Two weeks ago, we were on a group ride on a rolling hills route. As usual, the A group riders left me far behind. Although I felt fine, I turned back early, with another rider who couldn’t keep up either. His friend tried to stay with the lead pack, but showed up at our Starbucks finish line about 10 minutes behind us.
“I just had nothing left,” he said. “I could barely make it up that final hill. I could hardly move my legs to pedal.”
That sounded like a classic bonk to me, and I asked him what he had had for breakfast.
“An energy bar,” he said. “How about you?”
“A bowl of Cheerios with raisins and bananas, two frozen multi-grain blueberry waffles, a glass of orange juice and half a cup of coffee,” I replied.
“Man, I wish I’d done that,” he said.
The breakfast topic came up again on this morning’s ride. My friend David asked me what I’d eaten this morning. It was essentially the same thing as last time, but substituting toast with jam for the waffles.
“I had two scrambled eggs, bacon and toast,” he said. “Usually I like oatmeal dribbled with honey.”
Well, I’ve never been an oatmeal guy. But I learned the hard way last year that you need to fuel up before a bike ride.
The obvious thing is to bulk up on carbohydrates. My cereal and banana work there. Lance Armstrong’s training coach, Chris Carmichael, said in USA Today during Lance’s last Tour de France win that his breakfast is a big one: Two bowls of whole grain cereal topped with skim milk and fresh fruit, a three- or four-egg omelet and some pasta, rice or potatoes.
“And don’t forget the two cups of Peet’s Coffee,” Carmichael said.
That might be why I was never in danger of bonking last fall during my century ride. I stopped at a McDonald’s on the way there, and had two sausage-and-egg burritos, a hash brown potato patty (yeah, I know — greasy — not a good thing) and coffee. It was filling, and got me off to a good start.
I’ve read that you need about 400 calories for breakfast on ride day. The breakfasts David and I had this morning should meet that target. My only problem is, I’d like some variety in what I eat.
What kind of eating strategy do you follow for breakfast? And what do you eat? Let’s try to get lots of different suggestions.
I do a lot of my own cooking. It’s kind of a routine and if you get me out of the routine, suddenly I end up unhappy and stressed. So I generally eat my own cooking an astonishingly high percentage of the time.
I also bike generally all but one day a week. So any breakfast must be appropriate for cycling. I’m actually fairly breakfast obsessed.
Every weekend, I made one loaf of bread. It’s my own recipe with white-whole-wheat flour and spelt flour and honey and flax meal and buttermilk. Every other weekday, I’ll have a homemade version of the Sausage McMuffin with cheese using toasted bread. The rest of the time I’ll have oatmeal with milk and honey and walnuts. And then on weekends, especially if I’ve got a big chunk of bread left, I’ll have just peanut butter on toast. Either way, with a whole pot of tea with milk. That’s the “standard” schedule. Sometimes I like to mix things up.
I make my own lunches, generally in bulk on the weekend, so some weeks I’ll get a bunch of tortillias and I’ll make myself Mission-style burritos for lunch and stick ’em in the fridge and make breakfast burritos during the week.
I also make sure I include bacon in my breakfast, because I’ve been looking better and better with all of my cycling, and I like to be able to tell folks that I lost weight and gained muscle while eating bacon. Well, that and it tastes good. So instead of a sausage-mcmuffin-clone, I’ll have a bacon-mcmuffin clone.
There’s an Indian dish called Poha.. it’s rice that’s been made into flakes. So I’ll have that fried with onions and potatoes and spices. I am presently realizing that I saw purple potatoes in the store the other day and am regretting purchasing some for Poha.
And then sometimes I’ll make omlettes and toast.
Oh, and I make pancakes from scratch. Usually with either blueberries or walnuts in them.
I’ve bonked a number of times when going out fueled by only a bowl of corn flakes or maybe a piece of toast. Its never good to think, oh I’ll be fine. Generally I eat loads before I go on a ride.
I’ve been known to eat spaghetti bolognese, pie and mash and all kinds of foods for breakfast that most people would consider to be lunch time foods.
