I'm going to be heading out to Durango in a couple weeks to ride and race and I could use some suggestions for good foods/snacks to take with when riding for 3-4 hours on singletrack trails. I'll be staying in a hotel so I won't have access to a full kitchen but I could maybe make some basic stuff.

Basically I'm looking for two categories:

  • Trail Snacks: small things to just keep energy up during quick breaks.
  • Meals/Substance: something I can pack to eat around halfway or after a couple hours of good riding to replace lost calories, more substantial than gels or trail mix.

And, for reference, I've got a medium sized hydration pack to carry stuff and nothing on the frame for storage (unless I tape it on).

  • 2
    What altitude are you coming from? Durango is 6500ish feet, and if you are coming from a low altitude for sure you want to concentrate on lots of hydration in addition to food. As far as food, Clif bars, gorp, trail mix, dried fruits, anything that you would normally eat on the trail at home. You don't want to find out 15 miles into the ride that your new super-duper high altitude food makes you sick. :)
    – JohnP
    Aug 19, 2013 at 21:29
  • I find when I get lightheaded hiking at high altitudes, letting a hard candy just sit in my mouth helps quickly and for some time. I suppose for an activity where you're breathing hard, that could be a choking hazard though... Aug 21, 2013 at 12:52

3 Answers 3


I realize this thread is old, but I'll share my experience:

I compete in major marathon races (4+ hours) and finish in the top 30% (at worst).

For 4-5 hours of trail riding (not racing) I usually pack a banana, and apple, and 1/2 of a peanut butter and honey sandwich. I eat every hour(ish). Usually the banana first (to help block lactic acid build up late in the ride), the sandwich in the middle (protein and some slow - peanut butter, and quick - honey, energy). I eat the apple at the end (last 30-45 minutes) for quick energy, plus they're wet.

Your body can't really process a large amount of calories during a ride that short, and certainly not from complex food sources. I try to keep my food sources natural, so as to not end up with gastric distress of some sort (which will kill your body's ability to output).

For racing, I wouldn't eat anything other than a banana or two during a 4-5 hour race. Most food (non-fruit) is going to take 4-6 hours for it to really be usable by your body, and the chance of gastric distress isn't worth it. In the second half of a race, I'll probably kill a energy gel of some sort every 30 minutes or so.

I always try to eat something sensible (and in a reasonable, non-oversize portion) about 2-2.5 hours before I go for a big ride.

The MOST IMPORTANT thing for prolonged riding is hydration. Going hypoglycemic is not nearly as easy to do as making yourself dehydrated. Once your cells are dehydrated, they don't function at 100% regardless of how much fuel is available to burn. If you ride for a long time, you will become dehydrated. Keep hydrated all the time, and pay a lot of attention to your water intake for the several days preceding a long ride.

I'm sure there is a PHD that will give you a better answer (or 2 PHDs that will give you 2 similar, but not totally in agreement, answers), but I try to keep it pretty simple without trying to become a PHD myself.

Drink water (I use the skratch labs hydration mix.), eat food your grandma recognizes (I'm not suggesting Ensure!), and go have some fun!

  • I've only done a couple of long cross country races but for those and half day rides I do very similar. Hydration pack with water, two large bottles with electrolyte drinks, 2 small 'snack' bananas (stem pre-cut so I can eat in the saddle) and energy gels for every hour. I plan when and what stages I'll eat and drnk beforehand. Nothing worse than entering a long climb and trying to fumble for an energy gel. Racing this all goes in the rear pockets of my shirt. If I'm on a long ride away from support I'll carry a small seat bag with more tools and tubes I squeeze a couple of oat or choc bars in
    – DWGKNZ
    Sep 21, 2013 at 0:08

Ensure energy drinks are great for all-day bike rides. I like the "Plus" versions that pack 350 calories into 8 ounces.

  • But 43% of those calories are from fat and protein. Not what I'd be looking for in a sports energy drink unless I was going to use them as meal replacements. Aug 22, 2013 at 0:45
  • Ensure, Boost and the like are sugary shakes marketed as supplements.
    – Kaz
    Aug 23, 2013 at 23:45

You don't need to eat anything over 3 to 4 hours of cycling.

It's possible not to eat for 4 hours while being active, even intensely active, and be all right.

People complete marathons in this timeframe, without taking in anything other than liquids.

  • 4
    True that it's possible to go four hours without eating anything, but it's also true that adding some easily digested carbs along the way can provide an immediate benefit. Aug 21, 2013 at 2:02
  • I have made 100kms/8 hrs ride just fine on two chicken/avocado sandwichs (our bread is heavier, like 100 grams per piece). For rides under 70 kms, I just carry an home-made hydration formula, but I also have plenty of body fat to burn. Something I add a small chocolat or banana just to keep my stomach silent.
    – user5369
    Aug 23, 2013 at 11:30

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