from the active strand
Cycling is an expensive hobby. Fork out the ludicrous cover price for a dedicated road cycling magazine and you can see in all its glossy glory the kind of money people are willing to spend on two wheels. I’m not sure how it happened, but “entry level bikes for under £1,000” is considered bargain hunting. And that’s before you’ve taken things like cages, bottles, shoes, bibs, jerseys, gloves, and helmets into account.
The high-carb cherry on top of this debt-denting sundae? Nutrition.
As the Tour de France gets underway, cyclists across the land are likely to be suckered into the glamour of four hour rides through the country. Given that any endurance athlete needs to refuel every 60 minutes or so, that’s going to mean taking on a substantial amount of food during the ride. Over the course of a season, you can spend hundreds on speciality carbohydrate bars, caffeine gels, isotonic drinks, protein recovery and more.
For the budget-conscious, here are five cost-cutting alternatives.
Even the shortest rides require you keep hydrated, and there is no end to sports drinks and powder mixes on offer for the cash rich cyclist. But if you’re trying to save money on a long sportive, use Dioralyte.
The sachets of powder are designed to replace salts and nutrients lost through illness, but they’re packed full of exactly the same goodness (glucose and minerals) that you sweat away while cycling. Six sachets will cost you a little over £3.50 at Boots, but an even better option is the pharmacy’s own brand, which is almost identical and costs £2.99.
By comparrison, a single packet of Torq or High5 energy mix will cost you more than £1. Nuun hydration tablets are coming down in price all the time, but they will still cost you more than the Boots mix in most cycling shops.
A bonus tip: Dioralyte have introduced a new product called Relief, which combines the rehydration qualities of the original with rice starch. That starch adds about about 6 grams of carbohydrate per sachet, and carbs are always welcome (see point three). They’re slightly more expensive at £4 for six, however.
The worst thing about using Dioralyte instead of your usual electrolyte-heavy sports powder? The taste, obviously. Their ‘blackcurrant’ flavour, for example, brings to mind memories of diarrhea rather than blackcurrent. Add a drop of cordial into the mix to expunge.
2. Coca Cola
If you can’t help but buy a premade sports drink like Gatorade or Lucozade, there’s a suprising and cheaper alternative. Coca-Cola, which is high in sugar, salts, carbohydrates and caffeine, basically offers the go-to mix for long rides. A Lucozade Sport costs around £1.20 and a Gotorade is £1.75, but a similar sized bottle of Coke is £1.15. The real saving comes with the bulkier buys, though. You can get nearly 2 litres of Coca-Cola for less than £2.
Fizzy drinks don’t sit well while you’re exercising, so the experts suggest you leave it to go flat – in the fridge with the lid off – before taking it on the road. Alternatively, buy a can during a drinks stop, pour it into a glass, and swirl with a spoon until the fizz leaves.
I’ve had mixed results with this. It works for a quick hit but, even more than the Dioralyte, taste is a significant issue. The sugary mixture can also gum up your water bottle.
A stick of marzipan
Carbohydrates are the lifeblood of any cyclist. The main sports nutrition companies offer a myriad of carb bars that vary in quality and price.
My favourite, the SiS GO bar, is £1.20 for each 65g hit (on long rides, I find I can easily put away two or more). Each bar boasts more than 40g of carbohydrates – but there are plenty of supermarket alternatives at a fraction of the price.
Marzipan may be better associated with Christmas cakes, but the almond treat is also surprisingly high in carbohydrate. One 40g bar has 26 grams of carbs, which easily competes with the top-tier alternatives. And you can get a pack of five, chocolate-covered, from Aldi for £1.30.
They have the added bonus of being delicious.
4. Potato farls
If sweetness isn’t your thing, Irish potato farls are another good and cheap source of carbohydrates while out on long rides.
Otherwise known as potato cakes, you can pick up a pack of six from Tesco for 50p and each one contains around 20g of carbs. Toast two before your ride, spread on some butter and sandwich them in foil.
They’re quite dense so can be broken up without too many crumbs and eaten without stopping, and they can be salty, which makes a nice change from the fructose overload associated with most sports nutrition.
Energy gels are the in vogue sports nutrition, and for good reason. They are easy to consume and deliver results quickly, offering many a rider last-minute salvation from the dreaded bonk. But they are also expensive. SiS, Torq and High5 gels can cost up to £2.30 each.
Enter honey. According to a decade old University of Memphis study, which has started to resurface on sports blogs, honey is a natural sports gel. The double-blind test gave groups of cyclists a placebo, a manufactured carbohydrate gel or honey, and the results were staggering.
The riders who used the honey finished the 40-mile time trial on average three minutes quicker than those who took the placebo, and just seconds behind those on the tailor-made gel, and they did it with a lower heart rate. The reason is that honey contains a mix of easily absorbed sugars and – in every teaspoon – about 17g of carbohydrate.
The main problem? Figuring out how to transport it.