10 Ways to Stay Healthy on a Bike Tour

April 24, 2012

The April issue of Adventure Cyclist  delivers a detailed Cyclist Travel Guide . But since Adventure Cyclist  anticipates that our readers will be keen on more information, we present the third of four blog posts  by Ryan McAfee and Michelle Cassel (of America ByCycle ) to appear in the month of April that will serve as the sassy supplement to our annual Cyclists' Travel Guide .

We know what you're thinking -- how can you NOT be healthy on a bike tour?

Yes, you are probably getting the most exercise your body has ever seen and having a great time experiencing the great outdoors, but you are also putting your body through some new and sometimes extreme conditions.

On our tour across the country we found our health in some compromising situations due to things like intense weather or lack of healthy food options. We weren't prepared, and learned our lesson the hard way. So here are a few simple steps that we recommend taking to stay healthy on the trail.

1. Train First! 

Start training before your tour begins. The more fit you are, the less likely you'll sustain an early injury. Also, get comfortable with your saddle. Saddle sores suck, so make sure you put some miles on that saddle to make sure your booty is a-ok!

2. Drink Water!

Drink water. Drink LOTS of water. Drink before you're thirsty, and drink like it's going out of style. We carried two water bottles and a hydration pack each and could have carried more. In certain areas, you will face long stretches between services, so plan accordingly. Bring enough water to last you through those areas, and then bring an extra bottle for backup on top of that. Another great tool to add to your gear list is a water filter or UV light. These little guys can turn a sticky situation into an abundance of fresh water for you to drink!

3. Eat healthy calories, not empty ones. 

You are burning around 6,000 calories a day while on tour, so you're going to want to eat everything in sight (like nine pound ice cream sundaes). You deserve it right?

Of course you do! But try to limit those indulgences, and don't depend on them for fuel that will last (you'll realize this when you're already hungry after your first hill). Those chips, pizza, and ice cream snacks don't give your body the healthy fuel it needs to battle those grueling climbs. Instead, eat whole foods that are high in fiber. Stick to whole grains and pastas, and don't forget about those fruits and veggies! When you're touring healthy food can be hard to find, and we struggled to find healthy options through certain parts of our tour (I'm talking to you, midwest!). We quickly learned to stock up whenever we stumbled upon a heath food store or farmer's market. Some of our favorite foods were:

Peanut Butter - duh

Bananas - good for keeping those cramps away

Nuts - healthy protein and fats

Quinoa and lentils - good fiber, carbs and omegas!

Dark chocolate - how can you go without chocolate?

Dehydrated veggies - good for soups if you're camping

Energy bars - good for a boost if you're tired (avoid bars that contain refined sugar though!)

Coconut oil - good for cooking, good for the skin after sun or wind exposure and fits nicely in your water bottle cage, if you have an extra one to spare.

4. Plan around extreme weather.

It can get really hot out there, especially if you're touring in the south during the summer. And if you're slow like we were, it can get really cold in the mountains during the fall. That being said, plan to bike in the early mornings before that afternoon heat rolls in. Then take a long cool break inside or under shade and, if you have the energy, put in a few more hours of biking in the evening. In colder temperatures the days are shorter, so your biking window is much smaller. Start and end your days with what little sun and warmth you have. You'll stay warm as long as you're moving, but once you stop you want to make sure you've stopped for good, because it is HARD to get back out on the road after taking a break and cooling down! Remember that the best thing to regulate your body temperature is high-quality clothing that keeps you dry in the rain, cool in the heat, and warm in the cold. Pack accordingly.

5. Clean Yourself. 

You may not always have access to a shower, but that doesn't mean you can't stay clean. Water spigots, streams, rivers, rain, and your own hydration pack (if you have one) can all be utilized to wipe away dirt, grime, and the sadness of the long, lonely road. You can also use a garden hose from a church (as long as they give you permission), or a sink in a community center!

6. Prepare for altitude sickness. 

If you are climbing up to 7,000 ft or more, you could experience some changes in your body. Things like shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea and migraines are all common symptoms. Usually these are temporary, however, and your body will adjust in a couple of days. If the symptoms get worse, then it might be a good idea to seek medical attention. Some simple preparations you can take to prevent altitude sickness are to limit your activity for a few days to get used to the altitude, stay away from caffeine and alcohol, get plenty of rest, and drink lots of water. Note that cooking can take twice as long at higher altitudes. Oh, and you'll fart a lot more, too.

