Loving the BITE: Will Ride for Bacon


Bacon: The Tasty Sodium Supplement

Alright, here’s the disclaimer (a rarity around here!). This may not be the healthiest of my Loving the Bite healthy recipes. It’s true. I’ve given you plenty of those. It doesn’t have to be all-broccoli-all-time. As you’ll read, I do believe bacon is fine here and there (or to be clique – in moderation). And, what’s more, I do believe it can be a tasty sodium supplement during long training and races.  If you feel strongly that I (or others) shouldn’t eat bacon, we’ll probably have to just agree to disagree (take it from me and my non-bacon-eating vegetarian friend Darryl).

Do you ever daydream about bacon? Sometimes I do, and it’s usually when I’ve been on my bike for hours. It may be the sodium losses I experiencing, my tiring of the somewhat sweet training fuel I’m consuming hour after hour like sports drinks, gels, and bars, or maybe I just happen to like bacon. And then, I reach into my jersey pocket and pull some out. Why? Because bacon can be an effective part of your training fuel plan, believe it or not.

How is this possible? Isn’t bacon one of the worst foods you can choose from a nutrition perspective? There are many reasons that you may feel cautious with this high-salt, high-saturated-fat food. And, in everyday nutrition, mostly due to the sodium content, I recommend keeping it as more of an occasional food than a daily food choice.

Training nutrition, however, is quite different from everyday nutrition. Your body needs, and can efficiently use, different nutrients than it does when you’re sedentary. Maybe even bacon. Let’s break it down and determine if bacon should be in your jersey pocket, too.Bacon

First, the nutrition and health aspect of it: If you’re not a meat eater, or the thought of animal fat has negative connotations for you, this is likely not the fuel for you. There are many ways to fuel right when training, and individual preference is a huge part of it. However, there is convincing evidence that most of the chronic diseases that plague modern society stem from obesity or being overweight, inactivity, chronic inflammation from all sorts of environmental and dietary factors, and an everyday intake far too high in refined carbohydrates which negatively affect our hormones and cells (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16555609, http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/carbohydrates ). Of note, our bodies are absolutely able to use and thrive with refined carbohydrates when we are actively exercising or training.

On the other hand, I don’t believe that saturated fats have caused the downfall of modern day health. According to a 2010 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, there is simply no conclusive significant correlation between saturated fat intake and heart disease, stroke, or high cholesterol. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2010/01/13/ajcn.2009.27725.abstracthttp://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2010/01/13/ajcn.2009.27725.abstract

Now, that is not to say that I recommend you eat at an all-bacon, all-the-time buffet. But, there is some room for moderation with it.

Next, there are the chemicals and added ingredients used to cure the meat. If at all possible, choose a locally processed-processed bacon, or one that uses natural ingredients that you can identify. Uncured bacon, organic bacon, and nitrate free bacon generally have less chemical additives than others. The nitrates themselves are the same as those touted as beneficial in foods like beets and celery, but when accompanied by other preservatives, there is some concern regarding cancer risk cancer risk and hardening of the arteries. In terms of benefits to athletes, the nitrates in bacon are too few to be helpful, so look to beetroot instead for oxygen flow and uptake increases. But of course, beets don’t taste like bacon.

Lastly, there’s the sodium. Day to day, it’s a good idea to keep your sodium intake to a moderately low level. When not accounting for training nutrition, or not prepping for a big work out or race within the next 24 hours, a sodium intake of just 1500-2500 mg per day is fine for an athlete, and your everyday nutrition should be founded on non-processed foods. On the other hand, there is a time when extra sodium is required and imperative. That’s right, immediately before, during, and after training. And, bacon can become your tasty “salt pill” of choice.

During activity, you likely sweat. Some athletes sweat more than others, but almost all of us sweat a significant enough amount to cool our bodies and affect the fluid and electrolyte balance in our plasma. In spring and summer conditions, many athletes lose an average of 0.5 to 1 Liter of sweat per hour. Every liter of sweat contains about 800-1300 mg sodium, or for ease in calculating, approximately 1000 milligrams per liter. http://www.rice.edu/~jenky/sports/salt.html

If you think you lose a full liter per hour, you likely than also lose 1000 mg sodium per hour. Heavy sweaters and salty sweaters lose more (this is generally influenced by weight, heat, activity, genetics and possibly by everyday consumption of sodium in foods, but not generally by during-training nutrition). Although you may not be able to replenish all of your sodium losses, and you generally don’t need to, you will help your body balance the sodium and fluid in your plasma, improve stomach emptying and digestion while training, improve fluid absorption, improve glucose absorption and utilization if you replenish the majority of it (aim for about 75% replenishment).

