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Coaching Column: Eating real food during rides

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |February 14, 2013 4:16 AM

Coaching Column with Namrita O'Dea: Eating "Real Foods" During Your Ride

Question: "I was hoping to get away from, or at least mix it up some, using performance drink mixes and bars while training, and possibly while racing.  What are some good real food options that are simple and feasible to bring on a ride that will work well as far as digestion and fueling purposes?  Is it possible to train with all 'real food' items and then on race day use a sugar based drink mix again? 

Answer: Some training rides are a great opportunity to leave the usual race fuel at home and enjoy something else. There are a few things to keep in mind, though: You don't want your race fuel (drinks, gels, electrolyte add ins, etc.) to be completely "new" to your system on race day. Make sure you still include some training rides with your race nutrition; Dr. Asker Jeukendrup calls this "training the gut". I'd recommend doing so in race simulation rides, longer rides with some intensity, or during back-to-back high intensity days. During other rides, it's fine to mix it up with some real food. A recent study found that running performance and GI symptoms were no different when eating raisins vs. energy "chews". Another study with cyclists found that raisins were a "natural, pleasant, cost-effective alternative" to commercial sport nutrition products (i.e. sport beans) for moderate- to high-intensity exercise.

So, raisins are good but here's some other ideas for "real" ride food:

Short and fast (heavy on the carbs):

- Dried fruit (pineapple, banana, mango, cherries, blueberries, etc.) - if you have a food dehydrator you can easily make these yourself. It's cheaper and you don't have extra sugar or additives. 

- Homemade cookies or bars (use oats, rice, raisins, chocolate chips, dried fruit, coconut, honey, agave)

Long, fun/exploration rides (a little more sustenance):

Any of the above work for longer rides but you can also add: 

- Jerky (again, you can make this at home)

- Homemade cookies or bars with nut butter, sweet potato, coconut, flax, chocolate chips, dates, nuts, bacon, etc.

- Almond butter & honey/agave/or maple syrup mixed up in a flask or on a sandwich

I also asked other racers what they like to eat and here's what some of them had to say....

"My favorite would be to stop by a burger stand but if I have to carry something it's usually peanut butter and honey or jelly. Easy and fast to make; won't spoil or get too funky; and substantial fuel." - Dave Wiens of Topeak-Ergon

"Rice cakes like these with other ingredients that I like (nuts, chocolate, bacon, etc. etc.) or some variation of these energy orbs" - Jeff Kerkove of Topeak-Ergon

"Bananas!" - Chloe Woodruff of crankbrothers race club

"Almond butter & honey or Honey Stinger gel sandwiches. Also, lemon-flavored Honey Stinger waffles and dark chocolate almond protein bars" - Eddie O'Dea of Topeak-Ergon

"Hummus, avocado, and goat cheese on Udi's gluten-free bread" - Damian Gonzalez of Delta Velo/Michael David Winery

If you'd like to share your real food ideas tweet them @me on twitter and @MTBRacenews

Namrita O'Dea

If you have a training question you would like answered by any one of our world-class coaches please email it to:

Namrita is a Registered Dietitian and endurance mountain bike athlete. At 55nine Performance, she specializes in nutrition for sports performance and wellness, and coaching. Namrita holds a Masters degree in Nutrition from Georgia State University and is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Physiology at Georgia Institute of Technology. She also conducts clinics and camps for women cyclists and speaks at several nutrition and racing clinics in the Southeast. Namrita currently races for Team Topeak-Ergon USA. For more information and updates, visit

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