by Julie Cornelius, MS
Nutrition for Bikepacking
Bikepacking has become incredibly popular over the past few years, and with the Arizona Trail Race right around the corner, I thought I would talk a little bit about nutrition for bikepacking. Don’t know what bikepacking is? It is basically off-road bike touring, or like backpacking on a bike. If you like riding bikes and have enjoyed backpacking, you will most certainly like bikepacking.
I am not going to go into detail about bikepacking itself. If you are interested in learning more, I would recommend checking out bikepacking.com or bikepackersmagazine.com. I do want to discuss the unique challenges of eating during a bikepacking trip (note: these tips can also be applied to backpacking!). Getting your daily servings of fruits and vegetables is not going to be possible. The most important thing to focus on is getting enough food to fuel your ride well. Getting calories becomes important, but that doesn’t just mean subsisting off candies and cookies. Eating foods that will help keep your energy levels steady can help to prevent bonking- because nobody wants to bonk in the backcountry!
One of the biggest challenges of eating during a bikepacking trip is trying to carry enough food, but not getting weighed down by it. The key is to find foods that are not too heavy, pack a lot of nutrients that you need, and don’t take up too much space. Depending on the trip you are doing, you may or may not go through towns to be able to restock- so that means carrying what you need with you.
Steps For Food Success for Bikepacking (or Backpacking!)
Step 1: During your planning, figure out if there are any places you can stop for food and water.
This will help you figure out how much you need to carry. It will vary for every trip, so do your homework!
Step 2: Figure out how many days you are going to be riding.
I like to plan out meals for each day, and then fill in with snacks. During your first few bikepacking trips, you will start to figure out what you need, what you don’t and what foods you like. For your first trips, it’s better to overestimate how much food you need than to underestimate.
Step 3: Figure out where you can restock with water.
How much water you carry will depend on if there are places you can buy water, filter water or cache water. If you don’t have any of these options, you will need to carry enough with you for the entire trip. There is no rule about how much water you should bring since it depends on the temperature and how much you will need to cook any food you bring. Don’t forget to factor in water to make essentials like coffee! If there are places along the way to filter water, that means you don’t have to carry as much- just remember to bring a filter!
Step 4: Purchase or make food to bring!
Tastes are going to vary, and people might have suggestions for things that have worked for them- send me a note using the form at the bottom with any good ones! Here are some of my favorites items that I bring with me that work well:
- Trader Joe’s precooked brown rice- can be eaten cold or added to a soup!
- Peanut butter and honey sandwiches
- Dried fruit- apricots, mangoes, apples, dates, pineapple are just a few of my favorites. The pieces are usually big and easy to eat even while riding.
- Trail mix- I avoid any with chocolate because I tend to ride mostly in the desert where it can melt and get messy.
- Bars- Kit’s Organic and Pure Bars are my favorites and are easy to eat while riding.
- Beef or turkey jerky- a good way to get protein
- Canned salmon, chicken or tuna- a protein source that weighs a little more in your pack. And make sure to get one that has a easy open lid so that you don’t have to worry about a can opener. Salmon packets are even more ideal if you can find them!
- Instant Oatmeal- makes for a quick and easy breakfast and packs down small.
- Tortillas- great for making trailside burritos with any fixings you bring (peanut butter, tuna, rice, etc.)
- Nut butter packets- Justin’s almond and peanut butter packets are one of my go-to items for any trip
- Freeze dried meals from Good To Go Foods– these are about the best ones I have found. They are not full of preservatives and taste great! Plus, they pack down really small. Mary Jane’s Farm Organic are another good option.
- And just a few notes about gas station eating- grab an Odwalla or Naked juice or two. These are better than some of the alternatives. I recommend avoiding a lot of fried/greasy food that can make you feel not so great once you get back on the bike. If you stop at a restaurant- try to find some rice or potatoes and a good protein.
Step 5: Make sure to eat!
It becomes even more important to keep on top of eating when you are going to be out all day. Try to snack in between meals and stay consistent about eating. One of the great things about bikepacking is that you are usually not in a hurry (unless doing a bikepacking race!), so you can stop for lunch and relax for a little while to let your food digest.
Step 6: Stay hydrated!
Make sure to drink plenty of fluids. A combination of water and a sports drink can help keep you hydrate and fueled. If your foods contain a lot of sodium, you can get away with drinking more water and less sports drink since your food will provide the important electrolytes.
Step 7: This is the most important one of all- have fun!
Bikepacking is not easy, but it can be a lot of fun. And treat yourself to a good meal when you get done!
Want to get more information or let me know what your favorite bikepacking food is? Send a note below!
Julie Cornelius, MS is Co-founder of Potential Energy Training & Nutrition. She has an extensive background in nutrition and graduated from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ with both her Bachelors of Science and Masters of Science in Nutrition. She has worked in fi
tness studios helping clients achieve their nutrition goals, spent two years teaching college nutrition courses, and was the founder of Julie Bar, an energy bar company. Julie is a long time cyclist and mountain biker who loves being outdoors. Julie helps individuals to meet their nutrition goals, whether it is eating to win an endurance mountain bike race, losing weight, or just eating to be healthier.