Yesterday’s breakfast was sausages, beans, omlet and roast potatos. Strange combo I know but it worked for me.
Chaps! This is hilarious – sorry, but ‘bonking’ here in sunny old UK means something entirely different!
(Sorry, must disengage juvenile humour CPU…)
Mike Weiland says
I think more importantly is the timing of the breakfast. Most nutritionist and research says to consume your breakfast at least 3 hours before your event. Especially if the ride is going to last longer than 3 hours. Anything sooner won’t be broken down in time and you’ll run the risk of having it rumbling in your stomach causing digestion distress. I think intensity will also have an affect on this as well. If the ride is going at a moderate pace of 18 mph or less than you probably don’t run the risk of upsetting your stomach having food in it.
Also, I don’t forgo sleep to get a breakfast in, if I have an 8am start time I won’t eat breakfast. However, I’ve taken care of my nutrition in the days leading up to my race. No I don’t carbo load the night before, it’s a consistent diet leading up to the event, everything I’ve been seeing is that the night before “carbo load” doesn’t give the benefits as once thought. About 30 minutes before the start of a race I’ll consume a Hammer gel. Then 30 minutes into the race I’ll start my fueling, more gel. Plus I’m getting my calories and hydration in the form of Heed. I’ve applied this strategy for group rides to centuries.
A couple weekends ago I deviated from this to have breakfast with my kids, which didn’t adhere to my 3 hour window. I went out on a short 40 mile ride at 19-20 mph and I suffered. My stomach just couldn’t handle having anything in it.
The first few times I went to a ride without breakfast it was hard, it wasn’t so much that my stomach felt hungry it was more to do with my head. It took a few times to validate the strategy as it seemed to be counter intuitive to me. Once I was able to see that the strategy worked and I felt great during the ride I was able to put any concerns behind me.
Here’s some more on it:
The Science behind pre-race meal protocal
One other thing, our metabolism is different for everyone, there’s not a one size fits all when it comes to ride nutrition. What works for me might not work for you based on how you ride and the types of events you ride.
Here’s what I do when I’m doing LSD (long slow distance) rides — cereal bar and banana for breakfast, with either a Coke Zero or cup of coffee. I then have 2 bottles on the bike — one with water, one with electrolyte / sports drink (depends on my inventory). I eat a gel or equivalent every 25 miles or so if I’m alone. When I need to fill the bottles, I eat something with high calorie content from the convenience store — cookies, candy bar, etc.
On supported rides, such as a double century last summer, I ate like a horse during the ride. Sandwiches at lunch, fruit and cookies at breaks, etc. It’s better to have more energy than not enough.
BUT I CONTRAST THIS WITH WHAT I WOULD EAT FOR RACE / TIME TRIAL. TOTALLY DIFFERENT ANSWER, SAVED FOR ANOTHER POST…
My breakfast strategy is to stay light and not fill up too much. For me this is usually a bowl of low fat granola cereal with a 6oz yogurt and a piece of fruit…usually a banana. Liquids would consist of small glass of juice (usually orange) and sipping on water right up to ride time. I’m a huge coffee drinker but typically abstain pre-ride (post-ride I seek out the largest size iced coffee I can get my hands on…here in the Northeast, it’s not too hard with a Dunkin Donuts on just about every corner). I try to eat no less than 1 hour before riding. If I know the ride is going to be longer or harder than normal, I’ll add a 2nd piece of fruit and/or cereal bar. I love hot oatmeal but stay away from this pre-ride during the season…it’s just too heavy sitting in my stomach. I also stay away from eggs, peanut butter or anything greasy…they just don’t work for me.
I will have a “2-eggs 1 slice (of toast)” with some bits of leftovers browned and on top. The leftovers usually end up being some sausage or some steak or the occasional vegetable medley. I also try to get a second cup of coffee down before I get going, especially now when it’s cold outside in the mornings (Richmond, VA).
I have plenty of water on the ride and I’ve started having one of those Power Bar Sugar Bombs every so often. I’m still working on how best to use them, but they definitely provide a jump whenever I have one.