DIY Energy Bars anybody can make!
A competitive cyclist’s relationship with food can be summed up in one word: intense. Our love of food runs deep and plays a role in almost every aspect of cycling. A hearty meal is the reward for a long day in the saddle. Enter DIY Energy Bars!
Even my recovery rides revolve around food, with restaurants being frequent destinations—taco stands in Tucson, falafel joints in New York City, barbecue in North Carolina, and coffee shops everywhere else. I recently ate pizza at 9,000 feet up on top of Mt. Lemmon.
At other times, though, food is an evil temptation, a source of stress and frustration. But above all, food is fuel.
When I got serious about cycling, I’d hit a wall whenever my rides went over three hours. I thought it was simply the upper limit to my endurance, that my fitness went only 180 minutes deep. What I didn’t realize is that while aerobic exercise taps into your body’s stored sugar (glycogen), the fuel available is limited. Your body has only enough stored sugar on hand to sustain one or two hours of vigorous exercise, and my one bottle of Gatorade couldn’t carry me much farther than that.
In other words, if the journey’s long and you don’t fill up your tank, you’ll run out of gas.
The ceiling disappeared as soon as I began paying attention to my food intake and eating deliberately. Suddenly I could charge right through the three-hour mark, so long as I consumed the needed calories.
Despite the versatility of food, my guidelines for eating on rides are simple. I try to take in 60 grams of carbohydrates or 300 calories an hour (about one energy bar or two granola bars), in doses every 30 minutes. The ideal ratio of carbs to protein is 4 to 1 (the protein molecule actually aids in carbohydrate breakdown), but the main idea is that carbs get the starring role, while protein is a helpful sidekick.
A mix of simple sugars (anything sweet) and complex carbs (whole grains, oats, and so forth) is ideal since the first offers a quick energy boost and the latter is a long-lasting fuel source. Sodium and potassium are crucial, too, but it’s easy to cover the bases if you eat a variety of food. Piece of cake, right?
My recent training rides—typically over six hours and 100 miles—have been sustained by homemade energy bars. Rather than rely on a single recipe, I follow some basic guidelines and came up with a unique batch each time.
Here’s my recipe for my homemade energy bars:
4 cups standard Quaker Oats
4 cups granola clustered cereal (no flakes)
1 cup/bag each nuts, raisins, chocolate chips, cranberries, cherries
2 cups sweetener for a binding agent. I like the Amber Agave Syrup
(if you’re a cash-strapped bike racer, maple syrup if you live in New England, or brown rice syrup if you shop at Whole Foods)
2 ½ cups peanut butter
salt to taste
Heat the sweetener and peanut butter over medium and combine the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the heated sweetener mix, pour into a large square pan, and let it cool.
Slice each batch up into 2-inch-by-2-inch squares, each of which delivers about 350 calories and 50 grams of carbs, a perfect dose of energy for 60 minutes on the bike.