A lot of folks have asked what randonneurs eat on long rides. Generally, I would say that, without exception successful randonneurs eat. They eat a lot.
Actually, some of them drink instead. Alex Meade from Kentucky is about as fast as anybody, and he does most of his rides on liquid fuels. He may use Perpetuem and Sustained Energy, as my friend Jeff Bauer did for much of RAAM, but I'm not sure what mix it is or how he does it. Alex is so fast that I've never been able to ride with him for very long.
In general, most of the fast guys fuel similar to the way that racers do -- probably because most of them used to race. They'll have gels in their back pockets that they consume on a regular basis, and either chase it with sports drink or with water to which they've added electrolytes, sugars, and/or protein.
On brevets, we stop at a lot of convenience store controls on the route and get our cards signed. The very fast folks will also buy a bottle of water and/or sports drink, which they mix up while standing in the check-out line and waiting for the clerk to write his initials and the time. These riders are usually back on their bike, pedaling furiously for the next control, in less than five minutes.
It makes me tired just to think about it.
Some of the fast folks will grab something quick at the store. If it's not hot out, many like to drink a small bottle of chocolate milk. I often do this and buy a candy bar to eat on the road. I also top off my bottles, either with water or sports drink ... although later in the ride I may put in a soft drink or lemonade.
Alan Gosart and Bill Glass both like to carry sandwiches with them -- usually peanut butter and jelly or honey. For the 400K last weekend, I started with a whole grain bagel in my back pocket, into which I had spread peanut butter (actually Peanut Butter and Company's Mighty Maple ... yummy) and a banana. From a nutritional standpoint, this is a pretty good option: Sugars (both simple and complex, for immediate but long-lasting energy), protein, fat, potassium, fiber ... and good taste.
On cold mornings, I love to start a ride from my house with a breakfast of pancakes. If you make extras, you can put honey or peanut butter or Nutella on them, roll them up, and wrap them in tin foil. It's easy to fit two or three of these in your back pocket, so that later in the morning you can pull one out, unwrap the top like a burrito, and eat some tasty fuel. Since it's in your back pocket, it's nice and warm, and the foil keeps it un-messy. It's like having a picnic lunch in your trunk.
All of these are great food choices for "short" stuff -- 200K and 300K rides. But if a ride goes longer than 12 hours, you generally have to change things up a bit. This is where the ubiquitous Subway comes in handy. A turkey and swiss sandwich with lots of lettuce and stuff is just the ticket for me after eight hours of Gatorade G2 and pocket food. It's also nice to get off the bike, stand in line for a few minutes, and then sit down and scarf the sandwich before moving on.
I'm pretty lucky in that I can generally ride on after eating most foods. This past weekend, when Jeff Sammons and I stopped for lunch in South Pittsburg, I had a big cheeseburger and french fries. When we stopped for dinner, we split a 15" pizza with sausage, pepperoni, and onions. Did I feel bloated when we then cycled on? Not a bit.
Of course, this changes if it's hot outside. I try to avoid heavy foods when the temperature is over 90 F -- at least, when cycling. In this kind of weather, I also try to drink a Diet Coke at most controls. For some reason, this cuts the sugary taste that Gatorade leaves in my mouth, and the carbonation helps avoid stomach problems. It also just tastes good, and always cools me down.
Anyway, these are just a few options. As always, put some Tums, Rolaids, and Zantac in your bag just in case. They're small, they can help fight cramps, and you never know what's gonna help when that corn dog from the convenience store starts barking again.