In which I endorse a food that fits in the saddlebags and tastes good!

When we first started riding endurance together, Jim taught me a phrase that they apparently use a lot in the Army to get troops to eat in a hurry:

"Eat now, chew later."

This advice is clearly contrary to everything that nutritionists, dieticians, and our moms have told us all our lives. 

However, eating food quickly is a reality for endurance riders. 

If you have a 30 minute hold at the vetcheck, and there's a 15+ minute line for the vet, and you need to restock your saddlebags with water and apply some sunscreen and take a pee break, there is no opportunity to sit down to a leisurely knife-and-fork meal that will sustain you for the next 20 miles or more.

Many endurance-riding bloggers have posted entries about their search (sometimes successful, often not) for foods that they can
*  eat in the time allowed
*  send to vetchecks in a bag that will certainly be kicked around en route
*  digest without upset
*  chew with minimal effort (long-distance riding is difficult! even your mouth gets tired!)
*  wash down with plain water if possible
*  carry in saddlebags without worry that it will become an inedible disgusting mess
*  afford

I've tried a lot of the commercially-available "energy bars" over the years.  I love the taste of Clif Bars, but they have a ton of sugar--I might as well eat a Snickers.

I love the texture of Luna Bars (the lemon!  delightful!) but they melt and get gross in hot weather.

PowerBars are disgusting.

Nature Valley Oat and Honey Bars were the Toad's favorite treat...and he learned to slorp them right out of the foil packet, because they crumbled into dust by the second vetcheck and I would choke on the crumbs if I tried to eat them.  (Fiddle doesn't like them).

My main complaints about the bars I've tried in the past is that they are often loaded with refined white sugar (which I cannot digest, especially when I'm working hard) and preservatives I cannot even pronounce, plus they don't travel well--they either crumble to a tasty powder, or smush into a revolting puddle and permanently adhere to the wrapper.

In recent years, I've discovered that works best for me to eat is FOOD.

Real food, not the stuff that author Michael Pollen refers to as "edible food-like substances."

Real food includes oatmeal for breakfast, a banana and a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, some nuts and an apple for snacks, and tons of vegetables for dinner.

None of the stuff listed above, you notice, will fit into saddlebags with any kind of grace.  Most of it won't survive the journey to the vetcheck in an "away bag", either.

So, what to eat at an endurance ride?

Ideally, I will eat:
  • Veggies and protein and pasta the night before the ride.
  • Oatmeal for breakfast, with applesauce.
  • A peanut butter sandwich at the lunch stop--it will look horrible, but it will probably taste okay.
  • LOTS of water!  (I'm trying out a new electrolyte drink that Healthy as a Horse carries--very dilute, tastes like water, so far it's okay but I need to test it more)
  • A banana or two, if I can convince a crew person to carry them carefully to the vetcheck for me.  Most bananas do not survive the journey in a condition that I consider edible!
What about something to eat on the trail?  Real food turns nasty very quickly, and it's not easy to chew anything of substance when I'm travelling at Gigantor's amazing Big Thing trot. 

Until somebody figures out a way to make banana armor,
I finally think I've found something that will work!

I don't endorse a lot of products.  Even products that work well for a lot of riders aren't necessarily a good fit for me, but when I do find something that works, I'm happy to share with my friends via this blog.  Having said that, here's what I like about the Belly Timber bars:

*  They are made of FOOD.  The basic ingredient list:
Organic Peanut Butter (sea salt), California Dates, Organic Rolled Oats, Organic Ground Flax, Brown Rice Syrup, California Almonds, Sunflower Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Unsulphered Coconut, Pear Juice Concentrate, Nooksack River Wildflower Honey, Organic Soy Flour, Defatted Soy Flour (non gmo), Canola Oil

