You may have your cycling shoes, helmet, bike, water bottle and padded shorts, but without preworkout fuel, you won't pedal very far. Consuming adequate carbohydrates before you head out for a long ride gives you the energy you need to power up hills and surge on the flats. When made with the right ingredients, shakes are a convenient, quickly digested source of fuel for a pre-ride pick-me-up.
If you haven’t had a meal for three hours or if you are headed out for 60 minutes or longer, you need a pre-workout calorie boost. The best source of calories for a cyclist before a ride is carbohydrates. Carbs are quickly digested and converted to energy. Protein and fat take longer to digest and cannot provide immediate energy. Avoid adding too many high-fiber foods to your shake, or risk needing to take extra pit stops after heading out.
Lower Glycemic Foods
You may benefit from making a shake with carbohydrates lower on the glycemic index. Low glycemic carbs release more steadily into your blood stream and do not spike your blood sugar as quickly as high glycemic carbs. If your blood sugar spikes quickly, your energy may plummet sooner than you want during your ride. “Bicycling” magazine points out that lower-glycemic foods provide more efficient fuel. Low glycemic carbs to put in a shake include apples, dates, oranges, bananas, milk and peaches.
Many pre-packaged workout shakes are protein-heavy and designed for post-workout consumption. You benefit from consuming some protein after a workout to help with muscle repair and recovery, but these options aren't always right for a pre-workout fuel up. If you want the convenience of a pre-packaged shake, look for one high in carbohydrates and no more than 20 grams of protein. Check the ingredient list of your shake as well. Many get their carbs from excessive amounts of added sugar. Look for one that contains fruit or yogurt as a first ingredient.
A preworkout shake gets you through one to two hours of cycling, but you need supplemental food if you are out for a longer ride. Stashes of dried fruit, gummy bears, energy gels or bars, jelly sandwiches and bananas are sources of carbs that provide energy so you don’t bonk. If you plan on riding longer than 90 to 120 minutes, start eating before you feel like you need the fuel. Once you bonk, meaning you have lost your energy, you can’t recover.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.