Road Bites

Text: Robert Smith • Photography: RoadRUNNER Staff

Got the munchies?
We've all been there: it's mid-afternoon at a gas station. You missed lunch, and breakfast is a distant memory. No problem - there's plenty of food in the store: chips, pop tarts, candy bars. You eat your fill, wash it down with diesel-flavored coffee, and hit the road. For an hour you feel bloated, then you're starving again. Worse, you're drowsy and lethargic. Your concentration drifts - not what you need when riding a motorcycle. What went wrong?

Like many aspects of motorcycle touring, a little planning when it comes to nutrition makes the trip more enjoyable. I would never want to spoil the serendipity that comes from a spontaneous stop for pie a la mode and coffee; but like they say in those self-improvement workshops, "If you fail to plan, you're planning to fail."

Take it from those of us who ride for a living, a little forethought goes a long way.

Essential fluids
Just as your bike needs a steady supply of gas, you need water: the real thing, not just soda and coffee. Keeping hydrated while you're riding is critical, especially in summer. You may feel cool with the wind blowing through your ventilated jacket, but you'll be losing water rapidly through evaporation from your skin. Dehydration can cause dizziness, fatigue, and many other problems. Keeping your fluids up is critical.

Coffee and soda are made with water, of course; the problem is the other stuff that's in them. Coffee contains caffeine, and though this might give you a quick jolt, the effect soon wears off. It's also a diuretic, meaning you'll probably lose more liquid than you take in. The sugar in soda drinks (many contain caffeine as well) just makes things worse: a quick sugar "high," followed by a hypoglycemic "bounce."

Though "isotonic" sports drinks are good (they contain minerals and carbohydrates in a concentration similar to that in the body), there's no substitute for plain water. On longer rides, I wear a 2-liter Camelbak vest so I can keep hydrated while riding. Of course, you may need to take more bathroom breaks, but getting off the bike every so often is not a bad idea.

The problem with most food you find in a gas station is that it's high on processing and packaging, and low on nutrition. Most snacks contain lots of simple carbohydrates (sugars). These are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream (the sugar "high"), making your pancreas pump out insulin to metabolize the glucose. The rapid absorption tricks the body into insulin overproduction, causing a subsequent period when blood sugar drops below optimum. The effects of this can be drowsiness, poor judgment, and aggression - not the mental state you need for good riding.

Generally, the less processed and packaged food is, the more nutritious it is, and the less likely it is to cause hyper- and hypoglycemia. I also try to avoid eating flour-based products, like pies, buns and sandwiches, as well as potato and rice-based products when I'm riding. They make me feel bloated and usually cause indigestion as well. In my case, these processed carbohydrates trigger over-production of stomach acid and gas (which can be really uncomfortable on a bike). And like sugars, they're rapidly absorbed, with similar metabolic effects.

Of course, eating regularly and properly (listen to your mom!) means you won't get the munchies on the road. But that's not always possible. So what can you do?

I like the kind of trail mix made from mixed nuts and dried fruit. It has complex (slow absorbing) carbohydrates for a steady flow of energy, plus healthy oils and proteins, which work to moderate the speed of carbohydrate absorption.

Keeping a supply of fresh fruits on hand is also a good idea: bananas for example. They're a good source of potassium, which helps the body maintain its sodium balance.

If you're a committed carnivore, beef jerky makes a nutritious snack - though it's too often flavored with sugar, and usually contains lots of salt (so drink more water!). Easily the best jerky I've tried comes from the Longview Jerky Shop in Longview, Alberta. It's nitrite- and MSG-free and lower in sodium; but with the ban on beef imports into the US, only Canadians can enjoy it now.

They used to say "24 hours from bottle to throttle..." You may not need to be quite that abstemious: but alcohol and motorcycles don't mix. The Hurt Report found alcohol to be involved in fully half of all fatal motorcycle accidents.

Alcohol screws with your head in two ways: first, the direct effects familiar to most of us; and that "hypoglycemic bounce" that comes an hour or so after a couple of beers. As Harry Hurt found, it's a lethal combination.

What to do...

  • Always carry lots of drinking water.And drink it!
  • Bring along nutritious snacks and fresh fruit.
  • Buy in a supermarket before you leave: you'll save big.
  • Keep protein bars handy for a "snack attack."
  • If you feel drowsy or dizzy, pull over for a rest, water, and some healthy food.
  • Try to avoid sugar, starchy processed foods, and too much caffeine...
  • ...but if you feel like having some pie and coffee, enjoy!