Bars and Gels and Beans. Oh My!

By Peg Labiuk | 03/05/12

Photo © Daniel Carruthers

We’ve teamed up with Marilyn Trout, certified USA Cycling Elite Coach to answer Voler Newsletter List members’ training questions. You can view her coach profile at Send your cycling inquiries to Marilyn, and for a limited time, if yours is selected to be answered in our Training column, Voler will send you a $20 gift certificate that can be used towards any purchase from the Voler Store at To submit your inquiry, e-mail her at, and type “Voler Training Question” in the subject line of the e-mail.

Voler E-Mail List member Brian Lube is our 86th winner of a $20 Voler gift certificate! His training question follows…

Bars and Gels and Beans, Oh My!


I have a question about the exercise water, food, gel packs, etc.  When starting out (I've been cycling for 5 months now) all of that stuff is intimidating.  When is the best time to be using these various products and how?  Some of them pack a lot of caffeine, some a lot of sugar, some a lot of amino acids.  How do I know what's right for various situations?

Brian Lube

Dear Brian,

This seems like a very exciting time for sports nutrition.  The selection has never been better.  I can see how it might be overwhelming though, so let’s start you with the basics.

First, hydration is always the most important nutritional aspect to look after.   If you are only using water and perspire heavily, you’ll likely see a difference by adding an energy and electrolyte beverage to your bottle.  You are right, many contain caffeine and sugar.  Read labels, make note of what you try.  What works for one person may not sit well for another, so you’ll have to experiment.

Next, adding energy is important if a good quality workout is your goal.  This is in addition to eating an easily digestible meal 2 or more hours prior to riding.  If your intensity is high and/or the duration long, you’ll ride stronger if you continually replenish.  However, if you are aiming for weight loss, avoid the “moving buffet” trap of ingesting gels, bars, and gummies just because you are riding over 1 hour.  Ultimately, you’ll climb Paris Mountain faster if you are carrying less weight than you will with the benefit of energizing smoothies and sport beans.

To recap, rules of thumb are:

  • Hydrate 1 bottle/hour
  • Eat (not more than):
    • Gels every 20 minutes after the first hour or
    • Gummies every 30 minutes
    • Bars every hour in place of a gel or gummy
  • Eat within 30 minutes of finishing if you are interested in recovery and performance, avoid that if you are looking for weight loss.

You mentioned training for the Stars and Stripes Challenge on the Pro Championships Road Course in Greenville, SC at the end of May.  Now would be a good time to work on a nutrition plan for that 26 mile ride.  For that course, I think you could try consuming 1.5 bottles of mild electrolyte/carb solution (try ½ strength to begin with) and take a gel about 15 minutes before the start of the Paris Mt. climb.  Since you have a Garmin, you’ll be able to monitor your improvement.  It could be crowded on the day of the Ride so make sure you practice eating and drinking on the move and you remain stable and relaxed.

Bon Appetite!

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