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If you’re anything like me, you need to eat frequent mountain biking snacks while you ride. I don’t understand the people who can go for a multi-hour pedal and not eat anything. My body definitely doesn’t work like that! I like to carry at least 2 different snacks, and oftentimes more especially if it’s a big ride or it spans a meal time.
The sky is the limit when it comes to fueling during a ride, but in this post, I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite snacks for mountain biking to keep me fueled and happy and hanger-free.
What Makes a Good mountain biking snack?
Not all snacks are created equal. Here are a few things to take into consideration when choosing your trail snacks:
Mountain bikers need a good dose of carbs, protein, and salt in their snacks. Carbohydrates are by far the most important ingredient because this is what your body runs on. If your blood sugar levels tank, you bonk and nobody likes to bonk. Carbs are not evil, they’re essential.
A small amount of protein is also helpful for muscle function, although protein’s time to shine is really post-ride when your muscles need it for growth and repair.
Finally, some salty mtb snacks can help prevent cramping and electrolyte depletion. This is especially true if you’re like me and you sweat a lot. Most packaged energy bars will have a little sodium in them and if you want to pack trail mix, make sure the nuts are salted.
For ease and convenience, choose mountain biking snacks that don’t have a lot of extra or messy packaging. I love the idea of those tuna kit snacks that come with crackers and olives, but then I have to pack out the open, greasy can of tuna. It’s better to opt for simplicity.
(And always pack out your trash!!! Please and thank you.)
Fresh fruit is refreshing and delicious, but it also contains a lot of water, which makes it heavy. I personally don’t really care about an extra couple of ounces of weight, but if you’re heading out for a big backcountry ride, weight (and space) might matter. In that case, it’s better to opt for dehydrated or lightweight snacks.
Easy to eat
If you’re someone who likes to whip out a gourmet picnic on the side of the trail, can I ride with you? For most of us, ease and convenience make the best trail snacks.
Can withstand getting jostled around
I’m sure we all have a sad banana story. Bananas are not good trail snacks. Choose foods that can withstand a little abuse and jostling in your pack and won’t get smooshed into a black, oozing mess.
mountain bike snack Ideas
Food is very personal, but here are a few of my favorite snacks to pack for a ride:
I would say 90% of my mountain biking snacks consist of some sort of bar. I’ve tried A LOT of energy bars over the years and here are my favorites:
- LÄRABARS: These are great because they have very simple ingredients, usually just dates (carbs) and nuts (protein). They’re also the perfect size for a quick snack.
- Bobo’s Bars: These are my bars of choice. They are so good! They are a bit more expensive than other bars, but they taste amazing and have a great texture. They’re also made from simple ingredients, mainly oats.
- Jonesbars: These are a newer energy bar that I’ve tried recently and I’m really impressed with their flavor. Like LÄRABAR they have very simple ingredients like dates and nuts as well as chia seeds. The PB&J is really good!
- Picky Bars: I was introduced to Picky Bars when I started coaching Ladies AllRide camps and they’re now one of my favorites. Made by athletes for athletes, they have simple ingredients and fun, unique flavors.
- Clif Bars: I have to include Clif Bars, right? I do eat these, but they’re not my go-to. I think I’ve been a bit Clif Bar-ed out over the years. I will say that Clif Bars typically have more protein and sodium than the options listed above.
- Kate’s Real Food Bars: As their name implies, these bars are made from real ingredients like oats, dried fruit, and nut butters. The Chocolate Cherry Almond is my favorite.
HOMEMADE ENERGY BALLS
This energy ball recipe is the best one I’ve tried. I got the recipe from a gravel ride fondo I did. It’s quick, easy, and delicious!
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats
- 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
- 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
- 2 tablespoons ground flax
- 1 tsp vanilla
- Pinch sea salt
Mix everything in a large bowl and form into bite-size balls. Keep refrigerated.
Gels & Chews
I love chews, but I’m not a big fan of gels. That being said, gels are pretty popular among many mountain bikers, especially the racing type.
Gels and chews are mainly designed to give your body a quick shot of glucose (aka sugar, aka carbs). If you feel like you’re on the verge of bonking, a gel or a couple of chews can help keep you going for a bit more (although you should eat something more substantial soon).
Here are a few of my favorite gels/chews:
- Clif Bloks: Unlike my slight disinclination toward Clif Bars, I do really like Clif Bloks (especially the black cherry flavor!). These little blocks are quick carb bombs and they also have a good amount of sodium. Some have caffeine as well, which is considered a mild ergogenic aid.
- Skratch Energy Chews: These taste like sour patch kids and I love them! Like Clif Bloks, they have a good amount of sugar and sodium. The only downside is that I find that they are annoyingly sticky and hard to get out of the packet without gumming up your fingers.
- Clif Shot: These gels have a strange, thick, pudding-like texture. As I mentioned above, I’m not a huge fan of gels, but they are a good option for a quick blood sugar lift. Be careful what flavor you choose.
- GU Gels: Another option for gels.
- Gummy Bears: Basically pure sugar and one of my favorite MTB snacks 🙂
Good old trail mix is a great mountain biking snack. You can make your own or grab a pre-made mix from any grocery store. I like trail mixes that have a variety of goodies like dried fruit, nuts, and seeds.
If you want a savory option, Chex mix is great. You can make your own with this recipe!
Dried fruit is packed with carbs as well as fiber which slows down the absorption of sugar.
My favorite dried fruits for the trail are:
- Dried mango
- Dried banana (not banana chips, but actually whole dried bananas. Chips are great too, though.)
- Dried apricots
- Dried cherries (so good!)
Jerky or meat bars
Remember, protein doesn’t really do you a whole lot of good when exercising. It’s really post-ride that you need to eat protein to help with muscle growth and recovery.
That being said, jerky and meat bars are a great addition to high-carb snacks. I like EPIC Provisions, which uses meats that are grass-fed and responsibly sourced.
Nothing beats an old-fashioned PB&J. If I’m heading out on a bigger ride, I’ll make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to eat on the trail.
Pro tip: spread peanut butter on both slices of bread to prevent the jelly from soaking through.
Another great sandwich idea are roll-ups, aka pinwheels. They don’t fall apart as easily as wraps and you can be as creative as you want with fillings. A go-to for me is cream cheese, sliced cucumbers, and salmon lox.
mountain bike snacks to Avoid
The saddest thing in the world is to pull out a delicious Snickers bar only to discover that it has melted into a gooey, slippery mess. I try to avoid packing chocolate when I ride unless I know the temps are going to be very cool and the trail is shaded.
Packaged food with artificial sweeteners
I am very anti-artificial or zero-calorie sweeteners. Not only do I think they taste gross (including stevia), but they trick your body into thinking it’s going to get a hit of carbs when it doesn’t. That can lead to more sugar cravings and you get the point.
For mountain biking snacks, your body needs carbs and if you choose snacks that are only sweetened with artificial sweeteners or zero-calorie sweeteners, you’re not giving it the fuel you need.
Read the packaging and avoid products that have these ingredients:
- Monk fruit
- Acesulfame K
If you’re still not convinced, artificial sweeteners can cause gastro issues for some people and that’s the last thing you want to deal with when hitting some fun singletrack, right?
There are lots of great options for good mountain bike snacks, but the best ones are the ones you enjoy and have easy access to.
I typcially like to pack 2-3 different kinds of snacks for my rides so that I have options and I don’t have to ration one bar to last 15 miles.
Looking for more mountain biking tips? Check out these related blog posts:
What are your favorite mountain biking snacks? Anything you’d add to this list? Leave a comment below!