Nutrition is one of the most overlooked areas of mountain biking. After all, you’re willing to spend the extra dollars on carbon frames, bars and wheels to get your bike as fast and light as possible. But what’s the point in having a top of the line bike if you’re not physically able to do it justice and ride it like a demon. To get the most out of your bike and yourself you need to fuel your body properly. In this piece we’ll look at things to eat, and times to eat to achieve optimal energy levels on the bike, and therefore maximize your ride. Food is fuel and when you’re optimising it to an event or activity it falls into three distinct categories; pre ride, during and post ride.
To get that engine going before a ride you’ll be need to be taking on some carbohydrates, but timing is everything. In an ideal world you’ll have time to consume some pasta or similar based meal 3 hours or so before riding. Realistically though, you have a short window to ride and prepare and need to be efficient at consuming the carbohydrates – steer away from anything to stodgy and heavy as you’ll likely see it reappear halfway up the first climb. One of my favourites would be oatmeal, whether in porridge form, or muesli form with some dried fruit to boost sugars, or a personal tasty favourite, porridge with granola and dried fruit on top. Other suggestions could include a bagel with cream cheese or jam with a banana or apple chaser.
This will see you fuelled up and well set for your ride. One key thing is not to take on too much protein before a ride – protein requires a large amount of water to break digest, which can lead to dehydration and later cramping. And while we’re on hydration, if you’re a morning coffee person, I’m not going to deny you it, but remember to drink plenty of water before you arrive at the trails.
So, you’ve made it to the trails, but what goodies do you need to fill your hydration pack with? The rule of thumb is a snack every 30-45mins of riding, whether that be an energy gel, banana, chewy bar or a sandwich. The aim is to carry on consistently fuelling your body and eating before you are hungry.
The sciencey bit - Carbohydrates consumed are broken down into glucose, and stored as glycogen. These levels deplete through an intense workout, and if not restored, muscles will stop working and you will be welcomed rudely to “the bonk.” At this point, your body will actually use the protein in our muscles as an energy source and therefore shrink our muscles.
The huge benefit of specific sports energy bars and gels is their excellent balance of carbohydrates and proteins they provide, and their ease of storage and consumption. Of course the amount of food you take on during a ride will differ as per the length and intensity of a ride, but it’s always worth taking an extra few emergency chewy bars to pep the body up should you take a wrong turning, or a ride get out of hand.
Aim for about a litre of fluid an hour equating to a long sip every 10/15mins, whether that be water or a mixed sports drink, it is vital you maintain fluid levels. There are a great number of pre mixed isotonic drinks available, and also effervescent tablets you can drop into the water in your hydration pack to replace those salts and electrolytes. Even a homemade sports drink, 500ml orange juice (or similar), 500ml water and a pinch or two of salt will yield wondrous performance results out on the trails.
We’re not saying no beers post ride, after all you deserve them! But make sure you’re taking on plenty of water at the same time, as this will aid your recovery for the next day. Try to get a small amount of carbohydrates and proteins consumed within 30mins of riding – whether that be a small sandwich, some toast, fruit and a yoghurt, a milk based recovery drink, or a mix of the afore mentioned. This will massively aid your body in replenishing your stores and beginning to repair muscle fibres, a huge benefit on multi day rides, or week long riding holidays. If this can later be supplemented by a balanced meal, whether that be pizza, a burger, chicken breast and veggies, try and consume it within 90 minutes of finishing your ride. Once again this will aid the recovery process and your performance will be noticeably improved on multi day rides.
Bike nutrition doesn’t have to be an expensive experience buying expensive gels and energy bars, there are a huge amount of cheap effective and homemade solutions that you can put together in your own kitchen. Everyone’s body is different and will need different levels to function to its most effective, so over your next few rides, try a few of these tips, learn how they benefit your body and soon you’ll have your very own nutrition plan dialled in.