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As a short reprieve from talking about training plans and mileage, let’s turn to something that everyone loves … food!  While I spoke about basic nutrition a few weeks ago, let’s look at eating and drinking while you’re riding.

Over 20 years ago, when I first started racing, there were very few options as far as on-bike nutrition; several energy bars and a few sugar-laden drinks were all that was available to athletes. Now, almost any grocery store that you walk into has at least half of an aisle dedicated to drinks, gels, syrups, bars and gummies — all slated to provide the necessary electrolytes, carbohydrates and protein necessary to have a strong ride.

New riders often grab the latest bar or gel to fuel their rides, but with a little creativity, you can fuel yourself with foods that don’t require verbose nutrition labels and ingredient lists.

In the past few years there has been a move in the pro peloton towards “real” food in addition to fast-acting gels and drink mixes. Because the pros are the ones leading the way, amateurs have taken note.

If you’ve ever watched a bicycle race on television, at some point you’ll see the riders with a small bag strapped over their shoulder. This bag, called a musette bag, contains nourishment for the ride. They are handed out at designated “feed zone” areas on the course. While almost every team still uses a few bars or pre-made food, more and more frequently, they are also using homemade food cooked by the team chef.  For example, the team may find small sandwiches, jelly rolls or even rice balls in their musette. The German teams sometimes even includes sausages. You won’t have anyone to hand you a musette bag during your long training rides, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of what’s in a bag and carry small snacks in your pockets.

Two of the biggest proponents of real food are Dr. Allen Lim and Chef Biju Thomas. While I don’t want to insist there is only one cookbook to use, their Feedzone series has changed the way people perceive on-bike nutrition. Not only are the recipes simple to make, they are delicious. They are all designed as handhelds also, meaning that that are easily wrapped in foil and eaten one at a time.

While it’s easy to grab a bar and go, you’ll find more complete nutrition in simple, homemade recipes.

For example when you are doing a long ride and need carbohydrates, some fat and a little protein — how about trying homemade rice cakes with soy, brown sugar, egg and bacon?  Or, when the sweet tooth hits, how about waffle bites with jam?  Have a sweet tooth? Try chocolate and sea salt sticky bites. The list is endless and it’s fun to create your own concoctions.  If you have food allergies, you are also able to find gluten-free or dairy-free options.

One of my personal go-to handheld foods on the bike has been mini bagels with peanut butter, honey and sliced banana.  If I am riding in cool weather, mini turkey sandwiches with mustard hit the spot. (I avoid mayonnaise as it spoils quickly.)

While the snow is still settling, have some fun in the kitchen. You may not need to eat too many snacks for shorter trainer rides, but eating real food throughout the day, rather than grabbing chips or a processed food bar will not only stave off hunger, it will provide you with all the nutrients you need to keep going strong. And foods like waffles and rice balls are fun for the whole family, not just the cyclist.

Remember, when you’re on the Empire State Ride, breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snacks and hydration at water stops every 15 minutes will be provided. Every day, dinner will include 1-2 meat or fish options, a vegetarian option, a few different salads, a starch or carb, vegetables, dessert and bread.


About the Author

Dena Eaton is a former cyclist and ironman triathlete. In a short 5 year span, (2003-2008) she raced over 60 triathlons including 12 Ironman. She was an All-American in 2004. Of the three disciplines, cycling is her specialty and in 2008, she switched gears to track cycling. She is a multi-time National Championship Medalist, and Five Time Masters World Champion. She has advanced coursework in physiology and has coached several athletes. She makes her home in San Diego where she writes, photographs and teaches at Palomar College.
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