Eating While Pedaling

By Christi

March 2017

Christi Turner

If you read my last entry, you may recall that as of last month, I’ve been vegan 16 years (eek!). Throughout that time, I’ve tried to eat a balanced, nutritious, organic-as-possible diet – whole grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruits, minimal sugar, zero supplements, and of course WAY too much coffee. And being such a conscious vegan, of course, impacts what I eat on the bike.

But let’s start with the most extreme example of “what I eat on the bike”:

It’s July. It’s HOT. There is no wind. Oh, and it’s Park City, Utah – so it’s also very high and hilly. It’s like mile 55 of 80 miles or so, around 2 pm. My brain is starting to turn on me – I’m feeling inexplicably wacky. I’ve eaten through my mainstay on-the-bike food (we’ll get to that), and I really, really need more food. I’m about to hit a wall. And at moments like this, I want one snack and one snack only:

Diet Dr. Pepper and Swedish Fish.

Other than these moments, I can’t remember a time I’ve wanted Diet Dr. Pepper since I was a teenager – the pre-vegan days. However, the day after I decided, definitively, to go vegan, I burst into a 7-11 in a panic and flipped over the nearest bag of Swedish Fish to check the ingredients: PHEW. No gelatin. Just sugar. THANK HEAVEN. But despite that very real, slightly embarrassing episode, I probably eat Swedish Fish once every three years – except at these moments of desperation while pedaling.

But here’s what’s important about Diet Dr. Pepper and Swedish Fish: they give me what I need when I need it, and they don’t make me feel sick to my stomach. Here’s a very, very short list of things that reliably don’t make me feel sick while cycling:

  • Clif Bars (the blueberry and carrot cake ones especially, mmmmmmm)
  • Water with Nuun
  • Water
  • Honey Stingers (I’m a vegan who’ll sometimes eat honey)

…And the occasional Swedish Fish and Diet Dr. Pepper. But usually, for the typical 50-ish mile ride in the spring or summer, the winning combo for me is two big bottles of water – one of them with a Nuun tablet – and two Clif bars in my pockets.

Here’s an equally short list of things that really make me want to vomit on the bike:

  • “goos” of any kind
  • Shot blocks of any kind
  • bagels

As a road cyclist who’s somehow gotten really into long-distance riding and a good bit of climbing, and like all people who find themselves enamored (mildly obsessed?) with cycling, I’ve had to learn how to nourish myself for riding. I don’t pretend to have it all figured out, nor do I intend to tell you what to do to nourish yourself as a cyclist. What I will emphasize is this: anything is better than hitting that wall.

Make sure you figure out the answer to these questions: What gives you lasting energy for riding? Do you need a big meal the night before and no breakfast? Do you need a hearty breakfast and no dinner? Or both? And solve this riddle: what’s small enough to fit in your back pockets, nutritious enough to satiate you and palatable enough to not make you sick under the particular circumstances of pedaling up and down and along roads and tracks of all sorts? I’ve come to believe that the answer to that riddle will be different for everyone. Can you even stand to eat anything while you ride? (My riding partner barely eats while he rides – he’s a goddamn camel.)

Figuring out what food works for you to keep you pedaling is just as important as figuring out the right bike fit and riding kit. And hey, if that means the occasional bag of Swedish Fish, so be it.

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