7. Rest before you get tired.

Getting a good night's sleep when touring can make or break your day. Also, be sure to take long breaks during the day. You're putting a lot of strain on your body, so it's good to give it a break every now and then!

8. Bring a first aid kit. 

Injuries can happen anytime, even when you're doing some simple bike maintenance. Gauze, bandages, and alcohol swabs are great things to bring with you, because trust us, you're going to get a few bumps and bruises. Also, we didn't really use chammy butter, but other cyclists swear by it. It's good for preventing saddle sores (hopefully you don't get them), and keeps your nether regions lubed up quite nicely.

9. Stretch.

Stretching feels good. It limbers you up, releases endorphins (no, that's not an ocean creature), and prevents injury/soreness. Take a few minutes in the morning and the evening to do some easy stretches, and keep those legs loose! And yes, reaching forward really hard for the remote control in your hotel room can be considered a stretch if you want.

10. Carpe Diem. 

Sieze the day! Think positive thoughts. A long tour can be both physically and mentally tough. Instead of thinking about how many miles you've got until the finish line, give yourself daily goals, or no goals at all. Just enjoy yourself and the present moment. It's not about the mileage you're doing or how fast you're going. It's about enjoying yourself and doing something that very few people do in their lifetime. Literally stopping to smell the roses can cheer you up and keep you motivated to get going! You'll make it!

Photos by Michelle Cassel and Ryan McAfee


MICHELLE CASSEL & RYAN McAFEE are Los Angeles-based journalists who recently biked across the country on the TransAmerica Trail. They continue to ride their bikes on tours and share their stories of the road through videos and blogs, and can be found at  AmericaByCycle.com.



April April 24, 2012, 6:12 PM

On the keeping clean front: BABY WIPES. They're amazing. I always bought the unscented "natural" ones like 7th Generation.

Also, powdered Tang or Gatorade (Tang was easier to buy in smaller quantities) can help make gross water taste good--we ended up in a lot of small towns where the water was safe to drink but not very good-tasting, and a little Tang meant I was more likely to drink the stuff anyway.

Jamesw2 April 24, 2012, 9:38 PM

You mention farting at high altitude. I thought i had the bens . . I needed to lay over a rock for an hour . . On several hiking trips also . . The writer is not joking and i thank Ryan for including that ditty . . A product out there called Safari Towels 24 x 14 for those who can't fit into the sink . . I have not tried them yet . . That sink pix should go on/in the Adventure Cyclist Calender. It just shows how we need to progress to accommodate bicyclists on tour. Has anyone done a questionnaire on what amenities are needed along bicycle routes . . maybe someone could use the information for a business plan.

Mimi April 24, 2012, 11:09 PM

the photo of the woman in the church sink is SOO cute!

Heather Rath Brown April 25, 2012, 4:06 AM

Great article! One thing that I would add is sunscreen. Our last tour was during the winter in the south and because it wasn't warm we didn't initially wear sunscreen (until I noticed blisters on the tops of my ears!). Putting sunscreen on your nose and ears are a must everyday of riding.

Johnimo November 26, 2018, 12:27 AM

Amen! You're face needs that sunscreen every day. Don't ride off without it! I recommend the highest SPF available.

Anonymous April 25, 2012, 4:53 PM

Great selection for food to carry along with you on tour, I would add honey, stores well and goes great with peanut butter. While touring mid west have also found that there is not much in the way of fresh fruits and veggie. One small town that got passed by the interstate had no market just fast food. Fresh food was 30 miles away. So be prepared when you travel middle America!

Davey D April 28, 2012, 6:17 PM

i came here to post this. :)

Craig Dodge June 24, 2013, 1:32 AM

I lead a group from Saigon, Vietnam to Siem Reap, Cambodia in February. I was very adamant about water, stretching, food (bananas) and sun screen. Once someone gets dehydrated, cramped or sun burned, it's too late. This was our ride: http://asia-adventures.com/index.php/tours/cycling-tours/ride-for-hagar-saigon-to-siem-reap-cycle-tour.html

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