One of the more difficult parts of distance riding for me has been learning to take care of myself at rides and on the trail. My first priority has always been making sure the horses are taken care of, camp is set up, the crew box packed, et cetera. Let’s face it: If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t do a good job of taking care of our horses, and we probably won’t ride as effectively.
But unfortunately, based on my own experiences as well as talking the a number of other friends, finding food and drinks that appeal in the middle of a ride — hard physical effort, sometimes coupled with bad weather in either extreme — can become a challenge.
For me, the couple days before the ride is when I start making sure I’m very well-hydrated. If I manage to eat and drink really well on Thursday and Friday before the ride, I tend to do much better…although that still doesn’t mean I can get away with ignoring myself on ride day.
I envy those riders who either ride fast enough or can get away with getting everything they need at vet checks. Me? Not so much. I’m the “must stay regularly hydrated and regularly munch on sustenance” type. Which is why I have enough saddle packs to do a great pack-mule-alike impression. I don’t fall over from dehydration and I don’t bite anyone’s head off from low-blood-sugar-induced crankiness.
I intend this to be an ongoing thing that I’ll add new parts to as I continue to experiment with food and have experiences with what works and what doesn’t. Also, I love to cook and spend a lot of time messing around in the kitchen, so a good portion of what I bring is pre-made at home versus pre-packaged. I’m not a fussy eater — almost everything appeals to me on a daily basis — but that doesn’t mean it ends up then being a good idea on the endurance trail.
I do best with “real” food and staying away from “junk” food, especially lots of sugar that buzzes me too much and then I end of crashing.
I’ve also spent some time this past year and half or so out in the field with my father helping him on some carpet cleaning jobs. An all-day job has a lot of parallels to doing an endurance ride (actually, riding is easier), so I’ve tested some of my food ideas and experimentation during those jobs.
Okay, so that’s enough background. Onto the food. Divided into suggestions on things that have worked for me by mealtime.
Friday afternoon lunch
This is one of those “essential” meals for me, that some kind of good food consumption happens sometime in the early afternoon, typically between getting camp set up and preferably before checking in, vetting in, and pre-riding, since if I don’t eat before all of that happens, I forget/run out of of time to eat. And then I get cranky, and no one, including my horse, likes dealing with me.
As noted, time is short during this period: Whatever I eat here has to be quick and on-the-go, as I’m usually still setting up the last vestiges of camp as I munch.
It’s pretty much all the same stuff that I will eat during vet checks, so look further down for that list.
If dinner is being served post-ride (my preference), then I do pre-make dinner at home and bring it ready to reheat. My specialty is spaghetti with meat sauce, and it tends to get rave reviews. And there’s always a ton of leftovers to snack on or be reheated if need be.
I usually make a simple salad as well — lettuce, cucumber, tomato, with a homemade vinaigrette dressing.
If the ride does dinner Friday, then this same thing applies to post-ride.
My father loves dark chocolate, so we always have a bar of the good stuff in our supplies…little piece for an after-lunch or after-dinner dessert/palate-cleanser.
Saturday Ride Morning Breakfast
This should earn its own post. This would be my one “quirk” when it comes to food. I love breakfast food…but I hate eating early. I don’t have a sensitive stomach by any stretch of the imagination, but something about trying to cram food down too early becomes a race between me and my gag reflex. Taking tiny bites in between doing stuff seems to help…I’m busy thinking about what I’m doing, whether it be finishing packing the crew box or putting last-minute stuff in my saddle packs…or my favorite, bites of food in between putting on Renegades…that keeps my mind off the fact I’m eating and subdues the gag reflex.
TMI for many of you, I’m sure.
All that said, whatever I do eat has to be able to be consumed in small bites, be able to be carried around either in one hand or stuffed in my mouth, and able to be set aside temporarily. Bonus points if it doesn’t appeal to the bottomless-pit pony. (The point is for me to be eating, not sharing all of it with her.)
It also has to have some level of protein to be able to get me through at least the first hour or so of the ride until things settle down to the point I can rummage through my packs for food.
What’s Been Working For Me:
-Coffee — an absolute must-have, or I will have a lack-of-caffeine headache all day. I’m up early enough that I have plenty of time to process and offload said coffee before hopping in the saddle. I don’t care how many studies are out there about caffeine being bad for hydration and other blah-blah-blah…they can try riding with me if I don’t have my caffeine hit. My concession is not drinking as many cups as a typical morning.
-Peanut butter bread — peanut butter (I use the no-sugar-added, all-natural good stuff) spread over some kind of good bread…fiber, carbs, protein. Alternate has been to use crackers or mini-bagels, which aren’t as intimidating to eat as a whole slice of bread.
-Banana — easy to eat not too strong, tends to go down well at any time.
-Soft cheese — some kind of mild soft cheese is acceptable…a few bites, at least. I’ve done cottage cheese and that’s worked well.
-Hard-boiled eggs — these are kind of a ‘blegh’ thing. I force myself to eat them because of the protein and other good eggy-health benefits, but my stomach really hates eggs early in the morning and I have to alternate it with bites of other stuff and sips of juice and coffee.
***I keep meaning to experiment with some kind of homemade muffin recipe to see if I can make some kind of moist, appealing “breakfast muffin” of sorts.
If vet checks are away, I have a small cooler loaded with stuff that’s in the crew box. If it’s back at camp, I just raid the cooler. At away checks, I don’t have quite the selection
-Peanut butter sandwiches/wraps — these are handy for those really annoyingly fast vet checks where you need something to stuff in your mouth as you run around tending to the pony’s needs.
-Lunch meat — roasted chicken is the preference here
-Chicken/Cheese/Pickle Wraps — sounds weird, I know, and I haven’t tried them at an actual ride, but I’ve been living on these as lunchtime thoroughfare all summer and they’re delicious.