Typically, I find that athletes do well with replenishing 400-700 mg sodium per hour year round, and 600-1000 mg sodium during hot months. If you’d like to fine tune this number on an individual level, you can weigh yourself before and after training, subtract out any fluid weight consumed during it, and calculate your fluid losses (all weight changes are likely fluid in this short of time). To replenish sodium, you can use sports drinks, salt, supplements, engineered sports foods and whole foods including bacon. Here’s three ways to add bacon to your next workout:

  1. Simply eat a slice of bacon every 1-2 hours.  Each slice typically contains 170-200 milligrams sodium.  Along with fluid, carbohydrates and other sodium sources, bacon can serve as the sodium pill that helps you achieve hourly goal amounts.
  2. Try a sourdough, bacon, and cheese sandwich on long rides.  In addition to consuming 60-90 grams of carbohydrates, 18-24 ounces fluids, and 400-700 mg sodium per hour, it can really help to add real, solid foods every 2-3 hours of a 5+ hour workout or adventure.  Try a small sandwich (about ¼ the size of a normal 2-slice bread sandwich) with sourdough, soft cheese like creamed Swiss cheese, and bacon.
  3. Boil potatoes and add a bit of mustard and bacon on long rides. The potatoes are a delicious and concentrated carbohydrate source. The vinegar in the mustard can actually keep cramps at bay, and the bacon provide sodium and more flavor.  Delicious!

Picking the best bacon: When it comes to bacon, you usually get what you pay for. To reduce any potentially harmful preservatives, nitrates, and junk ingredients, choose organic, local, or at least all-natural varieties.

You’ve got to replenish your sodium from somewhere, so why not add good-quality bacon to your next long workout? You’ll get a 170-200 milligram boost of sodium that’ll add flavor and crunch. Bacon will have you looking forward to hour after hour or that hurts-so-good pain.

Fuel your Ride.  Nourish your Body.


Enjoy Your Ride
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2 Responses to “ Loving the BITE: Will Ride for Bacon ”

  1. Chris Wright on June 11, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    Oh my gosh, Kelli. I just love bacon. I’m not sure I could eat it on a hard ride though. Sometimes its all I can do to get water or Gatorade down. Maybe on a longer slower ride, but I have problems with speed control. I usually go all out and slow down when my body forces me to.

    I do like the idea of eating something a little more natural than snack bars. I was looking at some the other day and it seems all the manufacturers are trying to cut down on carbohydrates now. So they put in sugar alcohol. That stuff is definitely not good for you. Maybe I could make my own with a little bacon in them.

    • Kelli on June 12, 2015 at 5:38 pm

      Hi Chris,
      Thank you for the comment! Bacon just may go down a lot easier than you think. I generally use it on longer rides (3+ hours), but I am going hard when in these as well. Take a look around the site if you haven’t already – we’ve got loads of snack bars and energy bars made with minimal, natural ingredients (lemon bars are my favorite). Or, salted mangos, dates, etc. I hope you enjoy – let us know! Kelli, RD

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Sugar Alternatives for Energy and Hydration

Question: I am using the homebrew sugar formulations (sometimes added to green tea).  I am also trying to wean myself off 1/2 dose adrenalean “lip tonic delivery system” (biorhythm brand- caffeine, hoodia g, synephrine, yohimbe) capsule for energy.

My question is other than juice, can you suggest modifications in lieu of table sugar for energy and hydration.


Both raw/organic honey or agave can work great in the homebrew (substitute in the same quantities for the sugar, or to taste), but you do have to shake well in order to make sure they don’t settle out.  Have you tried either of these?  Also, make sure to use at least the minimum amount of salt recommended in the homebrew as the temps rise, you need the sodium replacement if you’re sweating.

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Please send us your questions for our Expert Sports Nutritionist, Kelli Jennings to “Ask the Sports Nutritionist“. Kelli Jennings is a Registered Dietitian with a passion for healthy eating, wellness, & sports nutrition. For more information go to www.apexnutritionllc.com.

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