Maintaining your energy during long-distance rides is just as important as hydrating properly. Whether you’re embarking on your first endurance ride or looking to switch things up snack-wise, here are some of the best high-energy foods for endurance cycling.
What is endurance cycling?
Any ride of 60 miles or more is typically considered long-distance endurance cycling. Many people do endurance cycling to prepare for cross-country events, train for an event, or boost their overall endurance. Many people also just enjoy it and complete long-distance rides for fun!
Whichever camp you find yourself in, Vingo is a great way to complete long-distance rides indoors with any type of setup. You can explore exciting, new places all over the world and even ride with friends virtually!
Why is it important to eat high-energy foods during endurance rides (long-distance rides)?
Long-term endurance cycling is a great way to stay in shape, but nutrition is critical to keep your body adequately fueled before, during, and after the ride. During long stretches of aerobic exercise like cycling, your body needs the energy to keep moving. If you don’t eat properly during your long-distance bike rides, you’ll crash, and your cycling performance will also suffer.
Although it’s relatively easy to prepare and eat high-energy foods at home, eating them on the go while riding a bicycle is an entirely different story! Finding portable, healthy, and high-energy solutions can be challenging, but it’s key to keeping your body energized for your long-distance and endurance rides.
What kinds of snacks do I need for long bike rides?
For long bike rides, you’ll need plenty of carbs, protein, fat, and water to keep your body moving.
- Carbohydrates: Carbs are your primary energy source for physical activities, so it’s easy to see why they would be necessary for a long bike ride. Your body stores carbs as energy, and you begin burning through those stores the minute you start pedaling, so it’s crucial to refuel regularly. Your body absorbs low-glycemic carbs like bread or oats more slowly, providing longer-lasting energy, which is ideal for cyclists. However, high-glycemic carbs like fruit or an energy gel will do the trick if you need a quick energy boost.
- Protein: Proteins are the building blocks for your muscles and vital for maintaining long-lasting energy. Meats, beans, low-fat dairy, and egg whites are excellent protein sources. Pairing carbs with protein can keep your blood sugar levels steady and maintain your energy throughout a long ride.
- Fat: After your body uses up all its glycogen stores, it turns to fat for energy. Although fats burn more slowly and aren’t as efficient as carbs, healthy sources can help you keep moving while you ride. Healthy, unsaturated fats like avocado, nuts, seeds, and fish are the best options.
- Water: And, of course, water is critical during any physical activity, but especially long bike rides. As you cycle, you lose a lot of water by sweating, so replacing those fluids is important to prevent symptoms like dizziness and energy loss.
Best high-energy foods for endurance cycling
Right before you head out on a long-distance bike ride and in the months and weeks leading up to it, it’s best to focus on eating a variety of healthy foods that boost muscle performance and give your body plenty of fuel for energy. And if your goal is to become the best athlete you possibly can, it’s best to maintain a well-balanced diet like this long-term.
We’ve outlined the best diet for cyclists in this blog, but it’s also a good idea to eat about every 45 minutes while cycling to maintain your energy and avoid bonking. Here are a few key high-energy snacks that will keep you pedaling for hours.
Bananas are one of the most popular pre-workout snacks and for a good reason! They are high in carbs to increase your glycogen stores for energy and are easy for your body to digest. They also contain fiber, which can help slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, providing long-lasting energy for your ride.
The potassium in bananas may also help reduce muscle cramps, and they’re relatively easy to pair with other high-energy food options, like yogurt or peanut butter, for a tasty and nutritious snack on the saddle.
2. Dried fruit
Studies have also shown that certain dried fruits can improve endurance-related exercise performance considerably, so definitely add them to your snack pack when you head out for a long ride!1
Certain dried fruits like raisins, dried cranberries, and dates are excellent snack options you can easily consume in the saddle. They are a high glycemic index (GI) food, meaning your body can quickly break them down into glucose for a quick boost during your ride. Raisins are also low in fiber, which may help eliminate multiple trips to the bathroom while you cycle.
Walnuts or almonds are perfect for endurance cycling. Eating these healthy sources of fat will help your body learn to be more efficient at burning fat for fuel, slowing the rate at which it relies on glycogen for energy.
