Energy Food — And Drinks — Get Real

Not that long ago, fueling a longer ride seemed to be all about things like gummy chews, sticky goos, and sickly sweet drinks colored by chemical dyes that, after an extended ride, could actually end up upsetting your stomach. Sure, some of us went the banana/fig newton/water route, but let’s face it — a lot of us downed stuff with colors, tastes, and “energy” provided by a long list of artificial ingredients.

But just like fast-food restaurants have suddenly started to pare down their ingredient lists to simpler, real-food choices, athletic foods and drinks have begun to blaze their own natural path.

Probably the biggest proponents of natural foods in recent years have been Dr. Allen Lim and chef Biju Thomas of Skratch Labs. Lim had extensive history working with high-profile pro teams, and famously switched riders over to a homemade drink mix that avoided chemicals and artificial flavors and colors in favor of minimal, natural ingredients. Example? Guzzle some Skratch and that raspberry or orange you taste is the result of freeze-dried fruit powder, not some sketchy flavoring. (Want sketchy? Google “castoreum.”) When it came to food, the pair elected not to produce a packaged product, but instead write a cookbook, teaching riders how to make goodies like homemade sushi rice cakes. I’ve tried several recipes, as has contributor Don Blount ( They’re pretty easy to make, and allow you to include things like eggs, bacon, soy sauce or liquid aminos to satisfy salty cravings, or go a sweet route with berries and chocolate chips. When Skratch ultimately did come out with their first packaged food product this year it was actually a cookie mix. Add an egg and a stick of butter, toss in chocolate chips or your favorite fruit, and you could actually power your ride not with a gel or goo, but with cookies. Turns out with the right ingredients they’re not all that different from energy bars, and with fewer ingredients, easier to digest.

Even pure maple syrup has become a contender. Pro cyclist Ted King touts its combination of electrolytes, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins — and yes, carbs — as the perfect natural energy source in his gel alternative, Untapped Maple.

The food giants haven’t been immune to the trend. Clif recently released an “organic energy food” made from natural ingredients. Flavors include savory/salty mixes like Pizza Margherita and Sweet Potato with Sea Salt, or sweet choices like Banana Beet with Ginger and Banana Mango with Coconut. The consistency is kind of like baby food or apple sauce. But many people will note that, like Lim’s savory rice cakes, the salty choices actually hit the spot quite well on a long ride. And who isn’t occasionally interested in something sweet?

One reason to go the organic route, whether homemade or packaged, is that the results typically have a much higher moisture content. Your body will more quickly absorb energy, as water won’t be robbed from your body for digestion. By their very nature, real-food products are also easier to digest.

An interesting note? As companies like Clif have embraced organic offerings, Skratch just recently released its first pre-packaged product — a gummy fruit drop that takes aim at products like Clif’s Shot Bloks or Honey Stinger’s Energy Chews. Skratch avoids the carnauba wax that companies like Clif use in their gummy blocks, and the flavor, like the drink, is provided by actual fruit. Still, it’s a notable departure.

How about you, are you still guzzling Gatorade and eating Crayola-color gummies, or do you fuel yourself with “real” drink and food choices? Have some experiences, or even recipes to share? Give us your thoughts in the comments below.

Get Some!

Here are some of the healthier options mentioned in this post.

UnTapped Maple Syrup Athletic Fuel Packets: Box of 20 - Modern Bike

UnTapped Maple Syrup Athletic Fuel Packets: Box of 20 – Modern Bike

100% natural, pure organic Vermont Maple Syrup packed and ready to roll on any adventure.
Clif Organic Energy Food - Savory Flavors

Clif Organic Energy Food – Savory Flavors

For anyone who’s had a crazing for savory/salty food during an epic day in the saddle, Clif Organic Energy Food has just the vittles you desire.

20 Over 20: How to Get Fit Cycling Without Even Trying

I not only a bike noob. I’m a bike geek.

Part of what appeals to me so much about this sport is the technology and opportunities to measure and test and repeat. Bike computers and Strava have been the best things that ever happened to my physical fitness. Because every time I go out for a ride, I have incentive to push a little harder a little longer.

To keep myself pushing both up and down hills with no coasting, I watch my average speed. I’ve got my own goals and bars that I set for myself. Depending on the route I’m taking, I know that I should be able to average 18.5 or 19.0 or more.

