Pre-packing your ride food and recovery snack is generally healthier and more economical than buying gas station snacks. However, there can be many scenarios during or after a mountain bike ride where you may find yourself at a gas station in need of food and have no idea what to buy. So here are some gas station snack ideas for mountain bikers.
The Fear of Processed Foods
The big gas stations can be overwhelming with choices, and the small-town ones may not have many options. Generally, when looking for gas station snack ideas, I encourage people to choose foods with fewer ingredients and words they recognize. Less processed foods are usually the better choice. However, selecting some snacks at gas stations that have artificial colors, flavors, or dyes for the occasional mid-ride snack is not going to harm you. A well-balanced diet includes all your meals and snacks for the day. Eating one “unhealthy” snack will not make your entire diet unhealthy. Eating something that is more processed and prepackaged at a gas station mid-ride is better than bonking on your mountain bike ride.
Mid-ride Gas Station Snack Ideas
During your bike rides, you want to choose products that contain carbohydrates, primarily with a little bit of fat and protein for satiety. Some healthier options are bananas, pretzels, fig bars, or granola bars. However, it is okay to have some foods considered more processed and less healthy. My favorite gas station snacks are Goldfish, Chex mix, chips, Sour Patch Kids, and Cheez-its. Also, if I eat these snacks at gas stations, I generally don’t buy them for home and don’t snack on them throughout the day. I would also grab a cold drink with electrolytes and sugar, like Gatorade, to sip on, especially if it is hot. Don’t forget to refill your water bottles as well.
What To Avoid
While the greasy rotating hot dogs and other hot foods may entice you, I would avoid those. They are typically high in fat and can cause gastrointestinal distress as you continue your ride. Choosing something with caffeine like Coke Cola is okay. It may provide an excellent mid-ride energy boost but avoid the extremely high caffeine-containing energy drinks. If you are looking for snacks to take with you, I typically avoid anything containing chocolate as it can turn into a melted mess on the trail.
Post-ride Gas Station Snack Ideas
While it is great to pack a recovery snack or drink ahead of time, you may have forgotten or didn’t have time. Look for something that has a mix of carbohydrates and protein; a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. An ideal recovery snack has about 15-20 grams of protein and 45-80 grams of carbs. However, don’t get too caught up in the numbers. You can look for something that has a mix of the two macronutrients. My favorite gas station recovery snack is chocolate milk, which contains protein and carbs. It can also help rehydrate you. If you purchase a protein bar, make sure to have a source of carbs, like a banana or pretzels. The same applies if you buy yogurt; make sure to add a carb source.
Another great recovery snack is trail mix. The nuts provide protein, and the dried fruit and chocolate provide carbs. A sandwich is also a good choice if the gas station has a Subway or another sandwich store adjacent. Choose something with lean meats like chicken or turkey and avoid the fried options.
Always plan ahead when you can but don’t be afraid of gas station stops. You need fuel during your rides to perform well. So having a snack at a gas station is much better than bonking on the rest of your ride. Likewise, eating or drinking something from a gas station for recovery is better than arriving home hungry and ready to eat the house.
Emily is a Sports Dietitian who is passionate about helping others improve their health and athletic performance through proper nutrition. She races cyclocross professionally. She lives in Roanoke, VA with her husband Kerry and their beagle Sherman.
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