How To Stay Fueled When Biking

Extend your next ride with nutrition and hydration advice, some foresight, plus a few choice gear items to ensure you’re biking at your best.

Food is fuel. If you wanna move, you gotta eat. And drink. But riding a bike involves a lot of moving, both far and fast. Plus, you have to carry what you need or find it on the way, so staying fed and hydrated on a bike can be tricky. The following guidance won’t dive overly deep into the specifics of diet and nutrition. However, a few initial considerations, on-bike tips, and gear choices can go a long way to making eating and drinking on your ride much more convenient and effective. 

Get a head start

You don’t want to begin any type of workout at a deficit. Try to have an average meal an hour or two before you start your ride, and drink a tall glass of water. Not only will this make the first leg of your ride go smoother, it’ll cut down on how much you’ll need to carry if your ride has three or four legs.

Know your options

There are a lot of different types of nutrition products aimed at endurance athletes, and they all have different purposes, applications, pros and cons.


Often called “energy bars” or “protein bars,” these are pretty straightforward. Some are simply compressed trail mix, others are solid cocktails of various nutrients. The point is, they’ve usually got less sugar than granola bars or candy bars, but are what we call “calorie-dense.” They pack a lot of energy in a compact, convenient package. These days, most taste pretty good, and there’s a lot of variety. Most grocery stores have a whole aisle of them. Find the one that works for you, and always have a box of them on the shelf.

Drink mixes

These get a little more complicated. There are a lot of categories of these high-tech takes on powdered Gatorade. Usually, the goal is to replace electrolytes (which essentially means salt) as you sweat, but it’s become a whole science. There are even some formulated for before or after your activity. Just like bars, you should try a few types and see if you feel improvements in energy, muscle fatigue, or post-ride soreness. You can buy mixes in bulk, but many also come in packets that you can bring on your ride to pour into your water bottle as you refill it along the way.

Gel shots

These are essentially concentrated drink mixes, and often contain the same chemicals and make the same promises. They’re like giant packets of sweet honey-like gel. It may seem a little gross, but when you’re using energy on a ride, you’d be surprised how easily they go down. You need to drink water alongside gel shots, but there’s no mixing required.

Gummy shots

Very similar to gel shots, but as the name suggests, they have the texture of slightly softer gummy bears. These are a nice alternative to gel shots because they’re less messy and allow you to control your intake a little better. Like drink mixes and gel shots, different gummies do different things; some have extra electrolytes, and some even have caffeine. 

Keep it real

Again, high-performance food bars are an easy, compact way to get energy on a ride. But there’s never anything wrong with bringing actual normal food. Our bodies are pretty good at picking out the stuff we need from our food, even if it wasn’t grown in a lab for ultra athletes. Bring a sandwich, a bag of chips, or even a leftover slice of pizza on your ride. Chances are your friends with nothing but bars and gels will actually be a little jealous.

Take it with you

Whatever you decide to pick for your fuel of choice, you’ll need to carry it with you. There are a lot of ways to do it, and everyone’s needs are different. Consider your options, and pick the combination of cargo that works for you.

Bottle and cage

Most bikes have two bolts meant to hold a “bottle cage,” the metal or plastic device designed to fit a standard shaped bicycle water bottle. Even if you plan on using a hydration pack (which we’ll get to), it’s good to have a bottle on your bike. It’s less weight on your back, and a better place to put your drink mix because it’s easy to clean. Some bikes have limited space, so try some different sizes if the area around those two bolts looks tight.

Hydration pack

These are great for long rides where you won’t have a place to fill up for a while. All have some sort of flexible, water-tight bladder and convenient drinking hose; some are big, some are small, some have a lot of extra carrying capacity, and some are just meant for water. For years, every cyclist—especially mountain bikers—pretty much had to have a hydration pack. They’re great to have, but consider the alternatives before assuming you need one.

Hip pack

This is one of those alternatives. Because they take weight off your shoulders and allow your back to breathe, the hip pack is a great way to carry food or an extra water bottle without going overboard. Some even have the same flexible soft bladder and drinking hose. They’re a great place for convenient food items because you can spin them in front of you, pull out a bar or a gel, and spin them back in place.

Shorts or jersey pockets

As it’s often uncomfortable to pedal with bulky items in your hip pockets, many bike-specific shirts, or “jerseys” have secure pockets across the lower back that are out of the way but within reach, even when riding. But if a jersey would just look too serious for your style, many padded cycling shorts offer something similar. These “bib” shorts extend up and over your shoulders. That’s mainly to keep the pad in place and relieve tightness around the waist, but they often have pockets across the back, just big enough to carry small food items.

On-bike storage

There are a growing number of small bags meant to fit in the corners of your bike frame. These can allow you to carry small food items without needing a pack, or even pockets. On short or mid-sized rides, you may be able to go out with your food, water, keys, wallet and phone on your bike. On longer rides, on-bike storage will allow you to take food from your pack and put it somewhere in reach while you ride. You’ll probably end up combining two or more of these tactics to stay fed and stay supplied, so don’t hesitate to experiment.

Check the map

Of course, if you’re riding in civilization, the world is your oyster. But still, there are tricks. For instance, you can usually walk into any fast-food place and fill up your bottle at their soda fountain. Every cyclist knows how to find the little “water” tab underneath the lemonade nozzle. And if you don’t have your electrolyte mix or gel or gummies, gas stations are packed with salty foods that are reasonable substitutes.

If you won’t be in civilization at all during your ride, maybe you’re lucky enough to pass occasional natural water sources. Compact filter technology has made huge strides lately. There are several small, affordable devices that will allow you to safely drink from almost any natural flowing water source. Once you know your route and your surroundings, you can avoid the extra weight and inconvenience of carrying hours worth of water, and instead live off the land for a day. Keep in mind, many water sources are seasonal. Always be prepared.

Finish strong

This shouldn’t end the second you get off your bike. If you want your muscles to feel better tomorrow, and to benefit the most from the exercise you did today, it’s best to treat your body right after the ride is over. Consider trying some of the post-ride formulas from your favorite drink mix. And as with any strenuous activity, it’s best to eat within an hour or two of finishing your ride. But you probably won’t need a reminder of that. For many riders, the post-ride meal is the best part.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.