. Their crunch is a nice break from syrupy sport nutrition products, and the absence of fat means polishing off a bag carries with it less risk of digestive problems. Gummy candies also hit these performance benefits. It seems Peter Sagan was onto something.
York Peppermint Patties
When a chocolate craving strikes, reach for this minty option. Compared with other candy bars, nut-free peppermint patties have a higher carb-to-fat ratio, so you’re not asking your stomach to perform any tough digestive tasks. And preliminary research suggests that consuming peppermint oil may boost exercise performance by relaxing muscles.
Packets of nuts, seeds and dried fruit are energy-dense, so they can help you meet your needs when your body is blowing through calories to keep up the pace. The extra protein and fat in the crunch bunch will slow down digestion, so leave some time between eating and going hard to avoid playing Russian roulette with your stomach.
Sure, these dorm-room favourites are the definition of processed food, but salads alone can’t fuel multi-hour rides. About 70 per cent of the calories in Pop-Tarts hail from carbs. With generally low levels of fibre, fat and protein in each tart, your body won’t have to go through a huge effort to tap into this energy source. You can eat them hot or cold, so go ahead, pass around a box.
Sticks or twisted – pretzels offer a famished rider some crunchy, low-fibre carbs and salt. They come in a form that can give you a break from any performance-food monotony you may suffer. Pretzels are a better option than chips, which are higher in fat because of the frying process they go through and are much more difficult to absorb.
It’s true that you won’t get any calories or electrolytes from plain, old water. But when you’re taking a break and consuming energy from other sources, such as pretzels and bars, your stomach and performance are best served by washing them down with a sugar-free drink. Water will facilitate better digestion by diluting the carbs in your gut. So save the sports drinks for on-bike hydration.