I follow several blogs, Facebook groups, Slowtwitch.com forums, and other social media groups, and on these sites there are a lot of postings about how to pee while on the bike, how to pace on the bike, and bike nutrition. These are all important subjects that new and experienced riders alike need to know about and work on. However, these are not the topics that I want to address today. Today, I would like to talk about how to eat on the bike, not what to eat on the bike. I have different friends that I ride with, I have ridden with many different groups, in different cities and states, and I have seen different people eat all kinds of food. And I mean all kinds. I’ve seen people eat everything from all liquids and gels, to real food like sandwiches and apples, but learning how to eat is important and takes some time.
On a road bike, it is a little easier to eat because you are typically in a more upright position. This is convenient for reaching into the back pocket of your riding jersey and pulling out whatever you have to eat. The back pockets on regular riding jerseys are invaluable for food storage. They are divided up into different sub-pockets (normally three, but some have two), which makes it easy to separate one type of food from another. I usually put two gels and a Cliff bar in the side pockets, and a spare water bottle in the center pocket. When you increase your speed or ride up and down hills, it is harder to eat because things are changing a lot. This is another reason why it is important to know the course, as well as how you plan to ride it on that particular day. I like to plan to eat when I know there is a long flat stretch, or when I know the speed is going to slow down. The last thing you want is to have a mouth full of food when the group you’re riding with takes off at a high rate of speed, leaving you gasping for air because you are in the middle of eating a bar, or taking a long drink.
Riding a tri bike or time trial bike is a little different than riding on the road bike. In the aero position, I keep my aero bottle with some sort of sports drink between the two aero bars, which allows me to simply drop my head down a little bit to get a drink from it. I normally plan my training routes so that I start off riding into a headwind. I plan on eating bars or gels when I turn to catch a crosswind or tailwind. This allows me to keep a steady pace and not have to focus on too many things at once. It is different on race day because I cannot just simply change my route to allow for this, but after eating often enough during training, I have learned to take in food on race day when necessary, even if it means I’m headed into the wind. The other race day issue is that I wear a tri singlet, which has no back pockets. Due to the lack of pockets, I have practiced taping gels to my bike and also practiced taking them off and eating them while in aero position. This takes a lot of practice because I need to know how many to tape on the bike, depending on the distance. It is also important to know where to tape them so that they are not in my way while riding in aero position. I normally don’t eat any solid food on the bike on race day. I leave an unwrapped bar in my helmet and eat it when I first take off, and I leave one in my running shoes (wrapped of course), to eat when I get off the bike for the half and full ironman distance events.
Another major task that needs to be learned by new cyclists and triathletes, and honed by experienced cyclists and triathletes, is the taking of food and water from aid stations during the event. I have been in several events where I have watched individuals fail at this task. With proper training an athlete should be able to ride by, after slowing down somewhat, and grab water and/or food from a support crew or aid station on the side of the course. This is important not only for the rider, so he or she can take on additional water or food, but for the safety of other riders. When someone stops or drops the water bottle at the exchange, the rider behind has to stop and it can cause an accident. I have been stopped by others and narrowly escaped crashing. I expect other riders to slow down and take what they need, but I don’t expect others to just stop. This is something that really needs to be practiced. To learn how to do this smoothly, build into your training plan a time to ride around the block or park with someone handing you bottles so you can learn what speed you need slow to, to successfully take bottles without dropping them. If you have trouble doing this, please do yourself and others a favor and learn how to exit the course safely so that you can get what you need without causing an accident.
What are your thoughts on this subject?
How do you train to eat on the bike?