Over the past few weeks, I’ve been travelling around parts of Europe on a road trip to check out some absolutely mint riding destinations, such as Punta Ala, Finale Ligure and Molini in Italy, and Alicante, Sierra Nevada and Malaga in Spain (sorry). My wife and I are in our trusty Renault Kangoo (it’s going to break down now isn’t it?), and with a tent and camping gear in the back and a rough route plan in our heads, we’re making our way around hopping from campsite-to-campsite.
With only space for a medium-sized duffel bag housing all my riding kit and gear, there isn’t a whole lot of room for foodstuffs, or anything else for that matter. Packing light and compact is the name of the game, while still making sure I’ve got what I need for multi-hour rides in the mountains. I’ve been doing quite a lot of exploring on my own, and that means rides can easily blow out beyond initial expectations (especially if Google Maps sends you hiking up a double black diamond trail that takes 1.5 hours to portage up – good times). The riding temperatures have been significantly hotter over here too, so I’m having to take hydration quite a bit more seriously.
Normally, I’m not a big consumer of sports nutrition – I’d much rather fuel my rides with coffee, ale and pork pies (those last two are proving a little tricky to source in Italy and Spain though). But when it comes to long rides in remote mountains where a sporadic mid-ride cafe stop isn’t always possible, there have been a few products I’ve been using that have helped fuel me until the end.
I shouldn’t really need to point out here that sports nutrition isn’t a replacement for real food. You still want to eat all the healthy good stuff, but that stuff isn’t always as compact and easy to carry with you. In comparison, sports nutrition offers convenience, consistency, and come packed with a high level of energy and nutrients that your body can absorb quickly and effectively, so you can finish your ride even if things *ahem* blow out a bit.
With that in mind, here are five different products that I grabbed from the office before we left for our trip, and how I’ve gotten along with each of them.
Skratch Labs Sport Hydration Mix
- Price: £14.95 (454g bag)
- From: Silverfish
If there’s any sports nutrition product worth trying out first, it’s an isotonic sports drink. Loaded with the minerals that are typically lost in sweat when you ride, an isotonic (or ‘electrolyte’) drink is an ideal way of replacing those minerals to ensure your muscles continue to do what they’re supposed to, with less chance of painful cramping. They almost always include carbohydrates too, which is there to keep your energy levels up throughout longer rides.
Skratch Labs has been doing the sports nutrition thing since 2012, and has built up a well-regarded range of hydration mixes, energy bars, energy chews and recovery drinks. Skratch Labs founder, Dr Allen Lim, even has several cookbooks that draw on recipes he developed from his time working with pro road teams as a sports scientist and coach.
The Exercise Hydration Mix is one the brand’s key products, and it’s available in three flavours. It’s also available in a ‘Sports’ version (shown here), which packs in a higher electrolyte content for sweaty riders.
I’ve been drinking the Matcha Green Tea + Lemon flavour, which has a pleasantly subtle taste as described. It helps that Skratch Labs uses actual matcha green tea, lemon oil and lemon juice to provide the flavouring, so it doesn’t have a weird chemical taste, and it’s not overly sweet either. It’s very easy on the palate and gut.
Speaking of sweet, Skratch uses real cane sugar (not syrup) and dextrose to provide 21g of easily absorbable carbohydrates per serving. The four main electrolytes are also covered, so you’ve got sodium, magnesium, calcium and potassium to replace what’s being sweated out. And for those wondering, Skratch claims its product is verified non-GMO, gluten free, dairy free, vegan and Kosher.
The half kilo bag goes pretty far, as you only need a small scoop to dilute the powder in a 500ml bottle of water. Skratch suggests drinking one or two bottles every hour of exercise, which I think is pretty generous, though probably reasonable if you’re a heavy sweater. Personally, I’ll take a single bottle on a ride while supplementing with good ol’ water from my hydration bladder. If I’m feeling a little lacking of energy before a ride though, a bottle of this stuff is a great way to top up the energy and mineral levels before you start sweating.
