I like to think of myself as more of a punk than a gearhead type of cyclist. I am never interested in the newest, shiniest thing. I prefer waiting for the real gearheads to get tired of their stuff so I can get it secondhand and haggle them down to below half-price — that or do without altogether. By this same token, I have always been skeptical of sports-specific foods, supplements, lotions, or potions. I assumed that if I was eating the right foods and drinking enough water, I would be able to withstand whatever I was up to.
As a life-long athlete, I never drank Gatorade or used supplements or protein powders. I don’t know if that is a good thing since I have arthritis, but it’s how I got through years of swimming and water polo. However, I have finally come to understand that some of these fancy sports-specific foods, supplements, lotions, and potions are sports-specific for a reason and that I should utilize them when I can.
Energy gels are life savers, especially when the terrain is hilly, you are cycling with heavy loads, or both. Gels are formulated with maltodextrin and fructose, sugars that metabolize quickly enough to make a nearly immediate impact on the athlete’s performance. For example, when climbing up some big hills between Port Hadlock and Sequim, I felt like my butt was going to give out. I jammed a gel in my face, and my muscles stopped cramping immediately. I made it to the top of the hill without incident.
Many of these gels have caffeine and electrolytes added to aid performance and recovery, too. These gels can make a big difference in your endurance over difficult terrain, and I highly recommend having a bunch on hand for your next bike trip! On a tough day, I might go through two or three over a six-hour ride.
A lot of my friends use electrolyte powders to stay hydrated in the summer on the bike and off, and I never understood the importance of regularly replenishing electrolytes. I’m a doofus and would rely on salty food to make up the difference; plus, I love salt. However, I am now a convert and truly obsessed with electrolyte powder. On long sweaty days, it is way more effective than salty snacks at keeping cramps at bay. Used in concert with energy gels, this stuff will keep you going all day and really helps with recovery.
I like to keep a 3-liter bladder of water in my frame bag, which makes it easy to continue drinking throughout the day, as well as a 1-liter bladder of concentrated electrolyte drink.
There are lots of different kinds and flavors of powders with varying ingredients to choose from, so sample a few to find the one that works best for you.
I already wrote about the importance of saddle sore prevention and treatment, but now that I have lived through the pain of saddle sores, I feel the need to proselytize about chamois cream again. This stuff will save your butt, literally! If for some reason you run out of chamois cream and need to use alternatives on the road, here are some remedies that worked for me.