We’re all guilty of eating the same things over and over again, no matter how often we try to switch it up. As a cyclists, this habit can work both for and against us. While you’re in the saddle, you want to eat foods that you know will give you long-lasting energy without putting too much stress on your gut. That’s why it’s tempting to stick with the same gummies, gels, and bars you’re used to consuming. However, doing this can hinder your performance, especially if you aren’t consuming the right nutrients or getting all you need. Plus, when you’re off the bike, you want a mix of nutrients from various foods to get all the vitamins and minerals required for healthy living.
Because carbs fuel your workouts and keep your body awake and your brain thinking clearly, we gathered a list of good carbs to eat, whether you’re clocking miles or just interested in overhauling your fridge and pantry with healthier whole food options. Let these best carbs for energy improve your rides and your day.
Vegetarians and vegan love quinoa because it is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. Another bonus: one cup of quinoa contains about five grams of fiber (for comparison, brown rice has about 3.5 grams of fiber), so it will keep you full and energized for even longer.
There are few things more refreshing than juicy orange slices. While oranges are usually touted for their high levels of vitamin C, the energizing fruit is also a good source of fiber, folate, and vitamin B.
There’s a reason oatmeal often ranks at the top of the list for pre-ride breakfasts: it’s filling, but easy on the stomach at the same time. That’s because it offers the perfect amount of fiber—4 grams per half cup—to keep you more satisfied than cold cereal does without sending you peeling off for a pit stop.
Whole wheat bread is a better carb choice than white bread because it contains more fiber and protein (not to mention essential nutrients like iron), which means it will take longer to digest, giving you sustained energy. Just be sure to select 100 percent wheat bread to make your jersey pocket PB&Js, as breads listed as “made with whole grains” sometimes only have a meager amount of the good stuff.
When you think “carb load,” chances are a plate of pasta comes to mind. While white noodles drowning in marinara can be simply a sugar bomb, whole wheat pasta provides protein, fiber, iron, and minerals to keep your body full and running smoothly. There are great gluten-free varieties of pasta, too: try Banza, pasta made out of chickpeas that has 25 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber per serving.
These starchy seeds are often covered up in pot pies or soups, but that doesn’t mean they should be overlooked. While they aren’t crazy high in carbs—they only have about 21 grams of carbs per cup—they have 8 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber to keep you satisfied. For a well-rounded meal, add peas to a stir-fry of rice and chicken.
This staple dish in Middle Eastern and Indian cultures is cooked similarly to grains, but it is actually a legume. One cup of cooked lentils provides you with 18 grams of protein, 15 grams of fiber, 40 grams of carbs, as well as nutrients like folate, manganese, iron, and phosphorous.
Barley is a little more chewy and less sweet than other grain varieties, which makes it great for adding earthy flavor and texture to stews and risottos. One cup of cooked barley has about 45 grams of carbs, four grams of protein, and six grams of fiber.
Of the grains on this list, brown rice has one of the highest amounts of carbs and lowest amounts of protein and fiber—but that’s not always a bad thing, especially when you’re fueling up for an afternoon workout or early-morning session. Brown rice differs from white in that it contains wheat germ and bran, which supply fiber and protein.
While the benefits of dark chocolate have been touted for years, it’s important to remember that not all of bars get a healthy sticker. It all depends on how much cocoa solids (which provide nutrients like iron and antioxidants) the bar contains; if it is a 70 percent dark chocolate bar, that means it is made of 70 percent cocoa solids and 30 percent sugar. Aim for a percentage of 70 or higher to get your sugar fix while also enjoying the health benefits.
Most people either love or hate these blood-red veggies, but if you lean towards the latter team, here’s a few health benefits to sway your opinion: beets are relatively high in fiber and potassium, as well as vitamin C, iron, and magnesium. They also contain nitrates, which may help to boost your performance on the bike.
Burritos and tacos are staples of cyclists’ diets for a reason: They’re simple to make, portable, and delicious. To get a little more health bang for your buck, though, you should opt for tortillas made with 100 percent wheat, as they have more fiber and nutrients, like B vitamins, than white versions. If you’re gluten-free, corn tortillas are a great alternative.
Corn straddles both vegetable and grain categories, because it can be eaten off the cob or transformed into grain dishes like grits, cornbread, and polenta. Along with supplying energy-boosting carbs, the starchy vegetable is a good source of vitamin C, B vitamins, and magnesium.
The trouble with most breakfast cereals is that they are high in sugar but low in fiber and protein, leaving you hungry for more mid-way through your ride. If you don’t want to give up your daily bowl, though, try opting for whole grain cereals that are higher in fiber and lower in sugar, such as Nature’s Path Flax Plus Multigrain Flakes or even better, Shredded Wheat.