Early Morning Fuel

What’s the best fuel for an early morning ride?

Question: Out of habit, I’ve always eaten cereal (granola) before my morning ride.  For the last several weeks, I’ve been riding at 6am to avoid the heat, and eating at 5:30 am.  I haven’t had any stomach issues, but I am not sure that this is the best pre-ride meal strategy. My legs have felt heavy since starting to ride earlier.  My rides are 1.5-2 hours.  Should I eat less, something different, or nothing at all?  What do you think?

Kelli’s Answer: I think your pre-ride fuel strategy can be improved.  The issue with eating a moderately high fiber breakfast within 30 minutes of beginning a ride is that it will likely take too long to digest, absorb, and metabolize to provide any energy to your muscles at all.  And, what’s more, if the meal is setting in your stomach, you are increasing your risk of stomach cramps (but it sounds like you’ve been okay here) and a reduced bloodflow to your legs since your body is working at digesting.

Although many athletes feel like they need a full breakfast before a morning ride, I think you’ll have better result with less food, and ones that you can eat quickly and metabolize faster.

My first choice would be 2 Tablespoons organic honey + 0.5 – 1 Tbsp organic coconut oil (all straight off the spoon).  Why? These are fast-acting, quick-metabolizing energy foods.  The honey provides moderately fast carbs that act similarly to maltodextrin (moderately fast and longer lasting than glucose), natural enzymes to improve digestion, and antioxidants.  The organic coconut oil provides fast-acting medium chain triglycerides which are used directly by the mitochondria of cells (energy producers) without the need for bile or slow digestion.

Another option would be a sports food with a moderate amount of protein – something like a Clif bar. Or, a smoothie with 1/4 cup yogurt, 1/2 banana, 1 Tbsp honey, and water.  These foods will also digest quickly and provide energy during your ride.

And, don’t forget about 8 oz. of fluid.

During your ride, especially if high intensity and over 60 minutes, or moderate intensity and over 90 minutes, you’ll still need during-ride fuel as well.  With all rides in heat, you’ll want fluids and lytes!

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.

  • Gilly

    Great info..I wonder if the same foods can be applied before you run?

    • Kelli, RD

      Hi Gilly – Even more so for runners! The difference is, not only do you have to worry about nutrients making it to your blood stream in time to help you, you also have an increased risk of stomach cramps (just because of the jostling of running) and of having to stop for a bathroom break when too much bulk is in your digestive tract (due to the pounding the digestive tract takes – all us runners have been there, right?). So, yes! Thanks for your comment. Kelli, RD

  • http://twitter.com/Eclogite_ATX Paul Kirby

    Thanks for this. I’ve been thinking about this very thing lately. When riding in the morning, I try to eat my cereal at least an hour before my bike ride. Sometimes that isn’t possible and, in that case, usually have a Clif bar. Seems like I stumbled on your strategy by accident. Yay for me!

    • Kelli, RD

      Sounds good – and, yes, yay for you! Kelli, RD