Whether you're an elite cyclist or simply out for a scenic, long ride, a snack is a necessity to keep your body moving.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, "when you are in constant motion, a lot of energy is used. Eating foods that are easy to digest and rich in carbohydrates can help you maintain energy levels." The immediate burst of energy consumed can help any rider make it through rides lasting more than a couple hours.
"Our body stores enough carbohydrate for about 90 minutes of vigorous movement," said Registered Dietician Emily Edison, owner of Momentum Nutrition and Fitness in Seattle, Washington. "The body will need fuel to continue performing at a high level. Approximately 60 to 90 grams of carbohydrate are recommended per hour of exercise. If an athlete chooses not to fuel or under fuel, the body will use more protein — muscle tissue — for energy than necessary."
With that in mind, cyclists need snacks that are portable, energy-packed and low on protein. The dilemma: Finding snacks that meet all of those requirements isn't always easy.
Registered Dietician Linda Samuels of Training Table Sports Nutrition in Chicago, Illinois, specializes in long-distance triathlon endurance nutrition and has her list of favorite snacks to pack for a long ride:
- Frozen waffle spread with jam, folded over, then wrapped in foil
- A baggie of Pretzel Thins
- A baggie of dried tart cherries
- Energy bars, ex. Clif Bars
"I like these, as they are all easy to digest carbohydrate sources that don't melt," Samuels said. "The Pretzel Thins are a good source of sodium and they don't break apart like regular pretzels."
Some additional ideas are:
1. Fresh fruits: Apples and bananas are great choices.
2. Gel packs: These ingenious little light packs provide both complex carbohydrates and simple sugars to give riders exactly what they need and come in a wide variety of flavors.
3. Peanut butter on graham crackers: Here you get protein, fat and carbohydrates all in one. For even more of a boost, throw in some chocolate chips.
4. Low-fat granola bars: Packed with carbohydrates, they can easily be thrown right into a jersey pocket.
5. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches: "Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a tried and true snack that helps you bust out of a fueling rut," Edison said.
In addition to knowing what to pack, it's helpful to also know when to start fueling. Samuels, who's also the nutrition coach for Northwestern University's Triathlon Team, suggests starting before the ride even begins. "I recommend that my athletes practice the sports nutrition principle of eating a pre-exercise snack to 'start the ignition' of the body's energy system."
Samuels notes that everyone's fitness and caloric need is different. "Add in the variables for the ride's intensity, how hilly the road is, the temperature/humidity — all these variables factor into when an athlete should consume their snacks," she said.
Although there's no formula as to when to snack, riders should keep a hydration and carbohydrate schedule during the ride so they're able to stop and refresh when it's convenient as opposed to when they have completely depleted their energy reserve.
Samuels takes it beyond the ride as well.
"Recovery snacks for long rides more than three hours would include a total of 300 to 350 calories, part of which would include twenty grams of protein," she said. "This snack should be consumed within 30 to 45 minutes of exercise ending."
Take these experts tips and pack potent, portable snacks with you on your next ride, and you'll be sure to enjoy your ride and do right by your body.
Suzanne Corey is a journalist and athlete. She competes in events around the country, including a marathon in Hawaii, a sprint triathlon in California, a rockin' half-marathon in Tennessee, and a century ride through Vermont and New Hampshire. When she's not training, Suzanne is raising two daughters and dreaming of a half Ironman. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
This article originally appeared on Active.com — your source for information, training plans, expert advice and everything you need to connect with the sport you love.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.