bike75.gif (2872 bytes)


  Last updated: 1/2/2010




The secret for maximum performance in events lasting more than 2 hours (the time at which muscle glycogen depletion generally occurs with cycling) is to snack frequently every 20 to 30 minutes. A successful program requires striking a balance between eating enough to prevent hunger and avoiding the pitfall of "if a little is good, a lot is better" philosophy with the risk of stomach distention, bloating, nausea, and a subsequent deterioration in performance if one errs on the side of eating too much.

Recreational riders with the luxury of time will probably elect to stop to enjoy their snacks. Those in the competitive mode will more likely choose to eat on the bike to supplement their internal glycogen stores, beginning at the start of the event in anticipation of the delay in stomach emptying that will occur with strenuous exercise. Any Calories absorbed will delay glycogen depletion and prolong the exercise interval before the onset of fatigue or the Bonk. One note - many simple carbohydrate snacks such as chocolate chip cookies are more than 30% fat, and if eaten in large quantities might put you over the ideal daily intake of 20-30% fat. In contrast, complex carbohydrate snacks such as pasta bread and rice have a bit less taste appeal, but offer significantly more carbohydrate (and less fat) per gram or ounce.

As a rule of thumb, the higher the level of intensity of the ride (closer to your VO2max), the simpler the carbohydrates (energy drinks, gels, and fruits). On longer rides and at lower heart rates, more complex snacks with complex carbohydrates and a higher fat content offer other alternatives. A reasonable goal during high intensity rides is 200 to 300 Calories (60 grams of carbohydrate) per hour.

To plan for your ride, first estimate the number of calories you will expend (both total and per hour). Next decide on a "refueling" schedule - every 15 to 20 minutes is a practical compromise. Then, using the suggestions below, plan your snacks and the packaging strategy to carry them. And finally, do a road test to be sure this program fits your specific digestive tract physiology - the day of the ride or race is not the time to find out what doesn't work.


The most common place to eat while cycling is, you guessed it, on the bike. This goes for the recreational cyclist as well as the competitive rider. A major considerations is safety. Eating while on the bike takes some practice and concentration A mouthful of food can affect the rhythm of your breathing and can easily be aspirated into the windpipe. Keep the following tips in mind to avoid unnecessary risks:

Packaging of the snack is also important. Not only is safety an issue, but the more easily you can get the food into your mouth, the more likely it is that you will replace those Calories you are burning during the ride. Here are a few things you can do in advance of the ride:


A survey of several cycling magazines for preferred on-the- bike snacks demonstrated a wide variety of approaches. Dried fruits were most common - presumably because of their high Caloric content, the ease of preparing bite sized portions, and the fact they are relatively indestructible when carried on a long ride (an attribute that shouldn't be ignored!!).

Two "prepared" delicacies were noted (but the exact Caloric could not be easily derived because of personal modifications of portion size). The first was a sandwich of jelly and cream cheese. The second, a mixture of peaches, honey, and water in a plastic bag pointed out that there is plenty of room for experimentation in the snack area. See the section on home made snacks for additional ideas.

Commercial powerbars and sports drinks were a third option. Although they are often advertised as providing a particularly potent combination of ingredients and secret "supplements", they are no more effective on a gram for gram basis as an energy booster than other carbohydrate snacks. One advantage is that they are prepackaged, are readily available commercially, and do offer another taste and texture option for a snack.

And now the newest kid on the block are the energy gels which come in a squeeze tube in syrup or paste form and offer an alternative to the hard to unwrap, difficult to chew, and relatively tasteless commercial energy bars.

These products contain a combination of simple and complex carbohydrates in a palm sized packet of plastic or foil with a tear off end to allow the contents to be "sucked" out rather than chewed. They contain between 70 and 100 Calories per packet (17 - 25 grams of carbohydrate) and have the advantage of being completely fat free. Being a semi-liquid, they also empty more quickly from the stomach and give a more rapid energy boost than the solid energy bars. Being relatively new there is a lot of hype and little proof of their benefit over more traditional forms of carbohydrate (fig newtons for example) and they are relatively pricey at a $1 per packet.(See also the authors editorial comments on gel/energy bar additives).

There are also some foods to avoid which may contribute to the stimulating effect of exercise on the digestive tract. These include dairy products as well as spicy, greasy, and oily foods. If you'd like to give them a try for taste variety, the best approach is to experiment with your own unique digestive tract function, starting off with small amounts of those foods and working up to larger portions.



See the section on snacks on the run for additional ideas when caught out on the road empty handed.


Questions on content or suggestions to improve this page are appreciated.

Cycling Performance Tips
Home | Table of Contents | Local Services/Information