I returned to serious and regular cycling last April after a hiatus to start a family. One of the things I’ve always struggled with is eating enough food to avoid headaches at the end of a ride. I haven’t seriously bonked during a ride in years, but I often experience headaches reminiscent of a bad hangover after anything more than 90 minutes on the bike. So when I began riding seriously again in April, I made it a goal to develop an on-bike nutritional plan.
It took more than a year, but I think I am starting to figure it out.
Until recently, my go-to food on the bike has consisted of things that can best be described as “bars.” I started with Power Bars years ago and then moved to Cliff and Lara Bars. I never really liked them because they tasted odd and did not feel good in my mouth. They require a lot of chewing effort which is an issue for me because I do most of my breathing under effort through my mouth. It’s hard to breathe and chew at the same time. Last year someone showed me a Kind Bar and I carried them in my jersey pocket, finding them a little easier to chew and more pleasant tasting. But I was still suffering headaches because I wasn’t eating enough.
Earlier this year, I stumbled upon a recipe for rice cakes developed by Dr. Allen Lim of Skratch Labs. I started using Skratch Labs’ secret drink mix last year as a replacement for Gatorade and Powerade. The stuff is fantastic; it sits well in the stomach without any nasty aftertaste. I tried the rice cakes hoping they would be a replacement for the bars. I can report that they are head and shoulders better than any cardboard energy bar and they can be customized to your liking.
Dr. Lim has a book dedicated to the subject of sports nutrition, which you can find here. I have not purchased the book, but several of the recipes are on the internets in the form of demonstration videos with Dr. Lim promoting his books. I don’t want to run afoul of any copyright or licensing rules, so I am not going to link directly to the videos. Google is your friend. Some of the recipes are on the Skratch Labs blog. Based on what I’ve seen and tried, the book is worth the purchase price.
The premise behind the recipes is that you’ll be more likely to eat on the bike if the food you eat is real and delicious; in other words, not a cardboard energy bar that takes half an hour to chew. If the food is tasty, you’ll eat and eat more, thereby meeting your nutritional needs. Let’s face it, when you want a snack at work you probably don’t grab a tasteless piece of cardboard, you grab something you enjoy eating. On-bike food should work the same way.
The rice cakes take about 20 minutes to make, excluding the time it takes to make the rice. You can customize them to contain whatever suits your fancy. I add bacon bits, grated parmesan and brown sugar. They keep well-they will hold up most of the day-when wrapped in foil-backed parchment paper. I carry two or three with me on rides longer than a couple of hours. I make them Friday night for use during the weekend’s longer rides.
Waffles are another good option mentioned on the Skratch Labs blog. Whip up a batch using your preferred recipe and save a couple for your next ride. I cut mine in half, like a sandwich, and add some jelly or cookie butter for moisture and additional calories. Then I close the sandwich and cut the waffle into quarters so the pieces will be more manageable on the bike.
Eating real food on the bike has definitely helped me. I’m more inclined to eat now because the food is tasty and the flavors match my palate. I force myself to eat something on the top of every hour on the bike. I keep an eye on my Garmin’s clock and, when I see xx:45, I start planning my snack. I leave myself a few minutes before the top of the hour in case I’m in the middle of an intense effort or nasty descent where eating might be unwise.
Having access to good food and making a conscious plan to eat it has helped me tremendously this year. Fueling the body doesn’t need to be complicated. It just takes some planning. It requires no more effort on my part to make tasty, pocketable snacks than it does to drive to the store to buy cardboard energy bars. But the real food tastes better and, as such, I’m more inclined to eat it and avoid the headaches.