How to eat gels on long ride – bike forums grade 9 electricity

Too many "depends" factors. Some competitive cyclists riding at or near maximum effort — training or competition — say they’ll use a gel or some other food about every 30 minutes. There are a couple of GCN videos discussing this. The hosts are former pro cyclists so they have credibility. And the videos are well edited so it’s not some guy in his garage rambling on for 30 minutes.

Usually pros haven’t eaten immediately before a ride and during a competition they don’t have time for a bathroom break. So it’s a bit different from my habit of eating something like oatmeal, banana and yogurt about an hour before a ride. That’s often good enough to get me through a two hour ride at hard effort, or a more leisurely ride up to four hours before I feel the need for something.

Occasionally I’ll join a local fast club for a group ride and I’ll ride there and back to warm up and cool down. I usually feel close to bonked after the group ride. By that time I’ve ridden 30-50 miles, between riding to the club meet and the group ride itself. So I’ll carry one or two energy bars (I like Think Thin bars, easier to chew, not too sweet, very affordable).

Some folks carry bananas for carbs and water, but the bulk leaves me feeling bloated and uncomfortable so I don’t eat bananas until I get home. And they tend to go bad very quickly in summer heat. I’ve had a couple of barely ripe bananas turn into brown goo within hours in my jersey pocket. So I switched to energy bars, which means carrying extra water.

But I found Clif mocha gels at Kroger for $1.19 each so I bought 10 to try on my upcoming training rides. I’m at the point where it’s difficult to be certain whether I’m reaching exhaustion after 90 minutes due to the near-maximum effort, lack of topping up my fuel tank, or that fact than I’m 60 years old and can’t get my body to cooperate some days. But my fitness, speed and power have improved significantly the past month. And I’ve lost quite a bit of fat, with only 2-3 lbs around the middle left to go — not much left in reserve to burn as fuel. So I’m willing to try the gels just to see if it makes any difference.

I’ve used the gels twice this week. Once Sunday after a hard training ride followed by a long walk. About a mile or so from home I suddenly felt a bonk coming on, ate one Clif mocha gel and drank some water. Felt fine within minutes. Same Monday. I didn’t eat for several hours, deliberately, but it was a relaxed ride, nothing hard or fast. About an hour from home I felt a bit hungry and ate one gel, drank some water, and felt fine for the hour long ride home.

The Clif mocha gels are mostly maltodextrin, sugar, chocolate and caffeine. Nothing mysterious or magical. Probably same stuff as most gels. Apparently the maltodextrin can be assimilated quickly without overstimulating the pancreas and risking an insulation overproduction and rebound bonk. I’ve struggled with hypoglycemia since childhood so I know the symptoms. So far, so good, with the gels.

The usual advice with gels is to drink plenty of water to avoid bloating and cramps. So as the weather warms up that means carrying more water, and more weight, which means burning more energy to compensate, unless you train near water refilling stations. If I ride near the city multi-use path I can refill along the way, but I usually ride a rural route that can go 10-20 miles between opportunities to get water.

I misjudged once last summer, missed a turn and ran out of water five miles from the nearest store. I was pretty close to dehydrated but some kind folks at a rest stop where I’d stopped to get in the shade gave me some water. After that I carried a spare collapsible Mylar water bag, frozen, in my jersey pocket. It only holds about 10-12 oz. Besides keeping me cool it’s just a little extra water for emergencies.

That said, this is now for the OP, not some future time of great fitness. The usual quoted limit for advisable calories per hour on the bike is 250. So that would be a 100 calorie GU gel every 1/2 hour if one needed that much. However calorie intake on the bike also depends on how hard you’re going and thus how many calories per hour you’re burning. Old-think was "eat before you’re hungry." But new-think is "eat when you’re hungry." So in general, if you’re feeling hungry or having hunger symptoms, meaning feeling lethargic or low on power or strength, have a gel if that’s your go-to food on the bike. I wouldn’t exceed one every 1/2 hour though.

That many gels gets to be a lot of expense and nasty packaging, plus the hassle of opening and getting the gel out of the package. A better solution is to go to Hammer Nutrition and buy a pint of Hammer Gel and a couple Hammer gel flasks. Much cheaper, easier to use, better quality, and no packaging. The stuff keeps forever. I don’t use gel much, so I have a pint of Hammer Gel in my fridge that’s probably been there for 3-4 years. It’s fine. I think one could entomb the stuff and dig it up 2000 years later and it’d be fine, like the honey in the pyramids.

On shortish solo rides like 40 miles (yeah, I know), good practice is to put off eating that first gel or whatever for as long as you reasonably can. That helps build fat burning ability. However if you’re on a competitive group ride, that’s not going to work and so you start eating after the first 1/2 hour.