Primal Pantry Bars
- Price: £24.00 for a box of 18 (approximately £1.33 each)
- From: Primal Pantry
Founded by qualified nutritionist Suzie Walker, UK-based The Primal Pantry has been around since 2013. Being a paleo-enthusiast, Walker is all about the raw foods, and her current product range is focussed on two different snack bars made from real and natural products, without anything that has weird numbers in it. The range splits into two categories: Primal Bars, and High-Protein Bars.
I’ve been munching on a few of the Primal Bars over the past couple of weeks, namely the Acai Berry & Superseed flavour. There are five other flavours available, including Almond & Cashew, Hazelnut & Cocoa, and Apple & Pecan. If you’re allergic to nuts, or just don’t like them, the Acai Berry & Superseed bars shown here are your ticket – they’re the only flavour that don’t have nuts in them.
Hannah has actually written about The Primal Pantry in her previous Technical Trail Food Round Up article, and I agree with her sentiments. The bar is a little chewy, but it has great texture from the seeds, and banging flavour from the dates and figs. It’s also a solid enough structure that it’s withstood being pummelled around in the bottom of my riding pack for a few weeks without falling to pieces.
The bar is 45g worth of dates, papaya, acai berries, figs, linseeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. That’s it. With a distinct lack of naughty ingredients, there’s not a lot of guilt in woofing one of these down. You’ll still get in 20g of carbohydrates though, which is useful as an energy-based snack. Unlike a gel though, one of these will sate your hunger for a little while longer before a proper food stop.
As someone who generally avoids processed sugar where possible, I really like these bars. As with a lot of nutrition products, I’m sure you could recreate this sort of thing at home if you wanted to DIY (and I might give it a go myself once I’m back home), but unless you’re going to do that in bulk form, at £24 for an 18-pack these are pretty good value, and miles better for you than a Mars bar.
Clif Bloks Energy Chews
- Price: £2.69ea
- From: Extra UK
When I get deeper into a long ride and I can feel the legs starting to lighten up a little more, that’s usually time to reach for the energy chews.
Clif Bloks have been around for yonks, and they’ve become a very popular sports nutrition product amongst cyclists thanks to their convenient semi-solid jelly form. In each packet you get six chewy ‘Bloks’, and that means unlike a liquid gel, you don’t have to commit to downing the whole packet once it’s open. They’re easy to handle, and they’re not particularly sensitive to temperature either, though they do get a bit firmer and chewier when it’s really cold.
Three Bloks is equivalent to about one whole gel, so you can space them out during a ride to give you a slower release of carbohydrates. Just make sure you swig some water while you’re eating them to make sure everything is absorbed properly.
There’s 8g of carbohydrates per Blok (48g for the whole packet), so there’s plenty of energy on offer if you just want to down the whole thing like a maddog. That said, with tapioca syrup and dried cane syrup being the two biggest forms of energy in the recipe, expect that energy to burn pretty bright and fast. Clif recommends eating half a packet 15 minutes before riding, then a whole 1-2 packets for every hour. That is waaay more than I would recommend – you’d be bouncing off the walls if you ate that much, and I’m not entirely sure what your gut would think either…
Personally, I’d rather consume more real food and have an isotonic sports during a ride, and have a few of these Bloks at pinch-points where I no I need energy to be delivered a little more quickly. And sometimes a sweet chew is just a nice thing to eat. Flavour wise, I really dig the Margarita Bloks, but they’re all pretty tasty, and quite a bit more palatable than a gel.
TORQ Energy Gels
- Price: £24 (box of 15)
- From: Extra UK
Gels can be a bit love or hate. Some folks swear by gels as being the only source of food they need for an intensive ride or race. A reservoir full of water, and half a dozen gels might be the only ‘nutrition’ they take along for a few hours of riding.
