Ride Food Alternatives
I like doughnuts. A lot. My wife knows this. My kids know this. Some of my friends know this. When I read health magazines, it appears I’m not supposed to like doughnuts. Let alone eat them before I ride. That makes me sad.
I love nachos, pizza, juicy burgers, party mix lollies and Tic Toc biscuits. A quick flick back through my health magazines and nope, I shouldn’t like these either apparently. Don’t get me wrong I also love banana smoothies, Weetbix, chicken with salad, vegetables, fruit, good oils and grain filled bread but is it wrong to eat less healthy foods—especially if I want to ride my bike?
To answer this, I’ll start by outing myself and revealing that I follow a group on Instagram called ‘Doughnuts and Deadlifts’. I already hear you chuckle. I don’t follow them because they like doughnuts and deadlifts, two passions of mine, but because they are helping the world understand you can perform well in sports and still enjoy those ‘sometimes’ foods. You don’t need to eat kale and activated almonds to be healthy and enjoy riding.
This article is not about how to live to 120, it’s about getting you fuelled up for a good singletrack bash. Sure, you really do need a well-balanced diet to live a long healthy life and the Australian Dietary Guidelines give you a good picture of that. Sometimes though, you just want a doughnut and you just want to ride.
Should I ride on sometimes foods?
In reality, you can ride on any food you like. The whole concept of good and bad, clean and dirty foods is in reality, untrue. Oh and let’s stop calling some foods ‘super’. Doughnuts are super, but for entirely different reasons. All these terms do is create anxiety in people when they choose to eat. How is that a healthier lifestyle?
Absolutely, there are healthier food choices but no one food is inherently bad. It just mightn’t be as healthy as another option, and if consumed in large quantities over the long-term, it may increase your risk of disease.
If you have a balanced diet with some treats on the side, honestly, you’re going to be okay on and off the bike. There is some fantastic published research on this very topic concluding that cycling time trial performances were almost identical between two groups, one using health supplements and the other eating fast food!
Do I even need to eat?
This is the first question you should ask before you ride, well that as well as, “Honey, have you seen my gloves?!?”
We’re not talking about mid-ride snacks here, just whether you should eat beforehand. I love to fuel up pre-anything. I’m a breakfast is my favourite meal kinda guy but you may function very differently.
It is generally considered important to have your body fuelled up before you ride but in some cases, such as race days, you may feel so nervous you can’t eat at all. If you are the nervous non-eater or the ‘I can’t stomach breakfast’ person, there is nothing wrong with this—you aren’t broken. You just need to consider this in your planning and try to account for it.
Try eating some extra food the night before, or quite a few hours before your ride, to help load those muscles with fuel. Maybe drink a smoothie or have a handful of jelly babies instead of chewing heavy food. At least try and drink a coffee, if that’s your thing. Coffee is actually a food group. Okay, that’s a lie but coffee should be.
Timing of Eating
Ideally, any big meals should be eaten three to four hours before the ride, and then have something smaller in the hour before you set off. The more food you have in your stomach, the more blood that rushes there to aid digestion, and the less there is for your brain and legs. This is why you suffer from a food coma after a big meal. This all sounds great, but nobody’s getting up at 4am to eat for an 8am ride!
More logically, have your big meal the night before, even if this is fast food. Fat, protein and fibre take the longest to digest, so having them the night before gives your body lots of time to digest them. Don’t be mistaken, even fat can be turned into energy for the day after. Your body is very efficient and won’t waste these things. So even fast food can fuel your body well for a big ride.
In the morning, try to have a banana smoothie, some crumpets and jam, a bowl of fruit loops or even a bag of lollies before you leave for your ride. You may find you handle heavy food fine when you ride, but for most people, hard to digest foods are best eaten early than later.
If you are attempting to lose some kilos, you’ve probably heard that healthier foods are better for this. There is some long winded loose evidence this might be the case but in simplistic terms remember the following equation, which I have somewhat modified from scientific papers:
Food In - Riding = Fat Chance
If you eat a lot and ride very little, your chance of getting fat goes up. If you eat a lot and ride more, your ‘fat chance’ goes down. You can even put your fat chance into the negative and potentially lose weight if you out-ride your food intake. So losing weight isn’t only about healthier foods. It’s about balance.
Theoretically, you could eat only doughnuts and as long as you rode off all the doughnuts, you could potentially lose weight. Although as much as I love really doughnuts, I’m not recommending this diet.
You may have noticed that I haven’t said to lower your food intake. It is very common for people to rapidly lower food intake to decrease their fat chance—commonly referred to as a crash diet. The problem with binge dieting is that it either doesn’t last for long, leads to eating disorders or just leaves you tired, grumpy and hungry. It’s always better to increase how much you move, and then adjust your food intake steadily and accordingly.
For simplicity’s sake, if you want to be able to tell if you are eating too much and not riding enough, don’t use scales. Just look in the mirror once a week and see if you are happy with any changes. The average person can usually tell if things are changing one way or another.
So What Should I Eat?
Based on this advice, pretty much anything. But ask yourself, will it fuel you up? Will you feel ill if you have it in your stomach when you ride? Should you eat your big meal the night before? Will it just taste darn good and make you feel better mentally?
Food choice before riding doesn’t need to be rocket science. It should be as enjoyable as riding itself. If you eat a well-balanced diet with sometimes foods in moderation, in conjunction with riding, food isn’t going to kill you.
I could write a whole piece on what science thinks about food and long term-disease risk but right now I just want you to understand that food is food; it’s all made up of carbs, protein, fat and fibre. This is how your body sees it and you shouldn’t be ashamed if you like a burger and a beer… or a doughnut…
Here are some ideas of the types of foods that could fit the bill for your ride-fuelling needs.
Crumpets with jam or honey
Any cereal with milk
Night Before Options
Big bowl of oats
Steak and chips
Mum’s lamb roast
A bucket of fried chicken*
*This is in no way going to lower your risk of long-term disease but it will taste delicious.