What to Eat on a Bike Tour

What to Eat on a Bike Tour

What to Eat on a Bike Tour

What to Eat on a Bike Tour

One of the things I think about a lot when I am on a bike tour is nutrition. Many people think that since you burn so many calories on the road, you can practically eat everything in sight. Although, that may be true to a certain extent, we have to learn to consume the right type of food at the right time. That is why I think it is important to review what one should consume before, during and after a long day on a bike tour.

Breakfast tacos

Photo Credit: Lorenia via Compfight cc

Before the Ride

All this starts the night before your ride. You should consume complex carbohydrates to be stored in your liver and muscle cells as glycogen. While riding, glycogen gets broken down into glucose to be used to fuel your muscles. All the food stored as glycogen will last about 1-2 hours before you burn it all. Load up on pasta, rice, vegetables, bread, whole grain, fruits, and even pizza the night before. It’ll take 12-24 hours for these foods to be converted to glycogen.

In the morning, continue to consume high carbohydrate meals. Foods like oatmeal, bananas, pancakes, whole grain breads, cereal, and fresh fruit will continue to fuel your body further on the extended riding time.

In addition to food, be sure to drink water. Water will help cleanse your body as you sweat. It will provide nutrients throughout your body as it cools down and lubricates your body’s joints. It also helps cleanse cell metabolic waste, like lactic acid, to reduce soreness. Drink about 14-20 ounces of water before the ride.


Photo Credit: jDevaun.Photography via Compfight cc

During the Ride

While on the bike, you should snack every 30 minutes on high carbohydrate foods, like raisins, bagels, granola, energy bars, peanut butter, pretzels, fig bars, and fruits. These should continue to provide enough energy for you to power through your ride.

During the ride, be sure to sip water every 15 minutes or so. You want to consume about 12-16 ounces of water every hour. After riding over 2 hours, you will also need to drink sports drinks, like Gatorade which provides electrolytes and necessary carbohydrates. They also replenish lost nutrients, like sodium and potassium. Sodium helps your body retains water and helps stimulate thirst. Lack of potassium, calcium and sodium will result in muscle cramps. You can also stave off cramps by consuming fruits, like bananas.

When you’re having lunch, be sure to stay away from fatty foods, like chips, cheese, cakes, and meats. This doesn’t mean you have to eliminate fat altogether, as your body still needs it for moderate to intense efforts of your ride. Since your body stores more fat than carbohydrates, you’re not going to need to replenish it as often. 15-20% of your daily caloric intake should be consisted of fat. Things like oil, nuts, avocados, olives, seeds, and fish provide really good sources of healthy fat options.

Pizza w/heart-shape pepporoni

Photo Credit: Sakurako Kitsa via Compfight cc

After the Ride

Once you get into camp, the first 30 minutes off the bike are crucial for muscle repair and recovery. This is called the glycogen window where your body will need to replenish with protein and carbohydrates. During this window, your body replenish glycogen levels 3 times more efficient and helps muscle repair 3-folds.  Good post-ride snacks include peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, cereal with milk, bananas, a slice of pizza, yogurt with granola, bagel with cream cheese, and my personal favorite, chocolate milk.

For dinner, consume 60% of your daily dietary consumptions in complex carbohydrates (See Before the Ride section) to get ready for the next day of riding. Also, throw in some protein to help rebuild and repair muscles. Having protein boosts your body’s immune system and helps the healing and recovery capabilities. Protein can not be used as an energy source until glycogen levels are depleted. Your body does not store protein, so you need to replenish it on a daily basis, and you should eat no more than 15% of your daily dietary consumptions in protein. Eat lean meat, turkey, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, yogurt, cheese and milk.

Continue to drink water after the ride. Be sure to check your urine. You’ll be getting rid of plenty, and it should be pale in color. Drink more if it is not because you’d be considered dehydrated.

Final Thoughts

Even though you might be going on a bike tour where you’re burning 3000 calories per day, you have to make sure you’re consuming good food to help fuel your body appropriately. Just to clarify, I’ve created a breakdown of the type of food to consume for your reference.

Carbohydrates – 60% of daily diet
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Vegetables
  • Bread
  • Whole grain – oats
  • Fruits
  • Pizza
Fat – 15-20% of daily diet
  • Oil
  • Nuts
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Seeds
  • Fish
Protein – No more than 15% of daily diet
  • Lean meat
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Milk
Drinks / Hydration
  • Water (16 ounce per ride and per hour during ride)
  • Sports drink (Biking longer than 2 hours)
During the ride
  • Raisins
  • Bagels
  • Granola
  • Energy bars
  • Peanut butter
  • Pretzels
  • Fig bars
  • Fruits

You can use this as a shopping list when you’re grocery shopping. In addition to this, don’t overdo it in the cholesterol or sodium departments either, which lots of canned/ready-made soups contain. Even the low sodium ones have a lot of sodium. I use to bring soup with me as a meal, but when I learned about the low calories and high sodium content, I no longer drink soup as a meal (even the hearty ones).

For further information about nutrition and bike touring, check out Bicycle Touring Tales.

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