Ever Had Trouble Eating on a Ride?

I was looking forward to the club ride this morning. We were going to head out on Fitzhugh Road, which goes through rolling Texas Hill Country landscape southwest of Austin. The club has several different lengths for this out-and-back route, so the rider can tailor it to his or her own abilities.

Today, I planned to go beyond the usual B ride turnaround point, and go another seven miles to the A turnaround. That would give me a 46-mile round trip instead of 30. I was amused to see that a few of our group decided to start at 7:30, instead of our usual 8:15 a.m. start time, to beat the heat and add some additional distance for a 60-mile round trip.

I have a love-hate relationship with Fitzhugh. It’s a fairly scenic ride, and the rolling hills can be a challenge. But I’m often well behind the group even before we get to Fitzhugh, about nine miles west of our starting point. It’s common for me to ride Fitzhugh all by myself, with the ┬ámain group well ahead and out of sight.

Some riders stopped at a convenience store at the beginning of Fitzhugh, to top off their water bottles. While the day promised to be another hot one, it wasn’t terrible yet, and a light breeze cooled my sweaty skin. I passed up the store, and pedaled on alone.

But a few miles down the road, I could hear some chatter behind me. The half dozen riders who had stopped caught up to me and passed me. One of the problems I have when riding alone is a tendency to ride easy. I saw that I could push myself a little more, and stayed with the group for several miles.

At the turnaround, I arrived by myself again, but found the rest of the crowd still there, grabbing what little shade could be found. I drank deeply from my bottle, and fished some fig bars out of my back pocket. Fig bars are a common snack at breaks, and I like them better than the energy bars. I had three small bars with me, and figured I had time to eat them all to recharge myself for the ride back.

But as I chewed the first bar, I realized that I wasn’t going to eat all three. Heck, I was having trouble getting one down. I chewed and chewed. I didn’t want to munch on solid food. I would have preferred some kind of energy drink, but all I had with me today was plain old water.

Since I was the last one to the turnaround, I got the shortest rest period before we started back. I was still chewing the one fig bar as people put their helmets back on and took one last swig from their bottles. By now, the fig bar was a gooey blob in my mouth, and I couldn’t seem to get it to go down the pipe. Finally I did, and set out on the return leg several hundred yards behind the others.

At the convenience store at the head of Fitzhugh, I caught up to everyone again — just as they were leaving. I refilled my bottles and sat down in the shade to have another fig bar. Same thing. It was like chewing on taffy. I had trouble getting it to go down. I’m sure it held me up and kept me from leaving soon after the rest of the riders, but I had to choke the food down and wash it down before I felt ready to leave.

The day was hot, but not remarkably so in this hot summer. I was bushed from pushing myself up the rollers, and my right thigh was showing signs of potential cramping. So the conditions were testing me, but they weren’t anything I haven’t experienced before — just as recently as the day before.

Somehow, the combination of the heat, the sweat, and the fatigue all combine to prevent me from enjoying food during rides. As I write this, the third fig bar is sitting on the kitchen counter, still in its baggie. I’ll probably snack on it later tonight. Obviously, I’ll have to come up with something else to eat on long, hot rides. I’ve used energy gels in the past, and for the most part, don’t care for them. The candy-like gel blocks work okay, and Gatorade has just introduced their own version that is easier to chew than others. I might have to stock up on those.

It’s a shame, though, because I much prefer “real” food when riding to those scientifically mixed concoctions. But I’m open to suggestions. What kinds of foods do you like to eat during a longer summer ride, and have you ever experienced the same difficulty swallowing food as I do?


  1. bgddyjim says

    The best real food I’ve eaten on a ride is walnut/raisin/oatmeal cliff bars. They’re not perfect, but if I finish chewing and let the lump sit in my mouth another 20 seconds it goes down quite easily. In the non-real food category, Jelly Belly energy beans (extreme cherry) are the best.

  2. says

    Sometime I have the same experience that you did, but only in high heat and when my stomach is upset. As much as I love figs, I stopped eating them because they get a little sticky in my mouth and tough to consume. Like Jim, I go with Clif bars, or occasionally energy gels. Hope you feel better the next time.

