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Fueling Your Rides: Nutrition Tips for Mountain Bikers

Cycling Nutrition

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Riding trails while taking in beautiful scenery and pushing your limits is an amazing feeling. But without paying attention to your nutrition, you’ll run out of steam way too early. Getting the right foods and fluids before, during, and after mountain bike rides is key for performance.

Whether you’re a recreational rider looking to make it through longer weekend rides or an aspiring racer trying to shave time off your laps, smart fueling makes all the difference. This article will cover everything you need to know about mountain biking nutrition to crush your next ride.

Pre-Ride Fueling

Starting your mountain bike ride fueled up is one of the simplest ways to boost endurance and stamina on the trail. Eating the right foods 1-4 hours before you set out gives your muscles the glycogen and nutrients they need to perform their best.

Aim for foods and snacks that offer a balance of complex carbs, some protein, and not too much fat or fiber (which can cause GI issues during intense exercise). Some great pre-ride fuel options include:

  • Oatmeal or granola with Greek yogurt and fruit
  • Whole grain toast with peanut butter
  • Banana with nut butter
  • Low-fat turkey sandwich
  • Vegetable omelet with sweet potato hash browns
  • Beans on rice
  • Low-fat chocolate milk

These combos check all the boxes nutritionally. The carbs refill glycogen stores, protein helps maintain and repair muscle, and healthy fats provide sustained energy. Simple sugars from fruits and the milk give you a blood sugar boost for quick energy.

Make sure to give your body enough time to digest so that stomach discomfort doesn’t take the fun out of your ride. Avoid anything too heavy, fatty, or high fiber in the final hour before you head out. Stick to lighter snacks like an energy bar, a banana, or yogurt.

Hydrating well leading up to your ride is also key. Drink 16-24 oz of water or sports drink 2-3 hours beforehand so you start off well-hydrated, not thirsty. Dehydration severely hampers endurance and can increase your risk of cramping later in the ride when sweat losses pile up.

Fueling During Your Ride

Maintaining energy levels and preventing dehydration during longer mountain bike rides requires strategically consuming carbs and electrolytes. For rides under an hour, you can likely get by on your pre-ride fuel. But for anything longer, additional nutrition and hydration is vital.

What and how much you should consume depends mainly on the intensity and duration of your ride. A good benchmark to shoot for is 30-90 grams of carbs per hour from food/drink. Combinations of gels, chews, bars, trail mix, bananas, sandwiches and sports drink allow you to hit this target and Ward off glycogen depletion.

Some easy-to-digest options popular with mountain bikers include:

  • Energy gels & chews – These portable packets provide 25-35g quick carbs along with electrolytes to replace what you lose sweating. Downside is they don’t offer lasting energy.
  • Granola or Nutrigrain bars – Around 30g of carbs in a compact, non-melty package. The oats and grains provide sustained energy. Look for lower protein/fat versions designed for athletics.
  • Trail mix – Mixes of dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and chocolate provide a carb/protein/fat combo that keeps you fueled. The variety and chewiness make it more appetizing than gels when your appetite lags. Pay attention to serving sizes so you don’t overdo it on calories.
  • Fresh fruit – Bananas, oranges, apples and other fruits offer quick carbs, vitamins/minerals to maintain energy levels and muscle function. Easy to carry and eat for a refreshing, satisfying mouthfeel.
  • PB & honey sandwiches – Classic ride fuel thanks to the perfect carb/protein/fat macro ratio. Complex carbs provide sustained energy, protein helps maintain muscle, and the fat adds calories to meet higher energy needs. Easy to assemble, packable, and holds up well for hours.
  • Sports drinks – Formulated with 5-8% carbs, electrolytes, and fluid to simultaneously hydrate you and deliver energy. Less concentrated than most foods allowing easier digestion and absorption when riding hard. Better for hydration than water which lacks electrolytes.

Pay attention to early signs of hunger, fatigue, and thirst instead of waiting until you’re drained to fuel up. Consume snacks/fluids regularly every 45-60 minutes rather than waiting until you bonk then trying to catch up. Digestion slows when blood is shunted to working muscles so don’t overload your gut either. Stick to foods providing 50g carbs or less and drink 16-24oz per hour max.

Replenishing After Your Ride

Mountain biking works your muscles hard. But the recovery process starts the moment you finish pedaling. Taking in carbs and protein within 30-60 minutes post-ride kickstarts muscle repair, restores glycogen levels, and rehydrates better than later refueling.

The optimal recovery window is when your tissues are most “thirsty” for nutrients and your digestion is still active. Delay too long and your body misses this amplified uptake phase. Shoot to consume a mix of carb and protein-rich foods as soon as possible after rides longer than 90 minutes.

Some of the best post-MTB ride snack options include:

  • Chocolate milk
  • Greek yogurt with berries & granola
  • Turkey sandwich with veggies
  • Protein smoothie or shake
  • Veggie omelet with sweet potato and Ezekiel toast
  • Burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, chicken, salsa, cheese

The right ratio of carbs to protein is key here. Most sports nutritionists recommend 3-4 grams of carbs for every 1 gram of protein. This amplifies glycogen resynthesis and takes advantage of the enhanced muscle protein synthesis rates after exercise.

Some examples of excellent carb to protein ratios:

  • 16 oz chocolate milk = 45g carbs to 10g protein
  • Protein bar + banana = 45g carbs to 15g protein
  • 6oz Greek yogurt + 1 cup berries + 2 tbsp granola = 45g carbs to 15g protein

Shoot for around 50-75g total carbs + 15-25g protein in your initial post-ride feeding. Tailor amounts upwards based on ride length/intensity and your size. Then continue to emphasize carb-rich meals and snacks for several more hours to fully replenish glycogen in muscles and your liver.

Additional Mountain Biking Nutrition Tips

  • Stay on top of hydration before, during, and after rides. Dehydration drags you down fast.
  • Test new on-the-bike foods well before race day to know what digests easily for you
  • Carry electrolyte tablets or powders as a backup for when water won’t cut it
  • Consider adding easy-to-carry electrolyte-rich fruits like oranges and watermelon to your mid-ride nutrition
  • Store on-the-bike snacks where they’re easy to access like jersey pockets or hydration pack front pouches
  • Set reminders to drink and eat at regular intervals if you have a hard time remembering
  • Have a cooler with recovery foods/drinks ready at your car for finishing rides away from home

Final Nutrition Thoughts

Eating and drinking with purpose makes every aspect of mountain biking more enjoyable. You’ll feel energized conquering climbs, shred trails longer and faster, bounce back quicker for the next ride, and avoid intestinal issues and bonking. Optimizing your pre-ride, on-bike, and post-ride nutrition takes some trial and error to discover what works best for you. But the effort pays dividends out on the trails.

About the Author

Tony K

Senior Technical Writer,

Tony K is a technical editor at He has a focus on downhill bike riding but still loves xc bikes too.

With more than ten years of mountain biking experience and more than 5 years testing mountain bikes, Tony has ridden and tested hundreds of different bikes and products, everything from XC to enduro bikes. Tony regularly competes in mountain bike races while seeing how long those compontents can hold up which gives me a lot of insight.

When he isn't shredding down a mountain or camping out, he is writing reviews for Mountain Bike Experience.

Rides: Surly Lowside, Canyon Exceed