You can stock your pantry with Skratch Labs drink mix and bars. You can stuff your pockets with all of the lab-engineered nutrition products in the world. But about 70 miles into a 90-mile ride, you’re bound to be stopped at a convenience store, bonked, desperate, and completely unconcerned with sports science. Best laid plans, amirite?
Good news: The fare at a 7-Eleven or Kum & Go might not be as bad as you think it would be.
“If you’re talking about healthy food, you’re pretty limited in terms of what you’ll find at a convenience store,” said Trevor Connor, who holds a Master’s degree in nutrition and is CEO and cofounder of Fast Talk Labs. “But in terms of cycling performance, there’s a lot you can do.”
An avid cyclist and racer himself, Connor was the perfect person to critique my go-to convenience store snacks and provide insight on why some grab-n-go items are better than others.
Should cyclists snack on Snickers?
Sweet chocolate, salty peanuts, and that creamy nougat — ”why wait” indeed! Here’s the catch, you have to eat it at the stop. Put it in your pocket and it turns into a melted sugar turd.
“If you had a spectrum of ‘fantastic to might kill you,’ I’d probably put Snickers somewhere in the middle, more toward it’s going to help performance,” said Connor.
Can riders mow down M&Ms?
Did I gross you out in the last section? Skip Snickers and put peanut M&Ms in your pocket. These can be tricky to eat on the roll, but they melt in your mouth not in your Rapha.
“One thing I’ll say about M&Ms and Snickers is they have nuts in them,” said Connor. “For long, slow distance rides, these are great. It’s gonna give you a lot of calories. One downside of nuts is they’re mostly fat, and that will slow down gastric emptying, your absorption. You do want to be careful about doing intervals because they could sit in your gut and shut down your digestive system.”
Down for some mid-ride Doritos?
After snacking on sweets for hours, Doritos just hit a little different when you’re snarfing them next to pump #3. I even put these orange triangles in my aid station box at mile 120 of the 200-mile Unbound Gravel race.
“They’re a little harder to absorb, but I think Doritos offer a couple things to athletes,” said Connor. “If you’re dehydrated, boy does the sodium hit. It gives you some calories in simple format. While I said be careful about fat for high intensity, when you’re doing something a little more epic, your body eventually goes, ‘No more carbs please.’ There’s fatigue from doing only sports food.”
Cyclists + Coca-Cola = 💘
“There’s a whole lot of sugar in Coke,” said Connor. “They’ve figured out how to cram more sugar into it than what is considered the maximum dissolvable ratio in water. It’s kind of frightening. Scientifically, it doesn’t make sense. I believe they use high fructose, which would dehydrate you when the stomach’s concentration exceeds that in the bloodstream. Everything I’ve read about science says Coke should kill you, but experience says otherwise.”
Gatorade’s unexpected greatness
The little devil on one shoulder tells me to get a beer. The angel nudges me toward Gatorade. But I always wondered if “Gatorade labs” marketing translated into a good electrolyte drink for cycling. Turns out, it does.
“Up until about 12 years ago, most of the really good research was coming out of the Gatorade Sport Science Institute. And it wasn’t biased,” said Connor. “They haven’t kept on top of the science as they used to, but I go to gas stations and buy Gatorade all the time, sticking to their traditional products. Gatorade is probably a little too concentrated for some people, but it has a decent electrolyte mix. There are now drinks out there that are a little further ahead with the science, but I’m not going to say Gatorade is bad.”
Coach Connor’s pick: Swedish Fish
“When I was living in Canada, I’d get Swedish Fish all the time because they do have a good mix of glucose and fructose,” he said. “But I still get them because it’s easy to digest and break them down. That still is my go to when I’m doing a hard workout.
“We can only absorb so much glucose and fructose per hour, and it varies by person. Glucose is often absorbed at 60-90 grams per hour. Fructose is only 20-30g/hr. You want food or drink mixes in a 3:1 glucose/fructose ratio. A lot of candies, particularly in the U.S. are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup — 40-55% fructose — so that’s the wrong ratio. I generally look for candies with glucose as the first ingredient. It’s actually pretty easy to find in Canada and Europe.”
Pro tip: Stock up ahead of time at World Market. A lot of their gummy candies like Haribo are Euro-spec with less fructose and more glucose.
Eat what you like
One final thought: If you don’t like it, you won’t eat it or drink it. Listen to your body and give it fuel, whatever way possible. Even Connor notes that a lab study showed that the best sports drink mix was the one that subjects enjoyed because they drank more. Science means nothing if you don’t get it into your system.
Stay thirsty, my friends.
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