-Cheese — mozzarella or cheddar sticks, smoked gouda slices, cheese curds, Laughing Cow cheese triangles
-Chips — Lays, Pringles, or pita
-Bananas — too bad they smush. I need to get those plastic banana carriers made for lunch boxes and such.
-Applesauce (Trader Joe’s Applesauce or Apple-banana sauce Crushers — other mainstream applesauce companies are making these now, too — they’re little packets of applesauce with a twist-top on them that can be resealed. Super easy to slurp-n-go.)
-Apples — although, honestly, it’s usually to bite off chunks to feed the pony, and I might manage a piece or two for myself.
-Pasta salad — I used to buy these pre-made, then started making my own with an oil-based dressing so it’s not as slimy and can add in whatever I feel like.
-Lentil/bean salad — this is a great, multi-layered salad with tons of stuff added to it, recipe given to me by a friend. Not good for away checks, but great to munch of a bowl of back at camp.
-Other soft fruits — melon is always delicious.
-Tuna-in-a-pouch — one of those things I still need to try, but think it sounds like a good idea. Marinated tuna steaks, so they’re not dry, but don’t involve too much slimy mayo. (This from the girl who loves mayo…but not when it’s hot and I’m working hard.)
-Tapioca pudding — very yummy back at camp.
-Hummus — gotta have something to stick the pita chips in. Not for on-the-go, but great for snacking around camp.
-Ramen/instant noodles — as much as I love to cook, parts of my taste buds never graduated beyond the level that says “Ramen is yummy.” Really hits the spot on cold rides. Solved the “I don’t wanna wait for water to boil” problem by pouring some of my boiling water from the morning’s coffee into a Thermos. Still hot enough to cook the noodles the couple of times I’ve tried it.
I have to eat while riding. If I rely just on food at vet checks, it’s not a pretty picture. Eating keeps me from getting too grumpy and whiny, plus it gives me something to do on less-than-interesting parts of rides.
-Jerky — I get the softer, chewier “cubes” of jerky…bite-sized and don’t take an hour to chew.
-Energy gels — not a mainstay, but great for a fast pick-me-up. I don’t rely on them enough to have a “favorite” other than to say stay with milder flavors. Hard to go wrong with vanilla.
-Walnuts — easier than trail mix, since they’re in large pieces. Can be grabbed with fingertips versus licked out of filthy palms.
-Energy blocks — less messy than gels. Easier to eat one at a time. Sub-category that also works well are the “sport jelly beans” although I wouldn’t trot and munch those at the same time.
-Cheese sticks — supposedly you can leave these un-refrigerated in a pack for a few hours and not die if you eat them…I remain skeptical. That, or it’s not real cheese. I think I’ll leave the dairy products in the cooler.
– Fruit leather — these are yummy. I like to balance them out with some walnuts to prevent too much of a sugar high.
-Nature Valley granola bars — the green-wrapper, crunchy standby. I also like the chewy peanut variety, although they’re messy. I think all horses like the Oats-n-Honey green-wrapper kind. A little more sugar than I ideally like to see…but they’re fast and convenient. Sometimes we just don’t have time to do homemade energy bars (my dad has a great recipe he’s made for us for rides…I’ll snag it from him and post it). I’m not a fan of commercially-made energy bars: too much sugar and soy.
-afore-mentioned applesauce packets (TJ’s Applesauce or Apple-banana sauce Crushers)
-electrolytes — my pony isn’t the only one who gets e’lyted. I use the Succeed S!caps and they’re fantastic. I try to stay on a one/hour schedule.
I like a lot of drink options. I tend to hit the liquid refreshments as a fast way to cool down and to stay hydrated, aside from just plain water. I go for the “few sips of this, few sips of that” approach. Most of these don’t get carried on the saddle — that’s water/e’lyte drinks — but are available in the cooler either at a check or back in camp.
-Green tea with agave — my homemade nod to “Arizona Iced Tea,” made with fresh, sun-brewed green tea with agave nectar in place of the honey or sugar. Very refreshing…not tried it in the saddle (too hard to keep really chilled), but great for camp and vet checks.
-Succeed e’lyte drinks — same place that does the electrolytes; these are fabulous sports drinks that aren’t overly sweet or sugary. Some of the options even have some proteins added to them. Really mild orange flavor, so don’t taste horrid when they inevitably get warm in the saddle.
-Gatorade — Succeed is my favorite e’lyte drink, but sometimes Gatorade is kind of refreshing, but it has to be cut w/ water; I prefer orange or blue flavors.
-Chocolate milk — again, not carrying this one on the saddle, but it is pretty refreshing and apparently has a ton of good stuff for post-hard work in it. I make my own: whole milk with homemade chocolate syrup out of agave nectar and unsweetened cocoa powder.
-Emergen-C — another good e’lyte drink option; I like being able to just keep a couple packets in my packs to use as back-ups.
-Coffee/Iced coffee — you saw my “need morning coffee” rant. Turns out iced coffee is pretty refreshing, too.
-V8 Fusion juices/smoothies — very, very yummy. Not a huge fan of straight V8 (although I love plain tomato juice), but mixing the fruits in gives it some good variety.
Okay, so it probably seems like I pack half the grocery store along with me to rides. And yes, I probably do. But I like food, for one, and I believe that keeping myself fueled and hydrated is important to making sure I’m holding up my end of the partnership bargain. Put another way: If I’m fueled and hydrated and not a pathetic floppy mess, I will probably be more inclined to get off my horse and walk with them for a while.
I’ll probably keep re-visiting this topic as I find stuff that works or doesn’t work. I haven’t had any major “Wow, never doing this for ride food again” moments that I can recall, which means nothing went spectacularly wrong.