Although nuts don’t have a ton of carbs, they’re high in protein, vitamins, and antioxidants.2 Plus, they’re incredibly easy to pack in your pocket or a pouch while you ride. Eat them raw or pack almonds, pistachios, chia seeds, and other healthy nuts into a homemade granola mix.
Low-fat sandwiches are another great snack option for endurance cyclists. They’re easy to throw together before a ride and keep you full longer. A popular go-to for cyclists is peanut butter and jelly (it has carbs, protein, and fat for a balanced snack), but you can use all different types of bread and ingredients to suit your taste buds.
Get adequate amounts of protein and fat by using sandwich ingredients like turkey, eggs, avocados, or peanut or nut butter. Just make sure that whatever ingredients you put on your sandwich won’t spoil during your ride, especially if you plan to be in the saddle for a few hours. Or, make your sandwich the very first snack of your ride.
5. Homemade or store-bought energy gels
Energy gels are extremely popular among cyclists because they’re easy to digest and carry along in your pockets while you cycle. Find out how to make 5 DIY energy gels at home here! A high-carb snack option, energy gels immediately restore glycogen in your muscles to provide an instant energy boost.
Some energy gels also contain electrolytes or caffeine, but if you’re concerned about what a store-bought gel may contain, you can make your own with simple ingredients like honey, Nutella, maple syrup, or even coffee.
Whether you make your own or buy them pre-packaged, if you plan to eat several energy gels during a ride, it’s even more important to hydrate! Failing to do so could result in uncomfortable cramping, bloating, or nausea.
6. Homemade energy bars
You can easily make your own energy bars by combining nuts, seeds, and fruit for a healthy and substantial high-energy snack on the go. Nothing is wrong with pre-packaged energy bars if you’re tight on time. Just make sure you check the nutrition and ingredients label to avoid buying overly-processed and sugary bars that may derail your health goals.
7. Water infused with electrolytes
Although this isn’t technically “food,” it’s worth mentioning! Plain water is always the best option for rehydration, but adding electrolytes (minerals like sodium or magnesium that maintain your body’s balance of fluids) can help you avoid dehydration and the unpleasant side effects and health risks that go with it.
When you sweat while cycling, your body will lose electrolytes, and you’ll need to replace them. Instead of buying pre-made electrolyte drinks, which are often packed full of sugar and artificial colors, make your own with simple ingredients like honey, salt, lemon juice, and water.
What are some healthy meal ideas for endurance cyclists?
If you’re struggling with what to eat while training or on the day of a long ride, try out a few of these meal ideas:
Examples of what to eat while actively training for endurance cycling:
- Chicken, rice, and vegetable bowl
- Grilled turkey burger with baked sweet potato fries and grilled vegetables
- Spaghetti and meatballs
- Grilled chicken sandwich with veggies and hummus
- Smoked salmon, rice, and vegetable bowl
- Savory chicken and vegetable wrap with hummus or avocado spread
Examples of what to eat the morning of a long ride:
- Smoothie made with yogurt, fruit, and spinach
- Oatmeal topped with fruit and a cup of juice
- Toasted bagel with peanut butter or nut butter and banana slices with a cup of juice
- Eggs and whole grain toast
- A protein shake
Key Takeaways:To make it through long endurance rides, you’ll need adequate amounts of carbs, protein, and fat. Snacks like dried fruit, nuts, and energy gels are ideal while you’re in the saddle, but proper nutrition on non-riding days is just as important.
- D’Unienville, N. M. A., Hill, A., Coates, A., Yandell, C., Nelson, M., & Buckley, J. (2019). Effects of almond, dried grape and dried cranberry consumption on endurance exercise performance, recovery and psychomotor speed: protocol of a randomised controlled trial. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 5(1), e000560. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjsem-2019-000560
- Clark, N. (2013, July 2). The Importance Of Nuts and Seeds in an Athlete’s Diet. United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee. https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Triathlon/News/Blogs/Fuel-Station/2013/July/02/The-Importance-of-Nuts-and-Seeds-in-an-Athletes-Diet