A bar that’s pretty high for me is to average over 20 mph over 20 miles. I’ve done it lots of times in a group, but it’s tough to do solo, especially with some hills in the mix.

Sometimes everything comes together — a day of rest, some tailwinds, a well placed cyclist to chase down and get the competitive juices flowing — And today I was 11 miles in, at the point where the loop turns back toward home and I was averaging 20.5. I knew I had some good uphills to get back home plus headwinds, but at that point I committed myself to keep it above 20.

It was a struggle, especially with a few stop signs and traffic, but I pulled it off. And the workout I got was like when I’m chasing down the crazy-good cyclists in the local club A group rides.

I pushed harder, got a better workout, just by playing head games with myself. That extra effort to simply keep the average up over an arbitrary number turned a good workout into an amazing one. And I get all the bonus accomplishment feels to go with it.

None of this would be possible without a good bike computer to keep tabs on the numbers. I have a Garmin Edge 510 paired up with a heart rate monitor and cadence/speed sensor. There are lots of alternatives. Even your smart phone running Strava will do the job. Though you need a handlebar mount for your phone to be able to watch the numbers.

And if you don’t use Strava, give it a try. If you’re worried about how you look to your friends and others, don’t. You don’t have to compete with anybody but yourself. Your goals are your goals. You don’t have to compare. Just be honest with yourself.

There is, however, something to be said about the accountability and support you get interacting with a community like Strava. Getting comments and kudos (likes) go a long way.

If you’re going for fitness this is how to do it. You have to push. No coasting. And lay off the “granny gears”. With all due respect to actual grannies.

Get Some!

Here are some of the things mentioned in this article.

Garmin Edge 510 GPS Bundle And Mount

Garmin Edge 510 GPS Bundle And Mount

The Garmin Edge 510 Bundle Version comes with a premium heart rate monitor and speed/cadence sensor, along with all the trimmings of the regular 510.

How to Repair a Cut Bicycle Tire for $1

Flats happen.

And we’re all prepared for a flat with a spare tube, patch kit, CO2 cartridges or pump. Right?

But have you ever seen a tire split or get cut enough so that it doesn’t hold the tube? At 100 psi, a tire will push its way out of even a small cut in the tire and will burst. And if you’ve already used your spare tube (because your tire is cut and you just had a blowout) you’ll quickly blow the second one while inflating it.

I know. Because I’ve done it.

Here’s an important tip: when you get a flat, try your best to determine the cause. If you can, find the hole in the tube, and match it up with the tire. At least inspect the tire very well for something sharp (glass, wire, metal) poking through the tire. Slide your hand through the entire inside of the tire to feel for something sharp. Something caused the flat, and if you can’t figure it out, be very suspicious.

Types of Flats

There are many different types of flats:

  • Puncture: glass shard or metal wire
  • Pinch-flat: hitting a pot hole or rock. Sometimes called a snake-bite because the tube has two holes close together.
  • Tire damage: split tire or cut sidewall
  • Blowout from heat: Too much braking on a carbon rim can melt your tube or even the tire. (Or worse, warp your rim – ouch!)
  • Damaged valve: most likely caused when inflating, not riding.

Tire damage is the worst kind to get because we usually don’t carry spare tires around with us as they’re pretty bulky. Though you can get a folding tire into your pocket for longer rides.

How to temporarily patch up a cut or split tire

If you do get a split in your tire, there’s an easy fix that should get you home. Just take a dollar bill, fold it up, and insert it into the tire to cover up the cut. Get it in place between the tube and the tire and inflate.

If you don’t have a bill, a Gu wrapper, or some piece of strong flexible plastic will do the trick.

I always carry a dollar bill around in my saddle bag for this purpose.

This technique is called a “boot”. It is obviously not a permanent fix, but it’ll more than get you home or even to the end of your century ride.

Here’s a cut sidewall. You can see it between the two s’s in “Pressure”. And here’s the bill in place. (This is after we got home, we’re taking it apart at this point.)

Fold up the bill so that it fits into the full width of the tire. The tube will hold it in place.

Here’s the cut sidewall, fully inflated, kept intact with the five dollar bill.

Many things can go wrong with a bike when you’re out on the road, and most of them can be handled with just a little preparation, ingenuity, and out-of-the-box thinking.

Because there’s nothing like a two-hour round trip for your spouse to sour him or her to your favorite pastime.

We’ll cover more of these MacGuyver techniques in future posts.