What to eat during a long bike ride?

Following a long bike ride, you stop at a convenience store in the area to grab a bite. What should you buy?

First of all, it is important not to choose food based solely on the number of calories that they contain. Indeed, it is rather crucial to consider their nutrients and ingredients. Food should not only provide you with “empty calories”. It should rather provide you nutrients that will contribute to improving your health. No matter how many hours you ride, if the food you consumed contain saturated fats and/or trans fats it will negatively affect your health, especially if you buy this food frequently.  

During a long bike excursion, you need to consume food that contain slow carbohydrates (with a low glycemic index), a bit of fat and a bit of proteins. You also have to make sure to consume electrolytes. In some circumstances, it may even be of interest to consume a bit of caffeine.

Let’s take the example of a Snickers®, a chocolate bar that many cyclists and triathletes like to devour during a long bike ride. The bar contains 250 calories, 12 g of fats, 5 mg of cholesterol, 12 mg of sodium, 33 g of carbohydrates (of which 27 g of sugar) and 4 g of proteins. It is therefore a good combination of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. However, a Snickers® contains fat from dairy products, palm oil, and partially hydrogenated soya oil, which means that it contains saturated fats and trans fats. Indeed, a bar contains 4.5 g of saturated fats. A Snickers® also contains corn syrup and sugar, who have very high glycemic indexes.

The glycemic index “reflects the speed at which the carbohydrates in a food are digested, converted and found in the form of glucose in the blood. The greater the rise in blood glucose after consuming a food the higher the GI for this food”[1]. For instance, a Coca-Cola possesses a high glycemic index, while nuts and peanuts have low glycemic indexes.

After a big training session and during a high intensity training, it is preferable to prioritize foods with a high glycemic index, such as bananas or dates. Indeed, after a big training we have to fill rapidly our glycogen stores and during a high intensity training we need a quick energy source. In contrast, before and during a long bike ride, we have to prioritize foods with a low glycemic index in order to have continuous energy for a long period of time.

It is often difficult to find nutritive foods in a convenience store, but it is not impossible: sometimes you can find bananas and other fruits, nuts, peanuts, coconut water and apple juice without added sugar. The glycemic index of an unsweetened apple juice is 44. In comparison, it is 63 for a Coca-Cola and 50 for an unsweetened orange juice. A tomato juice contains carbohydrates and sodium and its glycemic index is only 38.

If you want to eat something salty, pretzels are a good option considering that they contain sodium, carbohydrates and more proteins than chips. We also find granola bars in convenience stores, but they are often very sweet, contain very few proteins and saturated fats and/or trans fats.

Personally, I prefer to bring my own bars instead of buying some when I am on a long bike ride. I prefer the Kronobar bars, because they are naturals and vegans.  Sometimes, I even bring a peanut butter sandwich or an almond butter sandwich, homemade granola bars and rice cakes. I also like to bring with me a potato cooked in the micro-wave with a bit of salt, because it is a good source of carbohydrates and salt and we often have a craving of salty foods during a long bike ride.

To resume, it is better to bring yourself sufficient energy bars or rice cakes for the duration of your bike ride, instead of trying to find food onsite in a convenience store. However, if you have no choice and need to stop at one of these stores, take the time to read carefully the ingredients and the nutritional table. Always choose food containing a bit of fat, proteins and a minimal amount of simple sugars.

Good appetite !


Antoine Jolicoeur-Desroches

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[1] http://www.diabete.qc.ca/en/living-with-diabetes/diet/food-and-nutrients/indice-glycemique