Nutrition for cycling is big business, with millions of pounds spent on gels, powders and tablets every year, and thousands of articles written on what you should and shouldn’t eat when training, riding and racing.
The thing is, although guidelines are great start point, it’s usually a pretty personal thing. What cycling nutrition to go for depends a lot on what you are trying to achieve, and also what you like and what agrees with your body. This, by the way, is one of the reasons I’m a big fan of going for some personal training if you are preparing for a specific event.
Personally, I tend to go for home-made, old-school ‘nutrition’ AKA flapjacks and jelly babies. I’m not really training hard, I just need things to keep me going on my bike as I’m more about long rides for pleasure or adventure. Gels really don’t agree with me, and aren’t exactly tasty to eat. Also, it’s considerably cheaper than buying products all the time.
Flapjacks are top of the list for tasty energy-giving bicycle treats. They are great if you are off for a long ride and want something a bit substantial and tasty for a mid-ride break. I like ones packed with seeds and nuts as well as oats, and these provide slow-release energy that keeps you going, plus a bit of protein for muscle repair. The sugar and honey used to bind the flapjack gives you the quick-release sugars you need in the short term to get you going.
I use this recipe from River Cottage; honey and peanut booster bars. I drop the sugar a bit and boost the honey content to compensate, and use almond butter rather than peanut butter which gives it a richer, nuttier taste. I also drop the fruit content and just put in some dried cranberries, just because that’s how I like ’em! They are super quick to make, cook in about 30 minutes, and this recipe makes enough for about 12 – 14 flapjacks which is perfect for a weeks supply for 2 people.
I spotted this Energy Bites recipe on Total Women’s Cycling, tried it, and loved it! It’s super simple (if slightly messy) to do, and gives you around 20 – 25 Energy Bites. Wrapped in a bit of foil, I’ve found them perfect for an energy boost when out riding so usually take one or two out. They are also quite satisfying, and I don’t usually want to eat more than one at a time.
They’re a simple mix of sugar-free peanut butter (the massive tubs of Meridian whole-nut peanut butter is excellent value), desiccated coconut, honey, oats and a dash of vanilla essence.
I even carry a few when I’m out and about in case of hunger pangs.
You can’t go wrong with a few jelly babies stashed in a bag in your jersey or shorts pocket. They are tasty, give you a sugar boost, easy to eat, cheap – the list of benefits goes on. The excellent Cyclist Magazine recently produced a well-researched article on them, concluding that actually they provide many of the benefits of energy gels.
For me, it’s a no-brainer. Jelly Babies all the way! Although I do have a tendency to pick out the green and red ones first as I like them best.
Hydration tablets are something that I think are worth investing in, though I don’t actually use them that often myself.
They’re little soluble tablets that contain mostly things like sodium and potassium salts. These electrolytes are essential for keeping your muscles functioning, and are gradualy lost as you sweat. Keeping them topped up can help you keep going and prevent cramping, particularly in hot weather of if you are perspiring lots. You just pop the tablet in your water bottle or hydration bladder and hey presto; you have a flavoured drink.
The reason I don’t use them that often is because I’m sometimes a bit lax about rinsing out my water bottles or bladders (I know, I know, bad Aoife) which can cause them to stain. It’s also because I’m not a big fan of the flavours most of them come in.
There are lots of different flavours out there, with loads of companies making them such as SiS (Science in Sport), High5 and Nectar. The one brand I do like the flavours of is Nuun, because the taste is quite subtle and natural tasting – the Pink Lemonade flavour is actually pretty tasty! They also do Fruit Punch, Kona Cola and Lemon Tea flavour. Yum.
So do you ditch your gels and nutrition products? Not yet. If you get on with them, then go for it! They are super convenient to use, deliver measured doses of electrolytes, sugars, proteins and salts etc, and fit handily in jersey pockets. I reach for Cliff Shot Bloks when I need something like that, probably at least in part because they are just like squares of jelly.