Top 5 Ways to Fuel Your Mountain Bike Adventures

nutrition mountain biking fuel

‘Eat to ride, ride to eat’

 

– it’s a mantra many of us follow. And why not? Mountain biking not only brings us outdoors with friends, breathing in the fresh air and hammering along incredible trails, but it also burns major calories. Staying fueled and hydrated with proper nutrition on your ride is crucial for avoiding cramps, bonking, and making tomorrow’s ride just as fun as today’s. Let’s take a look at the top 5 ways to fuel your epic mountain bike adventures!  

 

1 - QUICK ENERGY –

 

Carbohydrates are the key to making your day on the mountain bike a success. ‘Carbs are King’ because they provide the quickest source of energy through glycolysis (the breakdown of carbs into energy). Your body stores enough glycogen to last 12-14 hours of daily activity, which gets you through only TWO HOURS of sustained exercise! So the goal with bike nutrition is to keep those glycogen stores up while you’re riding, so you avoid the dreaded ‘bonk’ that occurs when you run out of glycogen.

 

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of exercise. The average athlete can process only about 1 gram of carbs per minute, no matter how much you eat. The limiting factor isn’t your muscles: it’s your intestines. They can only transport glucose from food into your bloodstream only so fast. So read the labels on your bars, chews, and gels and target 30-60 grams of carbs per hour.

 

Products like Honey Stinger chews and waffles provide the perfect combination of quick-energy carbs that are delicious and easy to eat on the trail. Simple wholesome ingredients based on honey as the main source of carbs; and they are organic, with gluten-free options as well.

nutrition mountain bike honey stinger chews

 

nutrition mountain bike honey stinger waffle

 

2 - SUSTAINED ENERGY -

 

When your ride is longer than 1.5-2 hours, adding a bit of protein to the mix is a great idea. Protein not only keeps you feeling ‘full’ for longer, but helps sustain the carb impact on your muscles. Studies have shown that adding protein to your on-the-bike carbs enhances recovery after your bike ride too, making you primed and ready to have another epic day tomorrow!

 

New research also suggests that by consuming energy foods that contain a mix of sugars (glucose, fructose for example) along with some protein, you can bump that carb processing to 1.7 grams per minute.

 

While riding, I try to eat something every hour even if it’s just a few bites from a bar. Waiting until you’re hungry, then downing 3 bars at one time is a recipe for gastrointestinal distress!  Set an alarm on your watch or bike computer if you can’t remember when to eat. And digestion can get harder as rides get longer, so eat more solids at the beginning of a ride, and switch to chews and gels later in the ride.

 

We love TrailNuggets new PRO bars, which are a blend of almonds, dates and other fruits, with the added bonus of a filling of 100% all natural peanut butter. A perfect blend of carbs and protein, in a delicious snack bar – gluten free and vegan, I guarantee they taste like dessert!

nutrition mountain bike trailnuggets pro

  

3 – SAVORY AND SWEET –

 

All these sweet bars, waffles, chews and gels can sometime make you crave a little salty flavor and some fat to satisfy the belly. That’s where the savory snacks come into the mix. A handful of salted almonds can do the trick, or a chunk of turkey jerky. Any of the trail mixes out there work great too.

 

Gorilly Goods has come out with snack packs filled with amazing pumpkin seeds (surprisingly packed with protein!) seasoned with tamari, cayenne, cilantro, salt, and chili pepper – they pack quite the punch of flavor that will satisfy your savory cravings, with an excellent blend of protein and fat. And all organic, vegan, gluten free and low glycemic!

nutrition mountain bike gorillygoods seeds

 

nutrition mountain bike gorillygoods pack

 

4 - DON’T FORGET ELECTROLYTES –

 

A great way to optimize your energy during rides is to drink an electrolyte hydrating drink while you’re eating high-quality carb snacks. Keeping low-carb hydration and high-carb snacks separate allows you to target the 30—60 grams of carbohydrates per hour a bit easier, while also allowing you to replenish the sodium, potassium and other important minerals you lose while riding.

 

I like to keep water in my hydration pack and a bottle of sports drink on my bike, with another packet or 2 of sports drink mix in my pack to refill when we have the chance to stop for water on longer rides.

 

Skratch Labs has been a leader on the electrolytes scene for years, and are constantly upping their game based on scientific research and athlete feedback. Their Sport Hydration Drink Mix was created to replace the electrolytes lost in sweat using real fruit for flavor – not a lot of unnatural laboratory ingredients. Their flavors are light and refreshing with no heavy syrup-y taste, so your belly will be as happy as your taste buds!

nutrition mountain bike skratch hydration

 

5 - POST-RIDE RECOVERY –

 

If you finish your ride feeling a bit hungry but not starving, congratulations – you fueled correctly during your ride!

 

But you’ll still want to replenish soon. You’ve all heard about the 30-minute window for replenishing glycogen; this anabolic window describes the time frame after exercising during which nutrition can shift the body from a catabolic state to an anabolic one.

 

Ingesting carbs with some protein immediately after a ride helps your muscles replenish the ever-important glycogen you depleted during your ride, when they’re most ‘hungry’ for it. Studies have shown that ingesting both carbs and protein during this period of time can improve not only glycogen repletion, but also protein balance, muscle damage recovery, and subsequent performance.

 

If you’re not hungry immediately after ride, try to down a recovery drink like Skratch Labs Recovery – designed to be a packable, convenient way to consume the optimal ratio of carbohydrate, protein, fat and salt to refuel and rehydrate you immediately after your rides when you don’t have access to a meal. It gets the recovery process going while you’re on the road back home (or to the brewery!). They’ve improved their recipe recently by adding a probiotic to help with absorption of protein, as well as lactase which helps those less tolerant of milk products. And it takes just like chocolate milk – your muscles and belly will thank you!

nutrition mountain bike skratch recovery

 

And yes – beer can be considered ‘carb re-loading’, as well as rehydration! We recommend the highly-studied and medically-supported (!) Oskar Blues line of beers – this company LOVES mountain biking, and has made a variety of beers that pair perfectly with post-singletrack recovery!

 

nutrition mountain bike oskar blues

 

KEEP IT GOING DAY AFTER DAY –

Keep in mind that how you fuel and replenish during and after TODAY’S ride will greatly affect how you feel on TOMORROW’S ride. So, keep that fuel coming in and enjoy riding all summer long!

 

If you’re looking for more info on fueling, specifically during racing, check out our other blog “Mountain Bike Stage Racing: Tips and Perspective” - https://boulder.sacredrides.com/blog/mountain-bike-stage-racing-tips-and-perspective

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