Mountain biking season is upon us, and if you’re anything like me, the thought of heading out into nature and exploring new trails is making your heart flutter. And your stomach grumble. You see, riding bikes makes your girl hungry! It is therefore from my role as a nutrition coach AND as a snack connoisseur that I bring you this rider’s guide to snacking.
One caveat before we get started: everyone is going to be a little different, so it’s important to be curious with nutrition and use every ride as an opportunity to tweak our strategy. There is no pass or fail here, just a million opportunities to improve. It’s true of, well, everything we do, really, but well worth repeating when it comes to improving our nutrition. With that out of the way, let’s dive in!
I initially wrote this post with mountain biking in mind, but to be honest, it would totally apply to hiking, skiing and other outdoor endeavours as well! What’s your favourite way to play outside, and what do you think of the tips? I’d love to know and see how I can help you crush your nature time!
Many variables are going to influence your snacking needs and overall fueling strategy (read: your nutrition in general), so let’s break it down using 6 basic questions:
What kind of rider are you? Without nerding out too much (though if you are into that kind of stuff, get in touch, and let’s geek out), you can probably imagine that your riding style, intensity and situation is going to influence your nutritional needs before, during and after your ride. In other words, are you a recreational rider, a high-level performer, or are you out with your kids for an easy ride but packing snacks for the whole family?
When in the day are you planning on riding? And when’s the last time you ate by the time you are pulling up to the trailhead? If you are planning a ride around meal-time it is probably a good idea to take a snack with you, so that you avoid running out of gas. Finishing a ride with hunger pangs is never a good feeling, so take something small with you at least! These questions also apply if you are meeting with your perpetually late buddies, as by the time they show up, your planned midmorning loop might be more like a lunchtime ride. (Yes, I’ve been there too)
Now for the part that everyone is waiting for… “but Clo, WHAT should I eat?”
When working at a high intensity, muscles prefer to use glycogen (the body’s way of storing carbohydrates, i.e. sugar, in the muscles) as their primary fuel source.
I’ve put together a more in-depth downloadable FREE guide for you - just scroll down to the end of this article to get it!
But what about keto?
As I explained, muscles function optimally when using glycogen, i.e. carbs, as their primary fuel source. With keto, since you are restricting carbs, you run the chance of feeling low energy while on the bike. Some people, however, report feeling amazing on the bike, but they may be unable to access the last 10% of their power at the top end. Up to you to decide if it matters to you.
Most importantly, it’s up to you to try it for yourself if you think it might benefit you overall! Chances are, mountain biking is only one aspect of your life, so if keto fits most aspects of your life, then why not try it out? For those that are curious about it, check out this blog post that provides a good overview of the debate.
Where you are planning to ride is related to how long you are planning to ride for, which we will get to next. Needless to say, some rides lend themselves to mid-way snack breaks better than others. If you are only planning on being out for a short ride or it’s an overcast day in the middle of mosquito season, you may want to plan to eat before and after but not during your ride.
How often are you riding? Are you looking to ride every day this week and wanting to sustain a high output, or is life crazy and you are out on your one 90-min ride of the week?
The second question in this category is how long? I don’t need to point out that you don’t eat for a 6-hour epic the same way you do for a 45-min after-work leg stretcher. (With that said, we’ve all been on leg stretchers that turned into epics... I’m looking at you, Mike). Planning for an emergency snack or 2 is never a bad idea.
The last question in this category is how intense? If you are following a formal training program and you have some hill sprints or intervals to hammer out today, you might want to focus on foods that are easier on your stomach and don’t leave you feeling heavy.
What are you trying to achieve with mountain biking? If you just want to be one with nature (kumbaya, bro), we may have a different conversation than if you say you just want to be King of the Mountain, or if you ride as a way to lose the last 10lb. If you are unsure how to tell those apart, or what your goal really is, please reach out! I’d love to help you sort it out.
We’ve covered the basics, but there is so much more to say about fueling your next mountain bike ride or hike! This is why I’ve created a FREE downloadable snacking guide - it covers each above question in greater details, as well as hydration, red flags as well as some awesome snack ideas! Just drop your email below to download it.