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 (https://bikenoob.com/2012/07/19/sushi-rice-cakes). 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.
Here are some of the healthier options mentioned in this post.
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
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.
I’m pushing 250 lbs.; so my Hoss is fuled by human lard (HAHA)! Seriously though, when I’m starting to lag, chocolate milk seem to perk me up better than anything.
Jeff Hemmel says
Chocolate milk is a great recovery drink, but in the heat I don’t think I could ever chug it midride. Friend did it once and the results weren’t pretty!
Oh yea! That can happen with milk. I’m a casual rider, so I have no problem with sitting on the bench in front of the grocery store killing a pint, but if I were hard core, I would certianly chug something a little easier on the innards.
Grant Shawcroft says
Good post. I use a chewable product called Ignite, from Chews4Health International. I take one about 30 minutes before I ride, usually with a couple of swallows of water. It’s all natural and gives me more energy without giving me a high then crash (not on the bike, I mean physically). I have found that I get a couple of more mph on the bike, and quicker recovery during the times when I coast and after my ride. My rides are usually around 18-26 miles, mostly flat with some small hills. We have big hills but at 63 years old I tend to stay away from them. Also I’m a FOM (Fat Old Man). Anyway, check them out at http://www.chews4health.com/grant if interested. Disclaimer: I’m an affiliate for Chews4Health (for about 2 years now), that’s why the /grant is at the end of the web address. Gives me credit when someone visits the site. I wanted to do the hyperlink thing but couldn’t figure out how. It’s ok for a cyclist to have a side interest, right?
Chris Lauber says
I frequently ride with Jeff, the author of this article. Now I know his secrets for pulling our local peloton, climbing our Florida bridges, and winning the sprints.
Jeff Hemmel says
Could also be the little hamsters running around the wheel in my bike’s bottom bracket.
Hamsters — hummm? I have a lot of squrriels in my back yard; maybe I’ll trap a few. HAHA!!
Scott Jangro says
That’s funny you mention climbing florida bridges. Since you have basically no hills there, right? The bridges are your big climbs.
I was crossing the the Sunshine bridge in Tampa a few months ago thinking, wow this would be a climb!
I’m pretty sure that’s a condition that cyclists develop, which is to mentally ride any climbs as you drive them in a car. In advanced stages you bore your spouse and friends with it out loud.
Sad thing is I can climb all the area’s biggest bridges — twice — and still not break 2,000 feet.
Wendy Menne says
Yeah for Fruit Drops!
no sugary junk mess left on the teeth!
Thanks for sharing!
Any time, Wendy!