I’m not one of those riders – I do what I can to avoid having gels in the first place, but I do understand when they’re useful for me. That’s usually when the legs are starting to get that hollow feeling, and my vision has started narrowing. At those points, a quick hit of energy from an ’emergency gel’ to boost the blood sugar levels can be the defibrillator your muscles need.
Just like there are numerous energy drinks and bars on the market, so too are there a zillion different gels. Everyone has their favourite brand and flavour, since texture and taste does vary quite a lot. I find TORQ gels to be pretty good, with their slightly oddball flavours offering something a bit more substantial in flavour. The Cherry Bakewell shown here is particularly enjoyable (for a gel), though the Rhubarb & Custard and Banoffee flavours are also nice.
Each gel comes with 28.8g of carbohydrates derived from Maltodextrin and Fructose, and TORQ also adds in the four key electrolytes to give an isotonic profile. Unlike other gel brands, TORQ doesn’t tell you to just eat loads of these through your ride. Instead, the UK brand has a more holistic approach to sports nutrition, and recommends consuming 30g of carbohydrates every hour, which may come from a gel, or a sports drink, or an energy bar. So if you’re having one of these, best to drink it with water, rather than a sweet sports drink. If you want to arm yourself with some knowledge, there’s a load of useful information on the TORQ website that’s worth having a read.
Time4Nutrition Whey Protein
- Price: £11.99 (6 sachets)
- From: Time4Nutrition
Probably the least likely product you’d take on a road trip, this recovery drink from Time4Nutrition (another UK-based sports nutrition company) has actually proven to be really useful for me on several occasions.
On a couple of rides that have completely blown out on both time and my physical abilities, I’ve returned back to our campsite a wobbly, disoriented, and sweaty mess of a human being. Since we’re not carrying a lot of fresh food with us, it means that food is usually at least an hour away by the time we retrieve the necessary ingredients to cook on the camp stove (your organisational capabilities may vary from mine). Being able to tear open one of these little sachets, mix it up with 225ml of water, and have a satisfyingly tasty drink is ideal for curing the hungry-thirsties.
Inside each packet is a peptide protein blend that’s derived from whey protein – the typical source for most recovery drinks – as well as cocoa powder, and a bunch of amino acids that are there to help with the protein absorb into your bloodstream. In total you’ll get 25.7g of protein, with only about 4.7g of carbohydrates per serve and 2.6g of fat.
Normally a recovery drink is for those who are riding hard – be it in a training or racing scenario. In my experience though, it’s just as useful for average Joe’s like me, whenever you’ve spent a few too many bickies during a long day in the saddle. That protein blend is designed to help repair and recover spent muscles – just make sure you consume the drink within 2-hours of finishing your ride. I’ve used recovery drinks enough over the past decade to notice the fresher feeling in one’s legs the following morning, and that’s useful when you’re clocking up consecutive big riding days. Of note here is that there are plenty of other recovery drinks available, including good ol’ chocolate milk, which has a surprisingly ideal blend of protein and sugars to make it a viable recovery option. Of course the advantage with a powdered form like this is the minimal space it takes up, and the fact that you don’t need to keep it refrigerated – useful for us on our camping trip.
The flavour of this one is surprisingly delicious – it does actually taste like chocolate and peanut butter. There are other flavours available though, like Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream, Vanilla Coconut Milk, and Creamy Toffee Pudding. We originally got sent a sample pack, which means there are 18 serves that each come their own handy sachet. It’s a good way to work out what flavour you like, before you order a huge 2.52kg bag of the stuff (which sells for £35.83, and works out to about 51p per serving).
Righto. So there are five products that have come in handy for my riding over the past few weeks. But what about you?
What sports nutrition products do you swear by for taking on a riding trip? Or do you do what you can to avoid the stuff? Perhaps you have your own recipes for some homemade go-fast gold?
Let us know in the comments section below!
|Price:||£2.69 - £24|
|Tested:||by Wil Barrett for 1 month|