Cycling is an active living sport that eats away at calories and burns fat very rapidly. This is great in keeping your waistline in check, but during those long rides this can lead to serious problems. Without maintaining proper nourishment, cycling will burn away your calorie intake creating a deficit, then start pulling from your energy stores. With a deficit, fat will be burned and you also will get muscle loss.
With intense cycling, your body loses sugar and water, along with other essential nutrients. These are things that affect the way that you physically feel. It is safe to say that every cyclist has experienced the severe leg cramping that makes you have to jump off the bike quickly, or the complete loss of physical energy making you unable to go further. By giving your body the right nourishment at the right times, riders can prevent serious problems.
There are many products out there that meet the energy needs of riders, but are not ideal for chemical-free, plant-based eaters. Many are overly processed and full of the wrong sugars, carbs, and fats. Therefore, we’re giving you a few ideas of things that you can buy, or prepare at home, to meet your cycling nutrition needs.
All Fat is Not Created Equal:
Get your good fats, and stay away from saturated fats. Saturated fat is not equivalent to the fat in your body. Our body and brain need good fats from plant-based foods in order to perform properly. Eating an avocado before cycling and when done will give you the needed unsaturated fat. You can also pack small storage bags with a mix of nuts. Nuts are great sources of good fat. Eco-friendly storage bags can be acquired at reuseit.com.
Your carbohydrates should still be of quality, coming predominately from fruits and vegetables. Carbs from fruits and vegetables will absorb quicker and give quick energy rather than turn into body fat. You can pack berries, grapes, bananas, and dates. Also, include grains in your snacks. Raw granola, rice cakes, pretzels and dehydrated vegetables are all great choices. Include a baked or mashed potato –white or sweet — in your meal the night before riding. Whole grain rice is also good for the before and after meals.
Protein and Iron:
A lot of focus is put on quality protein for individuals eating plant-based diets. We all know the famous question. Though the reality is that protein is not a concern for plant-based eaters, it does become a concern for cyclists, especially since there are often few places along your path to get clean plant-based protein.
Make sure to include power-packed proteins like lentils, quinoa, and leafy green vegetables in your recovery meal. You can pack or buy small packages of hummus, and almond butter to eat with crackers, pita chips or veggies. Almond butter and jam sandwiches made with a quality seed bread is a good mid-ride item.
First and foremost, bring enough water. Naturally alkaline spring water is a great choice. Prepare one water bottle with coconut water. We like to mix our coconut water with different 100 percent berry juices like cherry, blueberry, pomegranate, or blackberry. Small sips of the coconut water and berry juice mix is enough to perk up your hydration and energy levels.
Try to eat your sodium before and after by seasoning your foods with sea salt. For long ride safety, bring along a small pack of sea salt to sprinkle into your water in emergency cases of extreme dehydration. Or you can pack a dill pickle.
Energy bars have become a saturated market that is sometimes overwhelming when you go to the grocery store. For vegan cyclers, filtering through the array of products to find the bars free of dairy, eggs, meat, and now even insects has become a task. Looking for soy-free options makes the task even more daunting. The best option is to plan ahead and make your own raw bars. Going the homemade route insures control of types and amounts of sugars and also ensures healthier unprocessed options. But in those times where you need to grab something quick for your spur of the moment ride, then look for these brands:
Do not fall for the overly processed sugar fruit snacks. Opt for dehydrated fruit and ginger chews.
Honey Stinger Chews: These are a good alternative to dehydrated fruit in order to get a quick boost of energy to push you through.
Examples of what we pack for rides:
Short 10-30 mile rides: Pre-ride meal will consist of organic corn grits or steel cut oats and a green smoothie. With shorter rides we want to just make sure that we have enough fluids with us. On the bike we take a bottle filled with water and bottle filled with coconut water and berry juice. In the car we keep a few more bottles of water, a bag of nuts, and a couple bars.
Medium 30-60 mile rides: This distance we have found definitely needs good preparation. Starting at this level, rides should be planned at least one day ahead of time. This preparation gives us the ability to have a power dinner the night before. This is usually a protein and iron-filled meal. This meal will also include good carbohydrates. Examples are lentil soup or lentil loaf, spaghetti with whole grain pasta or quinoa pasta, black bean burgers, or falafel with vegetables.
For the actual ride we carry with us 2 to 3 water bottles and or a waterpack. We each will have one bottle filled with a coconut water and berry juice mix. With this distance we each will carry with us on the bike: at least 2 bars; 2 small bags of dehydrated fruit, ginger chews, or honey chews; a banana; and bag of nuts or dehydrated vegetables. In the car we will have almond butter and jelly sandwiches, more nuts, bars, and bananas. We keep a few more bottles of water, berry juice, and coconut water in a cooler in the car.
The post-ride meal is also iron and protein packed. We often eat Ethiopian or Mediterranean food for post-ride meals. Ethiopian food, consisting of lentils, split peas, and injera, is great for replenishing with protein and getting your iron intake.
Longer 60 miles and up: Rides longer than 60 miles should be well planned. You should know where you would make stops and know how you will get food. Will you need to park in a location that allows you to get food from the car in the middle of the ride? If you don’t drive to a location, will you need to bring a backpack or bike accessories that allow for enough space to bring a fully nutritious lunch? Is there a store or restaurant that is appropriate for you to eat?
With longer distances we usually ride with a team that has one person driving with us. This allows us to pack a well-balanced lunch and have it in the vehicle that rides with us. Having someone in a vehicle is the safest way to ride long distances, if this is not possible then you should equip your bike and bring an appropriate backpack in order to bring your well-balanced meals.
For these rides, we usually cook our meals for the ride a day ahead of time and put them on the assist vehicle. These meals have included tacos, veggie sandwiches, lentils or beans and rice, and wraps. These should be meals that can be easily packed and not prone to spilling or going bad. Get a good cooler that can fit all of your nourishment items and ice. Having a separate soft cooler for items that do not need ice is good to have.