By now you’ve surely figured out that your energy supply must be restocked after a couple of hours of an intense outdoor workout. That is roughly how long it takes to exhaust your carbohydrate stores. But what if you already devoured the contents of your jersey pockets and still have another 100 miles to cycle or 15 miles to run?
Well maybe you just happen to be running past a Whole Foods Market. But odds are that the next store you pass will be a convenience store. Normally you might never eye the local Quickie Mart as a source of quality sustenance. But in a pinch, especially when you’re trying to stave off a bonk, you can actually find what you need in a convenience store.
Yes, though traditionally considered nutritional junkyards, these emporiums of empty calories are actually carbohydrate gold mines in disguise. You just need to know which foods to choose. Scan the aisles carefully and you will find an assortment of high-octane fuels, ranging from microwaveable burritos to energy bars to sports drinks.
The key is to look for foods containing at least 60 percent carbohydrate and no more than 30 percent fat. Here is a shopping list to get you started.
Many convenience stores have microwave ovens for heating up the packaged burritos you will find in the cooler section. Not all burritos are created equal. Many are stuffed with fat. So before you key in your cook time, read the nutrition label. Try to find one that hits the 60 percent carbohydrate sweet spot.
Stroll over to the dairy cooler in search of this deluxe carb-packed item. Ideally try to find a yogurt of the low-fat variety. A typical 1-cup serving of low-fat yogurt contains about 250 calories, with 45 grams of carbohydrate (15 percent), 10 grams of protein, and 2.5 grams of fat (4 percent). Combine the yogurt with a single-serving box of healthy cereal to up the flavor—and carbohydrate—quotient.
This cycling standby is common in convenience stores, easy to eat, and agreeable to the stomach. And they contain little fat. Typically two bars provide about 140 calories, 32 grams of carbohydrate (11 percent), 2 grams of protein, and 2 grams of fat (3 percent).
You will usually have to pay out the nose for fruit at convenience stores as compared to grocery stores, but the price is worth it: real fruit is great for a carb refuel, and each piece comes loaded with lots of vitamins and minerals. A banana has about 100 calories, an apple about 80, and an orange about 60. None contain significant amounts of fat or protein.
Some cyclists crave salt rather than sugar when their energy runs low. If this includes you, do yourself a favor: Skip the potato chips, which are often more than 50 percent fat. Instead look for some corn nuts. They will satisfy your salty desires and deliver about 20 grams of carbohydrate (7 percent) in 130 calories, 2 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fat (6 percent). You will also likely find bags of peanuts, almonds or nut mixes that will help re-up your fuel stores.
Another good alternative to chips, a 2-ounce serving of pretzels typically delivers about 220 calories, 44 grams of carbohydrate (15 percent), 6 grams of protein, and 2 grams of fat (3 percent).
Mom always said eat your vegetables, and V8 Vegetable Juice lets you drink them. This cold beverage is primarily tomato juice mixed with other veggies. It contains more vitamins and minerals than many sports drinks and has significant amounts of antioxidants, which are nutrients that help your body eliminate destructive free radicals. Slam back an 8-ounce serving, and you get 150 percent daily value for vitamin C and 40 percent for vitamin A. You will also benefit from 50 calories, 10 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of protein, and no fat.
If you must succumb to the urge to indulge in a candy bar, opt for a PayDay bar, which is more than just a gooey mass of high fructose corn syrup. A normal size bar has 240 calories, 110 of which come from fat. But you will also get 27 grams of carbohydrates and 7 grams of protein. For comparison sake, a chocolate chip flavored Clif Bar has 250 calories, with 45 calories coming from fat, plus 45 grams of carbohydrates and 10 grams of protein. Of course Clif Bars are made almost entirely of organic ingredients, while the ingredient list on a PayDay nutrition information label includes the likes of sugar, corn syrup, vegetable oil, and something called diglycerides.