With a big ride ahead, you’ve probably spent time checking your bike and equipment. But the fuel you'll be putting in your tank before, during and after it requires some attention, too.
The least you can do is carry a sports snack, chocolate bar or some dried fruit in your pocket. But ideally, having a clear idea of the food you want to take on during — and either side of — your ride will help you enjoy it and get the best out of body.
The best big-ride breakfast should provide plenty of quality carbohydrate that’s easy to digest and won’t sit in your stomach feeling uncomfortable until lunchtime. Porridge is a fabulous source of complex carbohydrate. Choose organic rolled oats or 'traditional' porridge, rather than sachets of the instant stuff that takes seconds to nuke in a microwave.
The latter has been highly processed in order to cook quickly. But what you gain in convenience is lost in nutritional value. It’s well worth standing over a pan and stirring the bubbling mixture for ﬁve minutes to make something that’s worth eating. You could add some chopped dates or raisins to provide another source of carbohydrate in the form of fruit sugars.
Dates also contain niacin (vitamin B3), which is involved (with the other B vitamins) in the process of energy release in your muscles. For some people, porridge “stays with you” for several hours, giving a feeling of fullness. If, however, you find yourself feeling hungry again soon after your porridge breakfast, try eating it with a little single cream. If you don’t like porridge, don’t eat it. Life is too short to force yourself to eat something that you don’t enjoy.
A good alternative to porridge is unsweetened muesli. Again, choose the real thing rather than one of the over-processed versions, which are mainly sugar. Real, unprocessed muesli takes a lot of chewing, so give yourself time to eat it properly if you're opting for muesli! If you don’t like muesli, try cornﬂakes and add some raisins, chopped dates, ﬂaked almonds, Brazil nuts, pumpkin and sunﬂower seeds.
If you can stop at a café for a mid-morning snack, a good choice would be vegetable soup with lentils, peas or beans, and a slice of wholegrain bread with a little butter. This will provide a range of carbohydrates to top up your glycogen stores.
Alternatively, British riders might opt for good old baked beans on toast. The beans are not only a source of carbohydrate but are particularly high in calcium. They also contain a range of other minerals, including potassium, iron, magnesium and manganese, which are involved with muscle function and blood circulation.
There’s usually no shortage of confectionary, cakes or cookies to choose from at the mid-afternoon cake stop. But some choices are better than others. At this stage of your ride, your glycogen stores will be low and so you'll need a good dose of carbohydrate to get you over the last few hills and back home safely.
A couple of scones or pancakes with jam and a little cream or butter is an ideal choice. But so is a slice of fruit, ginger or carrot cake. It’s best to avoid heavy gateaux, cheesecakes or pies with pastry. These contain a high proportion of fat that’ll delay the digestion of carbohydrate.
After a long ride, you’re likely to feel tired and not ready to eat a big meal. But your muscle and glycogen levels will probably below and your muscles will need to begin the process of repair. A good recovery snack needs to contain mostly carbohydrate but also some protein. A ﬁg smoothie is easy to make and will provide a good mixture of fruit and milk sugar with some protein from yogurt or soya milk.