For variety, the bars include extra ingredients like blueberries, pistachios, and cherries.    The nutrition label is posted online here.  For people who are not sugar-impaired, the chocolate and espresso flavors sound yummy.  The espresso also has some caffeine. 
(Can anybody say "last loop of a 100-miler"?)
*  They travel well. I've tried them for long training rides, and I'm really happy.  Belly Timber bars travel well in my saddlebags, they don't take up a bunch of room, and they don't smell weird, crumble to dust, or turn gross if I leave them unopened in the bottom of the pack under a water bottle and a hoofpick for 20 miles..or, uh, several days, if I happen to forget that I left one in there.
*  They are reasonably priced.  I can buy 80 servings for $139, which comes out to less than $1.75 per bar.  I might be able to find PowerBars cheaper than that...but I don't think I can make something that inexpensively in my own kitchen.  Besides, PowerBars are icky.

* They are easy to chew and digest. My friend Swil Kanim swears by these bars--he's a professional musican (and an old friend) who still (after a lifetime onstage) sometimes gets tummy-butterflies before a performance...but he can't avoid eating, either.  

The bars are easy on the stomach, which is good if you are nervous, or exercising vigorously, or both!

*  They are filling.  Each packet contains two bars, but a single bar provides enough substance and fuel to keep me going for a loooo-oooo-ooong time without feeling like I just swallowed a bowling ball.

**EXTRA BONUS (but mostly only for me):  they are made locally to me, in my own home town of Bellingham, WA.  I haven't lived in Bellingham for more than a decade, but I can't escape hometown loyalties!

Wanna try them?  REI should be carrying Belly Timber bars soon--if your local branch doesn't have them, start bugging the manager.  Or you can order them online at the Belly Timber website. 
I want to hear what other folks are eating (or wanting to eat) during competitions.  Got any favorites?  Got any rules about what works (or doesn't work) for you?


  1. Sounds like a good solution! Power Bars are my go-to at rides. And lots of coffee during holds. Haha.

  2. "banana lunchbox" is something for you!

  3. This is the third or fourth time I've written a cute, detailed little response and hit "PUBLISH YOUR COMMENT" only to have your blog eat it.

    I hate computers.

  4. You know they do make banana armor, right? Banana Guard or Banana Bunker. Also, lock your peanut butter sandwich in a tupperware. Put the armored banana and the armored sandwich in a lunch bag with some blue ice pack dealies and you'll be set! My cold sliced steak and potato salad were amazingly still cold at 3:45.

    I wish I didn't detest dates and coconut as much as I do. For saddle food, I gotta stick with the Clif Builder Bars, which have mostly pronounceable ingredients and a decent macro split. They're not real food but they are extremely portable.

  5. I've gotta try those! I eat a lot of "bars" of all types (mostly Balance and Cliff Mojo bars) but I've compared them to candybars and found them to be a little too similar in sugar and carb contents for my liking. Unfortunately I just keep eating them because they are so handy.
    The Timber bars are really intriguing.
    At rides I tend to stick with Peanut Butter sandwiches because they don't have to be refridgerated or require any cooking.
    Also, I can't go to a ride without my Lay's Potato Chips, embarrasing as that is to admit on the internet!

  6. Good to know! For that time when I'm on a trail ride, separated from food for a whole TWO HOURS. (I try to never leave my food alone, it has abandonment issues.)

    And I have an in! Family in Bellingham I can badger to buy and ship. :)

    Great review post, and gives a much more intensive picture of endurance riding. The reality is often shown in the details, eh?

  7. Dom: Power Bars + coffee--clearly, you and I have very different metabolisms!

    Tuuli and Funder: banana armor! Who knew? I am amazed!

    Becky: every time you cuss at a computer, a fairy dies.

    CG: it's hard to beat our old friend PB&J, even though it looks pretty funky after 30+ miles in the saddlebag (especially if the Destitin leaked a bit...true story). One of the best "post-ride foods" EVER was a handful of blue corn chips with sea salt that lytha gave Maddie and me at the finish line years ago. Mads and I still speak fondly about those chips.

    Jane: if you have relatives in B'ham, we are probably related. Srsly. Despite USGS data to the contrary, the place is 1 mile x 1 mile (squared) and the rest is mirrors. We need to investigate and find our common denominator!


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