On-Bike Nutrition Part 1: Nutrition strategy on the bike + Energy Bar & Gel Reviews

A sound nutrition plan for your rides and races should be straightforward and allow you to enjoy your ride and also perform to the best of your capabilities.  For long and challenging rides your nutrition intake can make a massive difference so for such rides its well worth giving it some thought and building into at least some of your rides in preparation.

Part 2 of this Blog (here) deals with liquid intake but here we will deal with an overall plan and review popular Energy Bars and Gels that you may choose to consume as part of that.

Firstly, it is important to note that although the nutrition industry may like you to think otherwise for short and easy rides there may well be no need for any specialist nutrition at all.   Eating before, after and drinking some water or juice during your ride is probably sufficient in those circumstances. 

Where on-bike nutrition becomes more important is for rides of over say 2 hours and/or those at higher intensity.  In those cases the guidance is generally to consume up to 1 gram of carbohydrate per hour for every kilo of bodyweight.  This can be achieved through a combination of energy drinks, gels, bars or other foods and how you achieve it will be partly personal choice and partly what is possible versus your requirement. 

  • Energy drink is typically the quickest and easiest thing to consume on the bike and of course helps with hydration but for long rides it can be difficult to meet your requirements in this way alone.   
    • Pure energy powder is close to 100% carbohydrate and using recommended doses (which may be stronger than you would normally use) two 750 ml water bottles would provide around 240 grams of carbohydrate which equates to 4 hours carbohydrate allowance for a 60kg rider or 3 hours for an 80kg rider.
  • Gels are quick and easy to eat while riding but for many people consuming too many gels can lead to stomach problems and for some flavours they can also become unappetising after the first few.
    • Gels range between around 35% and 65% carbohydrate so its important to check these when making any calculations. Taking an average size of 50 grams and assumed 50% carbohydrate that equates to 25 grams of carbohydrate per gel which means our theoretical 60kg and 80kg riders would need to consume 2.5 or 3.25 gels per hour if that was to be the only source of energy.
  • Energy bars provide slower energy release but for a long ride can also provide more appetite suppression compared to drinks and gels alone.  
    • Bars are again quite variable with generally 45% - 65% carbohydrate. With an average weight of say 50 grams that again equates to around 25 grams of carbohydrate per bar and the same hourly requirements as the gels.
  • Other suitable foods may include bananas, flapjacks, small simple sandwiches
    • To give some context a banana weighs around 120 grams and provide 30 grams of carbohydrate so alone provides 20 – 30 minutes or carbohydrate allowance.

For a long ride it may be sensible to begin with the more solid food and bars to allow greater time for those to be digested and to delay any feelings of hunger.  Later in the ride, gels can provide fast benefits, both nutritionally and mentally, as fatigue increases.  Liquids should be taken steadily throughout a ride.  In any case its important to plan ahead so you should be eating to avoid feeling weak in 30/60 minutes times rather than only eating when you are already feeling depleted.

 

On-Bike Nutrition Tips 

  • A plan is only as good as its execution so make sure you keep a good eye on your ride time and try and resist the temptation to put off eating till later
  • To make it easier to eat while riding consider cutting open bar wrappers and cubing bars into bite sized pieces
  • You may find it easier to stick to a nutrition plan by using a “Bento box” on your top tube for long rides to allow the easiest possible access to energy bars (including those which can be pre-cut) and gels
  • Although many Energy Gels claim they do not need to be consumed with water it is generally a good idea to sip water or liquid after a gel to aid the digestion process

 

 

Review of popular Energy Bars & Gels

Energy Bars

TORQ

These are generally comprised of oats, raisons, sugars, other fruits and rice.  Flavour options are Apple, Banana, Orange or Mango and in each case ingredients are organic.  The bars are relatively soft and easy to chew making them among the easiest on test to eat while riding hard and we found the flavours relatively palatable.      

Price per gram of Carbohydrate: 67% of most expensive reviewed

RawVelo 

100% organic and making strong claims to be the most natural product.  Flavours include Chocolate Raspberry, Chocolate Orange, Chocolate Walnut Brownie, Peanut Butter & Jam.  Largest ingredient in every case is Date paste.  The carbohydrate proportion is the lowest of the bars tested and as a result the price per gram of carbohydrate is the highest on test.  Bars are tasty but the flavours are not too distinct from each other, perhaps given the date composition.  We also found the bars to be quite dense to chew. 

