Have you ever been too scared to eat and drink during a road bike race?

For my first years as a cyclist, I almost always rode alone or with one other person. Eating and drinking were easy, and I could always stop and relax to peel open an energy bar if necessary.

But once I started doing fast group rides where I was rotating through a paceline, there were days I definitely didn’t eat and drink enough. It just seemed too weird to grab my bottle or pull something out of my jersey pocket in a big group.

Not only is it hard to eat while also concentrating on the riders around you, you never know when a competitor could attack, forcing you to either drop your food or get dropped!

Here are some rules to follow, based on tips I picked up over the years:

1. Choose an easy-to-eat bar or gel.

I like Powerbars because I can take small bites and chew them quickly. They also slide down easily. Not so with bars that resemble real food (think dry, grainy bars such as Powerbar Harvest.)

Energy gel is another option, especially when carried in a flask. That is very quick to go down. I do recommend the flask, as dealing with a gel packet (tearing and then squeezing) can be cumbersome.

2. Your energy bars should be open before the ride starts.

Always rip open the wrapper and peel it back at least half way. Then re-wrap the bar and place it in your jersey pocket. This saves lots of time.

During the ride, you simply peel back the wrapper, rather than tear at it and then peel it back.

Another great idea is using energy gel bites like Clif Shot Bloks and PowerBar gel blasts. You can simply dump them into your jersey pocket and grab one at a time. They’re pretty dry, so they don’t need wrapped, and that saves a lot of time.

3. Eat a little at a time.

When you do eat your energy bar, take small bites. You will most likely be traveling at a fast pace, and your already heavy breathing will be even heavier if you have a huge chunk of energy bar blocking half your airway.

Just have a big enough bite that it still fits on one side of your mouth, between tongue and cheek.

The aforementioned energy gel bites work great for this as well, since they’re bite-sized.

4. Eat at the back of the pack.

The best time to eat and drink is when you’re at the back of the pack. You can relax a little bit since you don’t have riders on your back wheel.

You can also make use of the draft created by everyone in front. You can pedal with less effort, so you can devote more attention to eating.

Still pay attention to the leaders, though, in case they attack.

5. Eat when the pace eases.

At a stoplight, when the pack is settled down and calm. Or if there’s a tailwind. (If you’re in the back, you get the most benefit from the tailwind.) The easier the pace, the better, so you can devote more effort to chewing.

I like to eat at the top of a hill if there are no attacks. (Rarely are there attacks on the descent, so if everyone is together at the crest of the hill, it’s probably safe to grab a bite.) Then chew on the descent.

I usually don’t begin eating during the descents because I need both hands on the bar! This is especially true when you’re not familiar with the course.

6. There is no such thing as table manners.

When you’re riding with a pack of stinky guys blowing snot rockets, you don’t have to worry about being polite. Chew with your mouth open, swallow food whole, drip water on your jersey, grunt, etc.

The only “rule” that comes into play here is, don’t litter! Make sure you get your gel packets and energy bar wrappers back in your jersey pocket.

Practice these tips on your next solo ride, and put them into play during your next race. Eat enough food and you’ll finish strong!

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