Fueling properly for mountain bike rides is quite different than riding on the road or a greenway for several reasons. First, many bikes, especially smaller ones, are only made to hold one water bottle cage. Another challenging aspect is the terrain; the bumps, rocks, roots, and turns can make it much harder to eat and drink or even find a good place to stop to take a break. Below I’ve listed some of my top nutrition tips for mountain biking.
Suppose your bike can only hold one water bottle cage, and you are riding for over 1.5 hours. In that case, I highly recommend purchasing a hydration pack. There are numerous sizes and brands out there. The more common sizes hold anywhere from a liter to three liters of fluid. My favorite brand is Osprey, but Camelback is also a popular brand.
I only put water in my hydration pack. I just rinse it and hang it up to dry after my ride. Some people do put drink mix in it but make sure to wash it well afterward. I find a hydration pack much more accessible to drink from than a water bottle while riding. Read my article on hydration, but you may also want to have some salt and carbohydrates while riding.
You can pack salty snacks like pretzels to eat along the way. Sometimes, I put extra scoops of hydration mix in my water bottle and alternate drinking from that and my hydration pack. I have a hydration pack that holds three liters of fluid. I like it because it helps me hydrate on long rides, and I don’t have to worry about running out of water. Also, mine has room for a tube, extra clothing, a pump, and anything else I may need.
Eating while mountain biking can be more challenging than eating while riding on the road. Stopping to take a break to eat snacks is the easiest option. However, that is not always possible. You may be on a group ride or could even be racing. I find it most challenging to eat while racing my mountain bike.
For example, I like to eat Clif shot blocks during races, so I will cut the pack in half. This makes the perfect serving size that is easy to eat. I will also do this for any bars I pack to take. For example, the Bobo Oat Bar Bites are small and the perfect size to eat. I would not recommend eating homemade oat or rice bars during a race unless you have had a good experience eating them while training. I struggle with getting them to stay together well, especially the rice bars. But I love making bars for training rides when I can stop.
Make sure any snacks you pack are easily accessible. It doesn’t have to be your jersey pockets, or you may not even have jersey pockets. Some hydration packs have small hip pockets, which can be very convenient for stashing snacks. Baggie shorts also typically have many pockets, which can also be good places for snacks. I like to put my food in some pockets and leave others empty for trash to ensure I don’t litter out there on the trail.
Being well prepared and well-fueled on your mountain bike ride can lead to a much better time and a successful ride. What are some of your expert tips? Tell us below in the comments!
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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