Nutrition: Alternative Energy Foods

Long rides such as Sportives or Century Rides require our bodies to take on a large number of calories, with specific nutritional qualities; in order to keep our legs spinning optimally. The modern energy food market is so broad and so developed, that when you begin shopping around for your "Event Diet", the choice can be overwhelming, both in terms of diversity and price.

Having completed 5 consecutive 'Century Ride' days coming back up through France on my touring trip last year [Link], and then starting 2012 with a Century Ride twice round the Isle of Wight; I have begun to learn quite a bit about what my body needs and wants for long hours in the saddle.

This blogpost is titled "Alternative Energy Foods"; I do not want to take away from the benefits of modern energy gels and bars; they have their place in every jersey pocket. But I have discovered that after a few days or even a few hours of consuming them your body wants something different, or at least your wallet often does! So I aim to post here a few ideas of different, more natural sources of energy that can get you through a long ride and leave you feeling ready for another Century (or four) the day/s after!

Pre-Ride Nutrition
The nutrition that you have before your ride is paramount in providing good, sustained performance. Not only will it fuel you for the first hour of riding, but it can provide valuable protein stores to help recovery from efforts the day before.
For me, nothing beats a bowl of porridge - I have it almost every day of the year; it's cheap, quick and easy (when done in the microwave). But most importantly, it is packed full of Low GI oats that provide sustained energy, and the milk has invaluable protein and nutrients in it, to keep your body going.
Normally I just have mine with a teaspoon of Golden Syrup, but it's a diverse base for anything that you might want to add; from banana to dried fruit; variation can make it a bit less boring when you have it day-in-day-out.

Instant Energy
Energy gels are an ideal source of fast-acting, effective, instant energy; but they are not the only sustenance out there for that sudden sugar hit:

  • Jelly Babies or Beans: Cheap and effective, a handful of Jelly Babies or Jelly Beans will give you a good amount of tasty, instant sugar - you can stuff an open packet in your jersey pocket and reach in when you want to take a few out. Ideal for when you see a big hill in the distance that is going to require a bit more effort!
  • Liquorice Allsorts: Another confectionery that I enjoy on the bike - good because they don't get too squished in a jersey pocket; it gives you something interesting to chew on when you have a long boring section of road, and provides a good amount of energy as well.
  • Bananas: The cyclist's classic snack - bananas are great, they don't matter if they get wet or sweaty, and they give you a great energy hit, as well as containing important magnesium and potassium that are vital for muscle recovery.

Solid Snacks
The above "Instant Energy" snacks should not be used to try and provide sustained nutrition on a ride - they might taste great and give you a good "sugar hit"; but they won't keep you going for long. Instead you need more "solid" energy sources. In the world of modern, expensive energy food, this would be your energy bars; however below I have listed some of my favourite "alternatives":
  • Home-made Flapjack: Quick and easy to make, my recipe for high energy flapjacks can be found in the nutrition tab at the top [Link]. They are a damn-sight cheaper than energy bars, and tastier in my opinion; and when kept in a sealed tub, they will last for a good few weeks.
  • Stroop Waffles: These are apparently Lance Armstrong's favourite food on the bike; and perhaps it's my Dutch heritage, but they are also one of mine. You can buy them in individual packets from companies like Honey Stinger, but a far more economic way of getting them is in a large box of ten from your local healthfood store. They can be easily stashed in a jersey pocket when wrapped in foil, and they don't deteriorate too much when squashed about. Give them a go!
  • Marzipan: Another European delight - marzipan is a fantastic source of energy and very tasty and easy to eat. You can buy 100g bars of it wrapped in chocolate from stores such as Lidl, at very reasonable prices. 
  • Porridge (again!): If you have the ability to meet your "support team" or call back home/to the car mid-ride (especially on long rides like a century ride), then a food-flask of porridge is a great snack. It will give you all the benefits it did at the start of the ride, and when the weather is cold, it will help to warm you up too! 

We all know the importance of hydration (1% dehydration leads to a ... etc. etc.), and there are plenty of ways to get fluid in you. On a hot summer day, when you are sweating a fair bit, there really isn't much substitute for good isotonic sports drinks to replace the lost salts and energy. However on colder days you can get away with a few alternatives, which can be less costly.
  • Coffee: Caffeine has been proven to be a beneficial stimulant to endurance-athletes, and many of us cyclists love coffee. A warm cup in a cafe half way through your ride can really lift spirits, and give you a much needed kick. See my separate post of "Coffee - The Life Blood of Cyclists".
  • Water On long "base-mile" rides in the winter, when you are not exerting your body too much; water can be an adequate fluid to take. You can stay hydrated and still burn off some of those Christmas Calories.
  • Coca Cola: Similar to Coffee - with the caffeine benefits, a cold coke can be very refreshing, whatever time of year it is. It is surprising how often you see it coming out of pro-peleton musettes at feed-stations. The sugar can also help to give you a similar kick to an energy gel (or our above listed alternatives!).
  • Neutral Flavour Energy Drink: This is what I use throughout the year on harder and longer rides. You can mix it with squash to give it different flavours, so you don't get bored, and it is a fair bit cheaper than it's flavoured companions. The PSP22 Neutral Fuel seems to work well for me; then on a hot day when you need the isotonic element, you can add a High 5 Zero tablet to give you back your much needed salts. 

Protein is a vital ingredient that many cyclists forget about in long rides. After a few hours of hard riding your muscles begin to feel the strain, and without protein they can't repair themselves. As a result, it seems beneficial to take on a small amount of protein towards the end of a long ride, both to stop muscles breaking down and to start recovery as soon as possible. You can get 4:1 drinks that contain protein; but again, their price and artificial flavours can deter you after a while. Below is my alternative:
  • Mixed Nuts: A small packet of mixed nuts will provide 25 grams of protein per 100 grams. That is enough to get your muscles started in the repairing process. They are small and can be stuffed into a jersey pocket quite neatly. They are also a great source of energy to help replace calories at the end of a long ride, and salted versions can help to reduce cramping in hotter conditions. 

Post Ride Recovery
I'm going to write a separate post on post-ride recovery nutrition; but for now, check out the nutrition tab on the blog for my cheap, home-made recovery shake:  [Link].

I hope you've found this interesting, and it has given you a few things to put on your shopping list for those longer rides. Nutrition is of such importance in our sport, almost everything we eat matters...I hope I've shown that there is no reason that it always has to be energy bars and gels! 


  1. Good write up Tim. Never thought about marzipan. Will have to ensure I've got things like this for my 24 hr race.

    Id add on there for pre ride meals pancakes as well and during the ride malt loaf and another favourite banana loaf with walnuts in it!

  2. Very good points Jez - completely forgot about malt-loaf, it is one of my favourites! and banana loaf is great too, the walnuts would help with the protein intake as well :)

  3. An interesting and informative post Tim.....
    Like you porridge is one of my favourite pre ride bike foods. I had it every day on my ride back from Gibraltar last September....and on my LEJOG ride we ate our way through over sixty malt loaves.
    The most important thing of course is finding the foods that work best for you....


  4. Wow, this is really a very nice post! I've learned a lot from this.

    solar perth

  5. Just what I was looking for as I am attempting to up my ride distances


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Recipe – The Ultimate High Energy Flapjacks

SwissStop Disc Brake Pads Comparison Test Review – Are All Disc Brake Pads Made Equal?

Best Gravel Bike Cycling Routes on the Isle of Wight

Review – Osprey Escapist Bikepacking Frame Bag (Medium)

Review – Selle Italia SLR Boost Gravel Superflow Saddle S3