The Ultimate Cycling Food

Today’s guest blog post was submitted by former Bicycle Alliance staffer Mark Canizaro, who lives carfree in Seattle.  This post was originally published in 2009 on Mark’s personal blog.

I was riding with a great bunch of tree-huggers on Boxing Day.
Mark with the famous Vashon Island bike tree.
Most of the time I’m middle of the pack, but this bunch was fast, I was the second slowest; and midway through our 64 hilly miles the slowest guy got dropped. It was fast, but it was fun. Right after we dropped the guy from Kansas (Vashon Island is not flat!), we came to the highway and turned left. Jon, who had never been on Vashon before asked which way the food was. He sighed when Kent said that it was the other way. I needed food too, but I didn’t say anything. I usually eat almonds or granola bars on the bike, unfortunately today my pockets were empty.

It took a little extra effort, but I stayed with the group on the loop south and back around north on the beautiful rural West Side Highway. When we turned back north, Brad turned off to catch the ferry from the south point of the island. I was having a really great time but eventually it happened: I bonked. And it was a serious dropping-off-the-cliff bonk; one minute I was powering up the hill with these randonneurs and 4 minutes later I could barely the turn the cranks a flat half mile to the highway.

They waited for me. On the last hill up into town Mark rode up next to me, put his hand on the small of my back and just pushed me up the hill. I really don’t know how I would’ve made it otherwise. I was extremely thankful, but I could only grunt one word: “Milkshake”.

At the top of the hill Jon and Kent were standing there pointing to a sign on a quaint little local burger bar. The sign said: “Come in and eat or we’ll both starve!” Even forgetting the economy for a moment I found that to be very deep. It was advice that none of us could resist.

In addition to a garden burger and fries, I got my milkshake. It made me happy, but more importantly, it brought me back.

Once we were at the table stuffing our faces I explained why I believe milkshakes are the ultimate cycling food.

First of all it’s got fat. Fat is the oak log of energy. It burns slow and it burns long. This might not be so great if you’re sitting at a desk, in a car or on the couch, but it’s exactly what you want on the bike. It stays with you. For most people a milkshake will continue to fuel you for about 35 miles. For me it’s about 20, but I’m weird.

Second, it’s got sugar. Simple sucrose. This is the kindling, the fast burning twigs and paper of energy. It burns very quickly; you feel it almost instantly. (It goes away very fast too!) So if you’re starting to drag, it gives you power to sprint down the road, if you’re bonking, like I was, it restores you.

Third it’s got lactose which is a complex sugar, about half the way to a carbohydrate. It’s a medium burner, the dry pine log of energy, and will last longer than the sucrose.

And as the American Dairy council never misses a chance of telling us, milk has protein. Not only does that help restore overused muscles, but it helps to create the enzymes that regulate how quickly the energy, the glucose, is fed in to your bloodstream over time. It regulates your fuel flow.

Of course a milkshake also has fluids which you always need on the bike, no one ever drinks enough. And it’s easy and quick to consume, I’ve even carried them in my bottle cage!  All of that is really important, but there are two other very important reasons why milkshakes are the ultimate bicycling food.

One, they taste good. This sounds basic, but it’s actually really key. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen folks, even some who were in the middle of a major bonk, holding on to a Power Bar, a gel, or some other gross non-food. But they weren’t eating it, they were staring at it, and that doesn’t fuel your body. So tasting good is great because you eat it: you actually consume it, probably quickly; and you finish it.

And lastly, you can find a milkshake almost anywhere. In the United States at least, every town, no matter how small, is going to have a restaurant, burger bar or establishment of some sort where you can get a milkshake, often a good one. Even between towns on the lonely roads there is often a possibility. This might be the most important feature. Showing up is 80%. If it’s not there, it can’t fuel you.

Milkshakes are great fuel, they are yummy and they show up.

The rest of the day I rode hard. I had half the milkshake at the burger bar and the other half went in my bottle cage for me to enjoy on the ferry. We rode until the shadows were long. It was a good day.

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One Comment

  1. Anonymous
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Ah milkshakes are not exactly a great source of food.

    Yes you need proteins, yes you need calcium, but you don't need it from milk. Plus all that sugar is not good for your arteries.