  3. says

    This has happened to me, during one particularly hot century ride a couple years ago. It was similar to your situation in that it was quite hot and I was struggling to keep up with a group. I had a Clif bar with me and it became impossible to chew/swallow. I think this could happen with nearly any solid food. A while down the road we reached lunch and after resting and downing some more fluids I was feeling better, and I ate lunch and I was still kind of sluggish on the return trip, but I made it the rest of the way.

    In these situations I like Clif shot blocks. I also always have a bottle of some kind of sports drink, usually Heed. When I first started riding seriously I tried to just use real food and often it’s fine but especially long rides in heat, sometimes I do find that shot blocks and Heed work better for me. Some people like gels, but I never could get used to them.

  4. says

    I’ve got two go-to foods for long rides, depending on the situation. We tend to make a lot of c-store stops, so in those situations, a good ole’ Snickers bar is what I go for. Yeah, I know it’s not the “healthy” option, but it works for me. If I know I’m not going to have access to a Snickers (and you can’t carry them because they will melt), Stinger Waffles are my choice. I’ve never had issues with them.

    As for drinks, it’s usually plain old Gatorade or Powerade Zero.

  5. Tom Z. says

    Cliff bar, home made bars my wife makes (healthier option), cliff bloks or the occasional mini bag of peanut M&M’s. I actually suck on the bloks sometimes just to have a sweet taste in my mouth instead of the dry desert it can become.

    I don’t usually have a problem eating though, what tends to happen to me is I get in a zone (spaced out from the heat) and almost forget to drink. Have to constantly remind myself to reach for the bottle. 1 ride I even set my countdown timer to go off every 10min so at least I stayed hydrated.

  6. says

    I’m with you on the real food thing — I can’t stand energy bars or gels. I like to bring a few different types of food on a long ride for just this reason – I don’t always know exactly what my body will be in the mood for. Usually for a daylong ride I’ll carry a banana, a peanut butter/banana wrap, some cereal bars (I like Jordan’s Red Berries), and a ziploc bag with a variety of things like m&ms, nuts, and gummy bears. That way no matter what my body is craving I always have something to feed it!

    For shorter rides you do have to edit stuff out but I’d always rather have more food than I need, I hate the feeling of being completely out of food on a ride, it makes me anxious.

    The other thing I have discovered recently is that if I eat something small (like a few m&m’s) as soon as I feel a bit hungry, while still on the bike, my appetite seems to maintain itself better so that I can also eat enough food at a rest stop. Otherwise on hot days I can definitely struggle with nausea and lack of appetite. Not that we’ve had too many hot days in London this summer!

  7. Scott K says

    I like bananas, raisins in a baggie, and Larabars. On long hot rides, I usually make sure to bring a couple of gels for the electrolytes (to avoid cramping), but a zip-lock with some gatorade or skratch powder for mixing into my water bottle would work too.

  8. lynn e says

    Honey Stinger Waffles! I thank the Fat Cyclist for that introduction. They really are the perfect biking snack.

  9. Jeff A says

    My club did what turned out to be a 55-miler on Saturday. I had a couple of Kroger Trail Mix Fruit & Nut bars. My problem was that although I got a Gatorade and a Reeses Bar when we stopped at a c-store, I should have also bought a bottle of water to top off the bottles on my bike. My bottles went dry with about seven miles to go and had to put in an “emergency” call to my wife. Thanks for the delivery, dear!

  10. says

    The worst thing I ever ate just before riding was half a can of green beans. I was poor and it was the only thing I had in the house to eat. I puked at the top of the first climb. The one thing I ate that I thought would’ve made me hurl, but didn’t, was one of those prepackaged sandwiches you get at the convenience store. In fact, it went down easily and stayed down. I’ll default to Fig Newtons when necessary, but for the most part I can’t tolerate anything sugary and overly sweet – which includes most energy bars.
    Next time, try one of those sandwiches and see what happens.

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