Board Certified Sport Dietitian, Master of Science in Exercise Physiology, 23-year Vegetarian, Writer/Speaker, 11x Ironman finisher including 4x IM Kona finisher, Doggy-mommy, Wife to an amazing Czech cyclist turned Ironman Kona finisher, Triathlon Coach.
Fuel smart on the bike - Easy sport nutrition tips
For triathletes, I recommend 1 water bottle cage for every hour of training, up to 4 cages. Your hydration set-up should be on your bike at all times but certainly this will come in handy for your longer rides. If your bike does not hold 4 cages, you can alter the set-up with a bottle on your aero bars, two rear cages, set up an additional hydration system (ex. bladder if built in on the bike) or have, at minimum, 3 cages and plan to stop in training after 3 hours. I have 4 cages on my bike (2 in the frame, 2 in the rear) and I am very comfortable grabbing the rear bottles and moving around bottles as I am riding. As you can see from Karel's picture below that he has his bottle on his aerobars with computer attached on top of the cage. He only has three cages on his bike.
Rather than fumbling with gels, use a gel flask. It's an efficient way to get a swig of gel whenever your want and you can wash it down with water (at aid stations in racing) or carry an extra bottle of water with you in training. 1 gel requires about 8-12 ounce of water to help empty it from the gut so small amounts consumed more frequently is an easier way to get those bursts of energy you are looking for. To practice, I recommend to start with 1 gel per hour, no more than 2 gels in a flask (and fill with water). Your gel intake should be on top of your liquid nutrition intake. I do not recommend to prioritize consuming hourly calorie needs from gels when instead you can simply get a sport drink powder to fill your water bottle to meet calorie and hydration needs.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Simplify your fueling strategy. It is extremely inefficient and many times dangerous for you and for others around you to fuel with 2-3 different energy sources during your ride (ex. pills, solid food and water or gels, water, solid food or sport drink solid food and gels). You absolutely need, at minimum water and electrolytes when you ride and typically this is at minimum 20 ounce of water and 400 mg of sodium (100-200mg of potassium) plus electrolytes like magnesium and chloride. But when it comes to the energy that you need to keep your glycogen tank filled, brain staying alert and muscles working effectively, carbohydrates are your best friend and they need to be consumed in a way that they empty from the digestive tract quickly so those sugars can be taken up by the working muscles with the help of insulin. I typically encourage at minimum, 200 calories per hour from a sport drink for longer rides (ex. more than 2 hours) up to 300 calories as a start for men and women. The best strategy for you athletes is to rely on liquid nutrition as your primary fuel. You make it super simple this way to meet your calorie/carbohydrate, electrolyte and fluid needs. I recommend between 50-75g of carbohydrates per bottle (glucose, glucose/fructose or glucose/maltodextrin/fructose combination).
Solid food, chewy blocks, beans and pills all have their place in your bike fueling regime but everything needs to serve a purpose (ex. to benefit your effort/experience on the bike) and it needs to be practical in training and in racing in multiple conditions. I find many athletes do really well with a little solid food in the gut, but small amounts at a time. Open your bar prior to the ride in the package and stick in your bento box or jersey pocket so it's easy to consume, immediately when you need it. Have a small bite as needed, every 20-40 minutes. Blocks are also just fine for a little energy burst or different consistency than gel so to make it easy, cut the package in half so you don't have to fumble with a large package in your bento box or jersey as it gets hard to squeeze a block from the bottom of a package. Sport beans (or any small, loose candy) can be challenging to handle and consume at high speeds or on technical courses and many times, it is challenging to get "energy" from these options - so it's likely you are using them as a fun treat. I would learn to pass on these for a safer ride. As for pills, if you are using electrolyte or amino pills (I do not advocate caffeine pills) under the direction of your sport RD, I recommend to create a range of times when you will consume these and just slow down. Always bring extra as pills like to fall out of coin purses, bento boxes or containers or get smashed.
TRAIN YOUR GUT
Most of all, you need to train your gut to tolerate nutrition on the bike and work your way up in nutrition. It can take up to 6-8 weeks to get comfortable consuming sport nutrition during a workout. Never be afraid to fuel your body while cycling but first you need to get use to consuming nutrition on the bike. Perfect your bike hydration set up and practice using water in a gel flask (sipping and returning to your jersey pocket or bento box). Practice moving around your bottles - this is a great drill for newbie athletes and coaches must understand that many new (or even veteran) triathletes are many times, not comfortable removing their hands from the bars or can't make this a habit if most of the riding is indoors in a controlled environment without gravity and wind affecting the ride. So practice, practice, practice - take 3-4 filled water bottles on your bike on a casual ride to get more comfortable with your bike fueling regime. Practice grabbing things from your pockets, bento box, etc. as you are riding so that you never have to put yourself into a scenario when you are underfueling due to lack of skills/knowledge on the bike.
EXCITE YOUR TASTE BUDS
My last little secret tip is to change up the taste of your nutrition. This is especially important for the endurance triathletes. . Do not use the same flavor gel on the bike as the run as your taste buds will get very tired of the same taste. For the last hour of your long ride (or in a race), make 1 bottle be different - choose your absolute favorite sport drink and let this be a different flavor then the rest of the bottle flavors in a 3-4 hour ride/race. Also, if you always get tired of consuming sport drinks and gels during long rides/races, have something that you can chew on once an hour (ex. 30-50 calories of bar or block) that is an entirely different flavor than your sport drink to help keep your taste buds excited. I don't encourage spicy but perhaps something bland or just a different taste/texture all together.