It has to be said, that bicycle touring makes you hungry! That's why picking the best foods for bicycle touring is so important. Here is a list of the food I take with me when on an extended bicycle tour.
Eating On A Bicycle Tour
The bicycle may be a machine, but your body is the engine, and that engine needs fuel. The best foods for bicycle touring need to replace those lost calories quickly. They also need to be relatively light weight, and keep well on the road. In the case of cyclists on multi week/month/year trips, they also need to be cheap! Its hardly surprising then, that the same foods crop up again and again in the panniers of bicycle tourists.
A Balanced Diet For Cycle Touring
Before I go any further, I should mention that I am a strong believer in a balanced diet, and also eat fish and meat. So, keep in mind that I would not suggest you subsist entirely off of the following foods. Additionally, plenty of vegans get on fine without some of the items below.
Another thing to remember, is that not all foods are available in all countries. And that's a good thing. Half the fun of visiting new countries is trying out the local delicacies and new foods after all! Regardless, this list of the best foods for bicycle touring is at the core of the majority of bicycle tourists diets. Bicycle touring staples, so to speak.
Finally, as with all my bicycle touring tips, this article has been put together drawing on my experiences of 40,000 kms cycling all over the world. So, without further ado:
The Best Foods for Bicycle Touring
- Peanut Butter
- Canned Fish
These really are one of natures greatest gifts. First domesticated in South East Asia nearly 8000 years ago, they are now grown in many parts of the world. Where they are not grown, they are exported to the other parts. Even after export, they remain an incredibly affordable fruit that is packed full of nutrition. Containing just a few traces of protein, the average banana boasts 120 calories consisting mainly of carbohydrates. This makes it the ideal snack food to be eaten whilst cycling, as it helps to restore energy levels. It even comes in its own bio-degradable packaging – it doesn't get any better than that!
Whether as oatmeal, porridge or in muesli, oats are a great way to start the day. They have been part of athletes diets since the time of the gladiators, and there are not many professional sports people today who do not consume oats at least once a week. For the bicycle tourist, a big bowl of oatmeal is the perfect way to fuel the body at the beginning of the morning. The energy release is constant over a couple of hours, rather than in one burst, and they take very little preparation. Lightweight and cheap, they are one of the essential staple foods to take when bicycle touring.
These make an ideal snack to munch on whilst actually cycling. Whilst they may not offer much in the way of instant carb release (apart from the raisins), they keep the body fuelled with fats and protein from the nuts. Eat a banana every now and again as well, and it should get you through to lunchtime, when you might like to stop for a bigger meal.
This product may not be available in every country in the world, but where it is, cyclists should definitely add it to their shopping list. Calorie dense, peanut butter spread thickly over bread is an ideal way to keep the body fuelled. The fat content may put people off from eating it on a daily basis in regular life, but on a bicycle tour, its all going to get burned off pretty quickly. It's cheap in some country's, but expensive in others, especially if imported as a delicacy for ex-pats.
Instant Noodles (Ramen)
Ramen noodles are not often thought of as a health food product! Now, that said, a cyclist who is burning calories at a rate of knots, and needs to replace salts as well, will soon fall in love with instant noodles. They are ridiculously cheap, quick to cook, and make an ideal snack. Throw in a few vegetables as well, and it makes a simple meal. They weigh very little, and many cyclists have an emergency pack or two stuffed into a pannier somewhere.
I'm going to include spaghetti in the pasta category (something which is easier to carry for a cyclist). Pasta is a great source of carbs, and also has a reasonable amount of protein. Many athletes “carb load” by eating pasta, and bicycle tourists are no exception. A huge plate at night after a long day on the bike is just the job, and I personally love pasta and tuna. Although it doesn't weigh a lot, pasta can take up space which might be an issue for some. I carry spaghetti in an old plastic water bottle to save it getting smashed around during those days on the road. Availability may not be everywhere, but where it is found, it's dirt cheap.
Rice gets a bad rap from Westerners, who are perhaps more used to potatoes as their main source of carbohydrates. Most of the world seems to get by on rice though, and bicycle travellers are no exception to this! Cheap and available virtually everywhere, rice is also lightweight. It is possible to carry many meals worth in just 500 grams of the uncooked product, although cyclists in arid regions may need to balance that out with water availability for cooking.
Tinned Tuna or other fish
Although I wouldn't consider tinned fish to be particularly environmentally sound, it is a product which is pretty cheap, easy to carry on the bike, and requires no preparation. Whilst cycling burns through the carbs, you still need a good source of protein to maintain and rebuild stressed muscles. Tinned fish provides this, and when eaten with rice or pasta, makes a quick, simple, cheap and complete meal. Available almost everywhere around the world, it is certainly one of the best foods for bicycle touring.
There is some form of bread to be found in most parts of the world. It might be a flat bread in the Middle East, Injerra in Ethiopia, or a traditional loaf of bread in Europe. Cheap, filling, and providing a good mix of carbs and protein, its handy to have for lunches, or when it is not possible to cook at night over a stove.
Cheese is a good source of fats (which need to be replaced, as the body should have reserves to draw from in emergencies), and protein. Available in most places, it's only real drawback as a bicycle touring staple, is that it is hard to keep in hot climates. Cheese sandwiches halfway through the day make a good lunch, and its relatively inexpensive.
Travelling hard and fast means that sometimes, it is quite difficult to keep a balanced diet. Vitamin and mineral supplements can be extremely useful in these situations, and more information about them can be found here – Nature's Own Vitamins and Minerals for bicycle touring
If you can think of anything else that should be added to this list of the best foods for bicycle touring, then please leave a comment below. I'd also be interested in hearing of any simple recipes for camp cooking on a bicycle tour, as it's always nice to try something new!