Bike food v. real food 


Now that I’m more budget conscious I’ve been thinking about food. It’s always just kind of assumed that bike food is a luxury item and the costs are significantly above what one would pay for “real food.”

This came up recently in a slowtwitch thread:

I really don’t think triathlon is expensive if you choose to be cheap. I’ve been on 6 hour riders eating my peanut butter sandwiches and water and person beside me is eating $20 worth of gels (10-12 gels) and pre bottled Gatorade ($2 per bottle). That ride cost me around $1.

Thread here, it’s not a great read since triathletes are pretty disconnected from reality and most of the posters on slowtwitch are pretty rich so it’s more like 2-steps than 1-step.

The actual comment is pretty stupid, $1 worth of food for a 6 hour ride? Probably not. The sentiment remains; gels, “pre-bottled” gatorade – specialty bike food is seen as expensive. It’s smart and frugal to make your own food and bring it with.

But, is it frugal? is it smart? And if so, how smart? How frugal?

I made a table with the cost per serving and per calorie for all the sports candy I just purchased compared to real food items that I have seen suggested for consumption during rides.


So the poster above rode for 6 hours eating PB&J? Using the cheapest available items from Walmart and not factoring in any cost associated with travel, prep time and so forth. He must have only eaten 1 sandwich of 380 calories. Seems a little low for a 6 hour ride?

My point is that bike food, like most food, will trend towards the lowest market price. And really for what it is I think it’s a great deal. I can buy small packets of food that will fuel me at a high level of physical exertion for several hours. They remain edible for weeks, are unaffected by temperature and are packaged in containers that can be jostled/dropped/squeezed without failure. I can order these delivered to my house for around $0.50 per 100 calories or a half-cent a calorie. This seems like a pretty good deal.

I’m not coming to this blind. I’ve done the DIY powerbars, the rice cakes in their stupid wax paper/foil wrapper, baked potatoes in plastic bags with salt and PB&J getting smushed in my pocket. “Real food” sucks for cycling – it takes time to go buy, time to prepare, is heavy and does not last more than one ride. I can carry a powerbar in my pocket on a six hour ride in 95 degree weather, sweat all over the wrapper and if I don’t eat it, it’s still good tomorrow or next month.

So no, I do not think real food is a smart choice for cycling. It’s also not especially frugal as travel, prep and wastage add up.

You want to save money? Supplement your regular bike food with gatorade/powerade powder. It’s extremely cheap and essentially the same nutrition as eating a gel. I like to put gatorade as my first edible so I always eat it first and do not waste it as it does not really keep after a day or so. After that I’ll go to the more expensive bars or gels or something. This is $0.17 per 100 calories and is probably the best price for a convenient bike food. You can even carry the powder and mix later during your ride if you don’t want to commit to mixing right away if you’re worried it will go unused.

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