Price per gram of Carbohydrate: 100%  i.e. most expensive reviewed

SIS

Ingredients are predominantly fruit juice from concentrate, dried fruits and then cereals.  Product makes relatively few claims as to its “natural” provenance compared to others and taste is not going to overly excite you either.  Flavours include Blueberry and Banana Fudge.  Again, the consistency is rather dense so will take some chewing. 

Price per gram of Carbohydrate: 63% of most expensive reviewed

OTE

As something a little different these Duo bars are in large part made from rice and are available in Cookies & Cream, Vanilla or Chocolate flavour.  The flavour and moist consistency compared favourably with those on test and as the name suggests the bars are packaged in two halves which makes life a little easier on the bike, they are however quite sticky so we found it best to eat each half in one visit.    

Price per gram of Carbohydrate: 50% of most expensive reviewed

**Best on test**:  The OTE bars score highly across Consistency, Price and Flavour. 

Veloforte

Another bar making strong natural ingredient claims, these UK produced bars lean towards an Italian heritage with names likes Classico, Ciocco and Di Bosco and are the bar that would be least out of place served with a coffee in a nice café.  Ingredients vary with flavour but tend to have a relatively high nut content which stands out against the other products tested.  Although the price per bar was the highest on test the price per gram of carbohydrate was actually in the middle of the range.  Packaging was unusually difficult to open so if you want to eat these during a tough ride then consider opening the packet ahead of riding.

Price per gram of Carbohydrate: 64% of most expensive reviewed

Clif 

Mainly comprised of rice syrup and rolled oats these are akin to a fairly dry flapjack which means that they are relatively tough to chew and swallow so are challenging to eat while working hard on the bike, these may be better for rides with stops.  Of the bars tested these were the most widely available so these may be the easiest to find if you stop at a Supermarket on a ride.  The bars are available in the widest range of flavours, our favourite were White Chocolate Macadamia and Peanut Butter.  The bars were also the cheapest in terms of cost per gram of carbohydrate.

Price per gram of Carbohydrate: 43% of most expensive reviewed

 

Energy Gels

TORQ

To us these were the tastiest gels on test by a distance, to the extent that we would look forward to them.  Flavours are also distinct and interesting, our favourites were Black Cherry, Rhubarb & Custard and Apple Crumble and are pleasant to mix during a ride.  These gels also provide electrolytes and we found we had no issues with consuming a number of these on a single ride.  Ingredients are predominantly Maltodextrin and water.  For the carbohydrate they deliver these were also the cheapest on test, costing around half of the most expensive tested. 

Price per gram of Carbohydrate: 52% of most expensive reviewed

**Best on test**:  Price and to our palate the nicest flavours made the Torq gels the clear winner.

RawVelo

Consistent with the entire range these are again organic and naturally derived.  Ingredients are dominated by rice syrup, grape juice concentrate and coconut sugar.  Flavours include Blood Orange, Passion Fruit & Coconut and Blueberry & Hibiscus.  Packaging and consistency make these relatively tempting to take on board.   

Price per gram of Carbohydrate: 86% of most expensive reviewed

SIS

These gels are again based around Maltodextrin but deliver a relatively low carbohydrate load.  Available in a range of flavours but in each case they are taste more functional than delicious.  Relatively well priced for the carbohydrate they deliver and widely available in bike shops. 

Price per gram of Carbohydrate: 59% of most expensive reviewed

OTE

Available in simple fruit flavours like Apple, Blackcurrant, Orange and Lemon & Lime these have a similar composition to most on test, namely, water, maltodextrin, fructose and fruit concentrates.  Although we didn’t find it hugely beneficial the packaging can be torn at two different sections to allow for quicker or slower flow as you find you prefer.  Consistency is relatively runny and flavours are quite fresh tasting which was a positive. 

Price per gram of Carbohydrate: 64% of most expensive reviewed

Maurten

These gels make grand claims about their composition and the additional capacity to consume and absorb energy that this allows.  That said, the ingredients are dominated by water, glucose and fructose which doesn’t appear to confer any obvious advantage over the other on test.  Available in only one relatively neutral flavour this could be considered an advantage if you consume as many per hour as they claim you can as there is less flavour to get tired of but it isn’t going enjoyable either.  We found the opening of the packaging to be the least practical on test and these were the most expensive gel on review by some distance.

Price per gram of Carbohydrate: 100% i.e. most expensive reviewed

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