QUESTION: What is better to use while riding? Energy bars, gels or energy drinks? —Tom C.
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: Since all three deliver a good dose of carbohydrates, which are what you need to keep energy flowing while you ride, it doesn’t make a lot of difference whether you use bars, gels or energy drinks, provided you also drink water with the gels and bars. The energy drinks, of course, supply their own fluid. (See this study.) So what it comes down to is which of the three, or what combination of them, do you most enjoy or are easiest on your stomach.
The biggest advantage of the bars, gels and drinks, however, is that they are easy to consume without getting off the bike, which is why you’ll see professional riders devouring lots of them when racing. But assuming you are not racing, you can sustain your energy similarly with real foods like bananas, fig bars, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix, chocolate milk and other items, all of which are generally less expensive than the commercial energy products. Coach John Hughes has more about what’s best to eat while cycling.
I don’t race, but I ride regularly and typically go 30-40 miles each time. With a banana and PB&J sandwich on wheat bread in my jersey pocket, along with some fig bars (and, in hot weather, something salty, like pretzels) in my bike bag, I’m all set for eats on the road.
I like ice water in my bottles, but when I can’t get ice, I prefer an energy drink, often diluted, because the flavoring encourages me to drink more than I do when the water has warmed. In cooler weather, I sometimes include some hot tea in a thermos that fits in a water bottle cage. On hot days, I find stopping somewhere to purchase and drink a cold Coke gives me a good boost, and I’m not above picking up a Heath bar while I’m at it.
Lots of riders use a combination of regular foods and energy-specific products. Whatever high-carb sources you like best and sit well in your stomach are likely to be what is best for you.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.