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How Much and How Often to Eat on a Bike Ride…


Eating on a bike ride is highly personal.  It depends on how far, how fast one rides, one’s weight, how much one ate before riding, and how many calories one takes in with powders added into water (my personal favorite is Hammer Perpetuem for long rides).

I have a blog friend who was told you shouldn’t eat anything if the ride isn’t more than four hours long.  This is among the most idiotic advice I’ve ever heard given to another cyclist – unless very specific criteria are met.

First, if I go out for anything more than 25 miles I bring a Gu.  I probably won’t eat it, but I bring it just in case.  More than 33 miles and that Gu is going down the gullet.  More than 35 miles and I’m bringing a Gu and a banana.  Fifty miles and I’m bringing an extra backup Gu just in case.  We did 44 miles earlier today and I was darn near Betty White status at 23 miles.  We took a minute to eat at 25 and I felt infinitely better, almost immediately (banana and a Gu).  The last 19 miles were comfortable and fast.  I pulled into the driveway with a smile on my face.

Here’s the trick, we did that 44 miles in less than 2-1/2 hours.  18.5 mph average in some pretty hefty wind and a lot of it in our face the last half.  Without that fuel, I’d have bonked between 33 and 35 miles.  It’s all in the pace.  If I’m cruising around at 15 miles an hour I don’t need much in terms of food.  I get into that magical “fat burning” Zone 2 and I can go all day.  At 18-20 mph, and above, I need some calories to sustain the effort because I can’t ride that fast in the fat zone.

Now that is where pace and weight dictate what to eat.  What about other calories?  Hammer Perpetuem is calorie rich with all kinds of good stuff to keep one’s effort sustained.  A bottle laced with Perpetuem obviously means less edible calories are required on board. 

NOW, and this is important so pay attention you who happen to be newer to cycling… The tendency is more often for noobs to overeat on the bike. Gu’s, Perpetuem, bananas, sammiches, energy beans (Jelly Belly rocks)… Stinger products, the list is endless, too much is just as bad as too little and means you can’t enjoy that wonderful post-ride lunch or dinner.

In fact, I’ve read posts before written by people who consume two Gu’s for a 5k run or a ten mile bike ride. Now, if you happen to be doing that 5k while doing a handstand or riding that ten miles on a unicycle, then maybe I could see the need for a Gu. Maybe.

We want to find that butter zone where we’re not eating too much but we’re taking in enough to sustain our effort. To find that zone, I like to assume that I want too much but once I start heading down the path to feeling like Betty White, I have to rectify that immediately if not sooner.

So definitely, heading out for a couple of hours on the bike, eat a little bit. You’ll feel better and ride faster.

Ride hard, my friends.

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24 Comments

  1. bribikes says:

    My brother went 8 miles on a unicycle once and immediately swore off long-distance unicycling forever, maybe it would have gone better if he had refueled along the way πŸ˜‰ I think the unicycle lies abandoned in the barn at my parent’s place, I should brush it off and give it try…I was never able to get the hang of it years ago, I wonder if I would be able too now. Perhaps I will start using it to commute to work so that I can have an excuse to eat snacks on the way!

    • bgddyjim says:

      LOL! Just say no to unicycles.

    • speaking of unicycles! not that you asked, but… i rode “tour du port” in maryland last summer… and was constantly paced by a unicycle! the guy was incredible! takes some kind of different constitution, maybe like sword-swallowing or those people who spin plates. idk. personally, it’s not for me, and your brother’s 8-mi seems extreme, but kudos to those with the stones to entertain curiosity about them. meanwhile, two wheels… seems about right

  2. Very good article and written well, I have had this same discussion with people over and over. I a friend that always puts two bottles of water (just plain water no powder) on his bike no matter what course, how fast, how hot, etc we ride. I think I have finally figured out his plan, he eats my food. How a ready hilly course I eat more.

  3. Four hour ride with no food? Hell I don’t even go four hours during the day without eating! Maybe if I ate that entire carrot cake you made before heading out I’d be fine. Need to find a way to stash THAT in my jersey pockets, hehe! πŸ™‚

  4. under 30 miles i don’t usually bring food, just electrolyte drink and water, ill usually fuel before a ride with a banana and a protein bar, and s-caps electrolyte pills because i cramp horribly, longer rides Ive done, metric centuries, i fuel along the way and at rest stops

  5. Under 30-40 miles, just 1 bottle of water usually, and I usually don’t drink much of that but glass of orange juice & 1-2 mugs of coffee first for a morning ride. I don’t like carrying stuff in pockets so a wee tri-bag on my top bar with a fruit bar in it for emergencies, plus phone & money.

    • bgddyjim says:

      I can’t make it more than 25 miles on one bottle. I’m jealous.

      • I think you must work harder than me, 42 miles today & 3,000 feet on just a coffee stop, didn’t touch the water bottle.

      • bgddyjim says:

        38 this morning, 1:53:00. Went through 1-1/2 bottles and a banana. I spent a lot of time up front making sure my wife had a nice draft. When we had a crosswind I would tuck in behind the bike in front of me and eat a little wind so those behind me had enough road to echelon. Taking a drink takes my mind off of the hurt for a few minutes so I tend to go back to the well often. πŸ˜‰

        Our route is mainly flat but 20 mph in full cold weather gear is pretty fast so I get pretty thirsty in a hurry.

  6. Tony says:

    I don’t know if this is even relevant, but it is something I follow when riding. Dr. Anthony Goodman who wrote the Lifelong Health course for The Great Courses recommends limiting snacks to 50 calories during exercise so you don’t hang your system up with digesting when you are asking for muscular performance. Happy Easter, bunnies!

    • bgddyjim says:

      In my experience limiting to 50 calories is unnecessary. First, Gu does not constitute a normal digestible food, it digests much easier.

      Second, 50 calories isn’t enough, especially when you’re talking about high speeds and great distances. I’ve also found that what I eat matters greatly as well. I normally eat ERG all natural energy bars and they work excellently – and each small bar packs 350-450 calories. I never have digestive trouble with them.

  7. ekels22 says:

    Just stocked up on Hammer Heed and Hammer Gels. Happy Easter.

  8. Sue Slaght says:

    Good advice Jim and to the idiot who says nothing to eat for four hours of riding …well I can’t write what I would like to tell him.

  9. the food pointers are helpful, and the comments section of this post are pretty great, too.

    shots, gu, bars, and carrot cake for pockets… noted… πŸ™‚

  10. bonnev659 says:

    if you going for longer rides, I used some ideas from Feed Zone Portables booklet http://www.skratchlabs.com/products/feed-zone-portables

    highly recommend a few of the rice cakes

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