Nutrition On A Bike Tour
Nutrition on a bike tour is a challenge depending on terrain, location, carrying capacity and the length of your trip. There are a few online calculators that can give you a rough estimate of what to expect to burn, but often don't account for things like elevation gain, headwinds and surface conditions. 40 miles on the smooth flat tarmac will burn far less energy than 25 miles on a steep, rocky hike a bike terrain. All that said, it is good to plan to burn at least somewhere between 2000 - 4000 (if not more!) calories depending on your terrain and intensity.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that “nutrition” is also a highly subjective idea and the best-laid plans can be thrown out the window when traveling through remote areas. If all that little rural corner store has is Snickers and jojos - then that’s your nutrition for the day. It’s best to be flexible and opportunistic.
All that said, after over a decade of touring we have fine-tuned our nutrition to what works for us and we generally break up our nutrition into two main categories: "on the bike food" and actual meals. All these, of course, vary wildly on where you are touring and your diet but should provide a good starting point.
On the Bike
On the bike food, aka snacks, provides a constant drip of carbohydrates and protein while you are riding to avoid "bonking" (low blood sugar crash). It can range from what you can grab at the convenience store candy counter or more sports-oriented supplements.
Generally, we like to carry a few bars with us of some sort. We tend to gravitate towards Lara Bars since they tend not to be overly sweet and have a good balance of carbs and protein. We usually carry 2 to 3 per day per person to bridge between meals. If Lara Bars aren’t available, the tried and true Snickers bar always works.
We also usually carry some sort of quick consumable protein so that we don’t get completely hopped up on sugar. This usually comes in the form of beef jerky or hard salami. We also usually have a small plastic jar of peanut butter or almond butter that we either eat with a spork straight out of the jar or spread on a tortilla (more on those later!)
And lastly, we carry a few gel packs (our favorites are the Honey Stingers since they aren't overly sweet) as our "get out of jail cards." We eat these when we start getting cross-eyed and feel the bonk coming on. It’s a quick injection of sugar that can get you over a rough patch.
For meals, on a bike tour, we usually do a mix of cooking our own and stopping in at the local diner, cafe or roadside food stand. One of the great joys of bike touring is eating local foods!
Some like to do an elaborate breakfast with eggs, but we usually opt for a cold breakfast with hot coffee to get on the road quickly. One of our staples is peanut butter and jelly on a tortilla.
A quick word about tortillas: on bike tours, tortillas are your best friend. They pack flatter than bread (obviously!) and are the perfect food delivery device for both sweet and savory meals. You can choose between flour or corn tortillas. Flour has the advantage of generally being larger and more pliable, but corn tortillas are gluten-free.
For lunch, if there’s no local place to eat, we usually make a savory tortilla with a hard cured meat and hard cheese or with whatever is locally available. We also sprinkle chia seeds on our food as well. Chia seeds are the legendary “running food” of the Tarahumara people that were documented in the endurance trail running book, Born to Run. They are full of Omega 3 fatty acids and in our experience, do help with sugar spikes during the day and make the meals last a little longer.
Avocados also make a great light lunchtime snack. Halved with a sprinkle of salt and chia seeds they provide a nice fatty meal rather than slurping down sugary gels.
Dinner is usually always our largest meal of the day and the one we will usually cook. For us, it is usually some protein and vegetable over a starch like rice or potatoes.
For starch, we’ll carry a few packs of instant rice to act as a base for the meal. Another alternative is instant mashed potatoes like the Idahoan brand, they create a nice slurry which soaks up all the juices of the meal.
Our cook kit is relatively small with a few simple spices: salt, pepper, cumin, red pepper flakes and some packets of soy sauce.
If meat is available near to where we are camping for the night, we’ll carry it to camp and sauté or brown it with olive oil, season it with salt, pepper and soy sauce, throw in some local veggies and pour everything over the mashed potatoes or rice.
For trips where there are no reliable markets, we’ll carry dehydrated meals. For areas where we have to conserve water or can’t cook, we will keep things super simple and rely once again on our friend the tortilla with some cured meat and slices of avocado.
You can get as simple or as fancy as you like on a bike tour. On short overnighters where we want to keep things dead simple, we sometimes just buy 2 burritos each. One for dinner in the evening and the other for breakfast. Another variation of the lazy man’s bike touring nutrition is pizza. Eat half for dinner and wrap the rest up in foil for breakfast and breakfast part 2.
Bike touring nutrition can be a daunting thing to tackle. If you already have experience backpacking, a lot of those techniques can be carried over. If you’re completely new, take along a little more than you think you’ll need and some tortillas. Always tortillas.
Bike Camp Cook Cook Book
Bikecentennial Cook Book from 1976