With the huge array of sports drinks, gels, bars and chews now available, you’d be forgiven for thinking these products are essential for performing well. But it’s worth remembering there was a time when cyclists ate actual food and still set world records!
The main benefit of packaged products is their convenience; they come in wrapped portions that fit neatly into jersey pockets and when eaten deliver a recommended amount of calories and carbs. On the downside, some cyclists find these products sit ‘heavy’ in their stomach and cause gut problems, particularly during the latter stages of races or long rides. This may be down to excessive consumption or too high a concentration of simple sugars.
One solution could be switching to real foods and homemade snacks, which you may find easier to digest.
Pre-packaged products won’t enhance performance any more than good quality conventional foods. A US study in 2012 showed that bananas were just as effective as sports drinks in increasing performance in a 75km cycling time trial. Cyclists consumed 0.2g carb/kg of body weight every 15 minutes in the form of a sports drink or bananas. It made no difference where the carbs came from; the cyclists performed the same. Another study found that raisins were just as effective as energy chews for improving performance in a 5km time trial (following an 80 min sub-maximal run) compared with water.