Fuel Up for This Weekend's Rides

A few weeks ago I wrote a post that described the huge benefits of eating properly during a long ride. Many cyclists consider sports bars and gels to be handy pre-ride snacks and a good source of calories during rides. These energy sources help provide ample carbohydrates, with minimal amounts of fat and protein.

When cyclists forgo meals or don't eat the right things, their blood glucose drops and you're more likely to get the "bonk" on a ride. Eating a high-carbohydrate sports bar an hour or so before cycling will help to maintain your blood glucose levels so that you can perform optimally.

Researchers at Ohio State University found that performance was improved by 12.5 percent when carbohydrate was consumed an hour before exercise. They advised to consume 40 to 75 grams of carbohydrate in the hour before your workout. The energy boost you get from eating a sports bar or gel before or during exercise comes primarily from the carbohydrate in the bars (about 25 to 47 grams) and gels (about 20 grams to 25 grams), which elevates your blood glucose to provide energy to your cycling muscles.

There's nothing special about the carbohydrate that sports bars and gels supply. You can get the same results from traditional high-carbohydrate snacks such as Fig Newtons, bananas, low-fat granola bars or breakfast bars are also good, less expensive alternatives to sports bars or gels. Sports bars and gels also are an accessible energy source during your time on the bike. Consuming carbohydrate during rides lasting an hour or longer enables you to ride longer and harder by providing glucose for your muscles when they begin to run out of glycogen (glycogen is stored carbohydrate in the muscle).

Filling Up

High-carbohydrate foods such as sports bars, Fig Newtons, and bananas provide a feeling of "fullness" that you won't get from drinking fluids or sucking down gels. Sports bars and gels purposely have a very low water content so that they can be compact and easily carried. Concentrated carbs are definitely the way to go.

To get the amount of carbohydrate supplied by one Clif Bar (40 to 45 grams), you'd have to eat 1.5 bananas (45 grams). One gel packet supplies only slightly less carbohydrate (25 grams) than one banana (25 to 30 grams).

The low water content of sports bars and gels also has a disadvantage. You should consume about 6 to 8 ounces of water when you eat a sports bar or carbohydrate gel before or during exercise. Otherwise the product will settle poorly and you may feel nauseated because of the slow digestion. In addition to aiding your digestion, drinking water after consuming the bar or gel encourages you to hydrate adequately.

The bottom line on sports bars and gels is that they're a convenient way to help meet your carbohydrate requirements before and during cycling.

Below is a recipe that I found online of a "homemade goop".

Homebrew Power Goop
  • 7 and 1/3 tablespoons of honey
  • 3/4 teaspoons of blackstrap molasses
  • 1/10 teaspoons (just shy of 1/8 tsp) of table salt
Be sure to mix everything together well. It should make enough to fill a five-serving GU flask.

The honey in the recipe provides a bunch of good carbohydrates and vitamins. Honey alone is nutritionally very close to power goop, but it lacks a bit of sodium and potassium. Molasses has a ton of potassium, and if you can find blackstrap molasses, it has even more! As for the sodium, just add some salt.

Try these tips out and ride longer and ride farther! The main thing is to get out there and ride!!!