On bike nutrition – Testing 5 cycling snacks for longer rides
When you go on longer rides, there’s an extra aspect to take into consideration: on bike nutrition. We have mostly lived off Snickers and dried fruit, but realized that we needed to expand our culinary horizon a bit. So we decided to try out some new types of snacks to eat while cycling longer rides. Read on to read our review of Oskar Oatbar, Maurten Hydragel, our home made energyballs (plus recipe!), Snickers and of course banana.
When cycling we get our energy from fat and glucoses that we have stored in our body. On a lower intensity we burn fat and as the cycling intensifies we switch from fat to burning glucose which we derive from carbohydrates. When the glycogen runs out, your legs just won’t spin any more. Most of us have been there, and it’s no fun. So just eat the same amount of calories that you burn? Not really, it’s also about how much your body can digest.
Fat and protein are much harder for the body to digest, so those Snickers might not be such a good pick after all. We all like to ride hard on our training rides, so we are mostly burning glycogen. Since we store glycogen (and fat) in our body we luckily don’t have to munch away the same amount of carbs that we burn, we just have to make sure we don’t get a deficit.
We always start off with a full tank. And when rides go on for longer than one and a half hours we make sure that we refuel our tank regularly. Our bodies can absorb 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour in single form and 90 to 120 gram if you combine different types of carbohydrates. The upper limit is different for everyone and also depends on how hard you train. It’s best to try for yourself how much you can take in without getting nauseous on that unexpected climb that always seems to pop up right after you’ve crammed in an energy bar.
Cycling snacks review
We did a little review of the snacks that we bring on our ride, just to give you some inspiration. By no means are we experts in nutrition, so we are not saying that this is what you ‘should’ be eating. But to still be able to give you some useful information we evaluated our snacks on four factors: taste, packability, nutrition and price.
Can’t beat a banana
You can’t go wrong with a banana. Unless you leave it at the bottom of your snack bag over a bumpy road for a few hours. Bananas are tasty, healthy and actually get sweeter if they brown up a bit. A banana is super easy to stick in your back pocket, but does risk getting mushy. Some people can handle it, some don’t. For us Sabina usually eats the brown soggy parts which Robin just can not deal with. Depending on where you are, the peel is either easy to discard (if it gets eaten by animals) or a pain to carry (in suburban areas).
Another plus for the banana, is that they are cheap. Here in Sweden a banana costs around 5 SEK (€0,50/£0,40).
Home-made energy balls
Who knew that making your own energy snack was that easy. We bought a bag of Nut & Fruit mix at Lidl, added five big medjool dates and mixed it into a smooth paste in the blender. After rolling the paste into small balls (about the size of a golf ball) we rolled them in cacao powder to prevent them from sticking to each other. We save the energy balls in the freezer and by the time we want a snack they are the perfect temperature and texture.
The balls turned out really tasty, although they were very sweet and a bit sticky. If you’d eat more than three in a row while cycling you’d probably get a little nauseous. We bought a premixed bag, but you could of course make your own mix with more nuts and less dried fruits to make it a bit less sweet. Add whatever (un)healthy ingredient you want, peanut or almond butter, ground instant coffee, protein powder, flaxseed, whatever you want!
We packed the balls in a Ziploc bag, and they kept their form. I don’t know how well they will keep on very hot days as they might melt a bit, so pack carefully. Be careful not to eat too much of these little rocket fuel balls. Dried fruits contain a lot of fibres, which is super healthy but may not be the best when cycling. Eating too many fibres on the bike can make you constipated or leave you feeling bloated.
The mixed bag with cranberries, walnuts, almonds and sultanas cost 24,90 SEK (€2,46/£2,14) and the box with dates was also 24,90 SEK. I used the entire bag of the mix but only took a few dates out of the big box, making this is a really cheap cycling snack. Since we made our own mix we have to ballpark the nutrients.
These oatbars that are handmade in Germany really surprised us. When we think of oatbars we think of a dry either tasteless or overly sweetened bar that is not easy to chomp up. That’s probably also why we saved them for last, and only tried them when everything else was finished. But wow, how badly did we misjudge those. We tried the Cardamom 390s bar and the Classic Curcuma bar. After having eaten a lot of sweet snacks it was so nice to have something that was more savoury and a little spicy-sweet. We liked the Cardamom flavour the best. The texture was easy to chew on and didn’t feel dry to the mouth. The bar was filling without leaving the stomach feeling heavy. Would definitely recommend it.
The bars are made from organic ingredients: oats, wheat flour, different kinds of natural syrup and tasty spices.
The paper wrapper had got a little oily from the bar (we think), so it had some dark spots. It didn’t feel like it would stain your jersey, and paper beats plastic any day if you ask us. The bar easily fits in a jersey pocket or food pouch, since it is very flat. They are also very light and still have a high nutritional value. One bar costs €2,50, but considering you get actual food that’s pretty okay to us.
Most cyclists either hate it or love it. We haven’t made up our minds yet. The taste of the Maurten energy gel that we tried was very pleasant. A little sweet, but not too much. The substance is weird. Do you chew or gulp it up? (Robin chewed and Sabina gulped.) The packaging is tiny, so it’s really easy to take with you. The ratio of energy to weight is huge. You can easily pull it out of a pocket, open it with one hand and consume while cycling. Sabina got a little reflux, maybe she ate it too fast?
The gel contains water, glucose, fructose, calcium carbonate, gluconic acid and sodium alginate. The composition of both the ingredients and the substance of the gel is designed for maximum energy absorption. It will definitely not replace a meal, but if you are in a race, a meal is not what’s on your mind. This is purely to replenish your body to perform at maximum capacity. Nevertheless, if you are going to use gels in a race, you also need to train with them. Maybe not every ride, but at least a few times before race day.
The gels are high-tech and that’s usually synonymous for expensive. And that goes for these gels as well at €3,36 a piece.
The nutritional value of a Snickers candy bar is at first glance very similar to energy bars. But there are some important differences between these yummy candy bars and healthier energy bars. Snickers have a higher proportion of fructose to glucose. Glucose is always the first sugar the body uses for energy. Any excess fructose not needed for energy will be used to make body fat. Snickers are also very high in fat, which is why they are so delicious and melt in your mouth. But like mentioned before, fat is much harder for the body to break down into energy.
Healthier energy bars derive their calories from a more balanced distribution of carbs, fat and protein and provide more vitamins and minerals. Sure there are some nuts in there, but those are drowned in a sticky sea of melted sugar.
If it’s not your go-to meal and eat five snickers in one ride, then you’re absolutely fine. You should get the most important vitamins and minerals from your main meals anyway, and not from cycling snacks. Because to be fair, they are almost like the perfect cycling snack. Cheap, small, delicious and available all around the world (it was mostly Snickers that got us through the Pamir Highway.) Top it off with a can of Red Bull like our friend Gustaf and your dentist will definitely hate you. But you will have enough energy to get home.
Your favourite cycling snack
What is your favourite gel, or do you prefer a whole different type of fuel?We’d love to hear what you bring on your rides, especially on multi-day rides. And as much as we enjoy all this on bike nutrition. There’s nothing as good as a proper fika*!
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