You are an engine. If you don't fuel that engine, then your bike is as good as wall art. Whether you’re training, racing, or tackling an epic weekend adventure, the key to riding faster and farther is proper hydration and good nutrition.
While you can scrounge for suitable drinks and food at the grocery store, sport-specific nutrition is formulated to give you fast and effective energy without upsetting your stomach. It’s packaged so it's easy to grab and go, eat on the bike, and fit in jersey pockets. Plus, if you're like me, keeping "bike-only" treats in the house prevents binge eating your snacks collection when not on the bike. Here are our favorite hydration and nutrition options to fuel your next ride.
[button]SHOP NUTRITION AND HYDRATION[/button]
Hydration and energy mix
Electrolyte mixes replace the minerals lost in sweat. My go-to options are Skratch and Nuun. Scratch Labs hydration mix is popular with pro racers and offers tantalizing flavors like Matcha Green Tea Lemon. Nuun comes in convenient effervescent tablets, it’s sugar-free, and some flavors provide an added caffeine boost.
Nuun Sport Electrolyte Drink Tablets - $18.04
For big rides, adding carbohydrate mix to your bottles is the easiest way to get extra calories and stay fueled. For me, they're essential for long races and hard training sessions. Skratch SuperFuel, Infinit :Go Far, and SIS Beta Fuel provide anywhere from 200-400 extra calories and enough carbs to fuel massive rides. They are formulated to maximize absorption while minimizing stomach distress, though you may need to test them and train with them on your long rides to find what plays best with your body.
[button]SHOP SKRATCH LABS HYDRATION[/button]
Energy chews and candy
For many riders, chews are the easiest solid food to eat on the bike. The cheap gas station version is a bag of gummy bears or Swedish Fish, but sport-specific chews have the ideal glucose/fructose ratio for better absorption plus electrolytes and sometimes even caffeine. Chews are what I carry on the majority of my rides and they make up the bulk of my on-the-bike diet. When riding hard, I'll eat about a package an hour. Clif’s salted watermelon is my all-time favorite followed by the gumdrop goodness of Skratch Raspberry and then any of Jelly Belly’s amped-up beans.
Nothing gives you an immediate energy boost like a gel (maybe a cold Coke comes close). They’re compact so you can carry a full ride’s worth in one pocket and they’re easy to get down while pedaling hard so I tend to carry more when racing. In my experience, they don't really fill your stomach, so if you're feeling hungry, chews and bars will be a bit more effective. I turn to gels when I need a quick pick-me-up before or during tough climbs, sprints, intervals, or any other hard effort. Honey Stinger and UnTapped maple syrup are the best tasting to me because they use delicious, natural sources of liquid sugar. For a more "traditional" gel, GU offers my favorite texture and flavors like Tri-Berry and Cola.
Bars and waffles
Real, solid foods are necessary to keep my stomach happy and satiated on long rides. I usually start craving bars and waffles around the 3-4 hour mark, but some riders don't get along with gels and chews and prefer fueling exclusively foods like these. I find savory nut bars like Skratch’s Anytime or Clif’s Nut Butter bars are the perfect counterpoint to sugary gels and chews.
Clif Nut Butter Bar - $37.95
If you want a sweeter, easier-to-eat treat, stroopwafel-style snacks like the Stinger Waffle are the classic choice. But here's the one place where I actually prefer to go with a grocery store classic: the old-fashioned Rice Krispy. They're super easy to get down when you're deep in the hole and struggling to eat. If you want a more sport-specific option, Skratch does make a fancy version, though it is more expensive. I just stick to bulk boxes of Rice Krispies.
Honey Stinger Organic Waffle - $18.88
Carbs and some protein will help you refuel after a hard ride to repair muscle so you're recovered for the next one. I like recovery shakes because they’re formulated with beneficial extras like BCAAs, L-Glutamine, or probiotics. They’re easy to mix up after an exhausting workout, and they fill me up so I don’t immediately binge on junk food when I get home.
While I find prepackaged, sport-specific cycling food to be the most effective, it doesn’t need to be the only thing you eat on the bike. I’ve been known to stuff a PB&J and a sleeve of Oreos into my handlebar bag for long gravel adventures. When I’m five hours into an all-day epic, nothing satisfies my taste buds like a salty Slim Jim. And sometimes, you have no choice but to stop at a convenience store. If you do, check out some of favorite mid-ride gas station foods.
I also highly recommend making some of your own riding food. I've gotten a lot of mileage (literally) out of Skratch’s free homemade rice cake recipe, which can be made sweet or savory. Savory rice cakes are amazing when you've been fueling with sugar for hours. Scratch’s cookbook also has a ton of portable food recipes that have been tested and proven in the pro peloton.
What did I miss? What is your favorite riding food? Let us know in the comments!
[button]SHOP NUTRITION AND HYDRATION[/button]
We meticulously (and independently) pick every product, and if you purchase through our links we may earn a commission.