Non-Sugar Nutrition for Cyclists


Non-Sugar Nutrition for Cyclists

Rick Asks:

Because of my recent gastric bypass surgery, sugar is a huge issue with me.  Eating anything with more than 8 grams of sugar causes me to have major intestinal issues.  I have to be extremely careful, especially while riding.  On long rides I will take Gu packages and take small peanut butter and fruit spread (no sugar added jam) on wasa toast with me.  The only over the counter bar that I have found to take is the Think Thin bars, but the chocolate coatings on them make them messy and useless while riding.

Prior to riding, usually in the mornings, I eat a slice of whole wheat toast with peanut butter and an egg.  During longer rides I use Nuun.  Post ride I will sometimes make protein shakes with fresh or frozen berries or Whole wheat or Sourdough toast with cream cheese.

If you have any ideas for  pre ride, on the bike and post ride nutrition I would truly appreciate it.

Kelli’s Answer:

Here are some ideas for you:

Pre-ride before long rides:  Your current choice of toast, pb, and an egg is fine.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you can also add organic coconut oil before riding as it will provide an efficient energy source similar to carbs/sugar, without any carbs/sugar.  Also, any addition of whey protein may help as again it’s an efficient and fast-acting  nutrient source, without the carbs.  Other options before include a smoothie such as our Pre-training Smoothie.  If you require just small amounts at a time, this can be consumed in 3 portions every 30 minutes from @ 90 min, 60 min, and 30 min out.  Since it is liquid, it is usually easy to digest and doesn’t set in the stomach too much.  You can reduce the sugar by reducing the honey and berries to an acceptable amount, and then increasing oats, organic coconut oil, adding ½ scoop whey, and/or adding cooked rice (assuming these starchy carb foods work better for you than sugars from fruit/honey or other sources).  Lastly, I’m not sure if you’ve tried Chia Seeds yet?  They are a high fiber, high fat seed that is known for long lasting energy, without sugar and generally without digestional issues.  You can try them added into your peanut butter, adding into a smoothie, or added into oatmeal such as in our Overnight Chia Oats (again, adjust honey as needed).

Along the same lines, during a ride you can rely more on carbs from starches and starchy vegetables rather than sugars.  The wasa cracker plus peanut butter and sugar-free jelly is a good option.  In addition, for rides shorter between 90 minutes and 3 hours, try these very easy to make Lemon Bars, reducing dates and honey by half (this will leave you with more nuts than sugar) and experimenting with adding chia seeds, whey powder, and coconut oil (you just food process to chop up and then mash together to form bars or balls). Another option is squeezable baby food sweet potatoes…I know if may sound weird, but many, many low-sugar athletes use these. I’ve also posted recipes for homemade mashed sweet potatoes, sweet potato fries, and potato cakes that may work well.  KIND bars with added protein tend to be relatively low in sugar, and may be a good option (this one has only 8 grams of sugar).  Another commercial option includes Power Bar Reduced Sugar.  For longer rides when your body can use more real foods and protein, try these rice burritos.

NUUN or other low-carb electrolyte drinks are good choices for you.  If you can tolerate maltodextrin or cornstarch based drinks, you may do well with drinks like HEED or UCAN for the longer rides when your body can usually use carbs from both foods and drinks well.

Lastly, to recover after hard rides try to consume about 20-40 grams of carbs and 20 grams protein from any source you tolerate well.  Sweet potatoes, oats, and brown rice work well.  Make sure to add protein such as eggs, meats, tuna, or dairy (if tolerated).  Or, if a smoothie works for you, whey or dairy + berries + sweet potato, cooked oats or rice (to get just a bit more carbs without sugar) + 1 Tbsp organic coconut oil can work well.  The bread and cream cheese is a little too low in protein, so maybe add in an egg?  After easier rides simply “time” a regular meal or snack afterwards, and if able, add in the coconut oil (into the meal or taken by spoon like a supplement).  To aide recovery and reduce soreness, 5 grams l-glutamine before and after hard rides can help AND it’s great for the digestive tract.

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

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5 Responses to “ Non-Sugar Nutrition for Cyclists ”

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  2. Juicelee337 on January 5, 2013 at 10:16 am

    My fav for rides in excess of 2hrs are rice cakes from The Feed Zone cookbook. Not sure about sugar content in Hammer Perpetuem and Shot Blocks, but they round out that which successfully fueled me through a full IronMan in 2012. Love fig newtons on a ride, too. Best of luck.

    • Kelli Jennings on January 5, 2013 at 4:23 pm

      Thanks for the comment – yes, these are great. They are similar to the Rice burritos above. Either will work fine and provides a nice non-sugar salty fuel option. Take care!

  3. Koifla on January 5, 2013 at 9:33 am

    I like only water for an hour or less of moderate intensity workouts to train fat burning. It’s nice to break the habit of gu’s, gells, bars and eating before every run or ride. It’s also cheaper and easy to clean

    • Kelli Jennings on January 5, 2013 at 4:27 pm

      Absolutely – you can usually perform at the same level with water instead of drinks with carbs up to 60 minutes – and you’re right, it increases fat burn to forego the carbs up to this time. For longer or high-intensty rides, performance can suffer and thereby decrease calorie output and fat burn without proper fuel. I find that 60-90 minutes is a gray area and subject to individual preferences, and 90+ minutes requires carb-fuel for optimal performance. The exception is in hot weather or in hot indoor workouts such as on a training – even under 60 minutes it can be beneficial to add the lytes with a drink like NUUN. Water is a nice refreshing choice!


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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.

Sports Drink Homebrew

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

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