7 Energy-Boosting Foods To Eat Before, During & After Your Ride

You’re going to need more than just coffee. Here, top experts share what to eat and when to maximise your energy.

Jen See |

Your morning coffee might make you feel energetic and ready to tackle the route you’ve got planned for the day, but you’ll need more to fuel your ride. “If you want to move your legs and contract a muscle, that’s mechanical work, and mechanical work requires energy,” explains Allen Lim, Ph.D., exercise physiologist and founder of Skratch Labs. You get that energy from calories in food, but your body has different nutrition needs depending on if you’re riding or not.

“You wouldn’t go out for a drive in a car with a fourth of a tank of petrol and hope you make it 140 kilometres,” says Alison Powers, certified coach and former national road racing champion. So you shouldn’t expect to crush a long ride on a small cup of coffee.

Knowing what to eat and when can make a big impact on your energy levels so here are the foods to eat for energy and the tips you need to know to fuel before, during, and after your rides.

Before You Ride

Remember that coffee isn’t food.

We all love a pre-ride coffee and the jolt of caffeine that comes with it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But coffee is not actually fuel. “It makes you feel good, but there’s no calories in coffee,” says Powers. Add oatmeal or another carbohydrate to your pre-ride coffee ritual to ensure you have substantial calories to go with that caffeine buzz.

Superfoods Super Oats – Chocolate, R89

Start your morning with a well-rounded breakfast.

A good mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat offers a solid foundation for your day’s ride, especially if you’re planning to be on the bike for several hours. “The majority of what will be fuelling you on the bike is carbohydrates, but if it’s a long ride, there’s a good chance your body will break down a little bit of muscle tissue and use some protein for fuel,” says Powers. Your body may also dip into your fat stores during longer rides.

Powers likes to start the day with oatmeal topped with coconut oil and nuts for some fat that keeps her feeling full. She pairs it with a side of fruit and an egg for protein. “I find that if I don’t have the protein, I get hungrier faster,” she says.

Crede Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, R77

Avoid heading out to ride hungry.

Maybe you’re riding after work or during a break between classes and you don’t have time for a full meal. If you’re feeling hungry before a ride, Lim recommends “a little bite to eat.” Look for simple foods, with a high carbohydrate or sugar content. “You want to eat just enough to bring your blood sugar back up,” he says. Lim suggests a boiled potato, boiled rice, an energy gel, or a dash of extra sugar in your energy drink. “As long as your blood sugar is stable during exercise, the human body is extraordinarily resilient.”

On the Bike

Slide a snack in your pocket for a long ride.

For longer distances, your primary fuel is carbohydrates, but your body will likely also break down some muscle tissue and use protein for fuel. “I’d encourage people to have real food in their pocket and aim to eat every hour,” says Powers. While energy bars are convenient, they can be highly processed and include ingredients that don’t provide efficient fuel, Powers believes. She recommends whole foods such as a peanut butter or chicken sandwich, hard-boiled eggs, or baked goods, which are her personal favourite.

O’Natural Raw Chocolate Bar – Goji Berry Energy Bar, R36

For short rides, look for simple sugars.

In some cases, you may not need to eat during a short ride, but if you have an intense set of intervals on your training plan, you’ll want to keep your glucose topped off. “Every interval you do, burns some glucose in your system,” says Powers. “If after seven of them, there’s no more glucose left, your intensity is going to suffer.” Sweets like gummy bears, energy gels, a cookie, or a light-weight drink mix will help you get those intervals done.

Even if you’re trying to lose weight, be sure to eat to ride.

You’ll want to keep tabs on your calories off the bike, but while riding, it’s important to keep your energy levels consistent. That way, you’ll be getting the most out of your ride time and building fitness for your future adventures. “You won’t be in the hole when you ride the next day,” says Powers.

Don’t forget to hydrate.

If you forget to bring a snack on your ride, your body can draw on stored fat and muscle tissue for fuel, if necessary. But “if you run out of water in your body, you are done,” says Powers. She recommends consuming a small amount of sugar or glucose, sodium, and potassium with your fluids. The sugars and electrolytes help ensure that your cells can actually absorb the water you’re drinking. Most energy drinks are formulated to speed this process.

This article originally appeared on bicycling.com.

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