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It’s happened to all of us. You’ve braved the cold weather, put on all your warm clothes with extras in a Camelback and you’ve tossed your favorite energy bar into the outside pocket for easy access. Or maybe the bar got left in a freezing car overnight as you finished one day of skiing and decided it wasn’t worth the effort to lug your bag into the house only to take it back out the next day. But you’re riding along, or skiing, pull the calorie-dense piece of nutrition out of your bag, pull the wrapper off, and bite.
Worst-case scenario, if you bite hard enough, you might be headed to the dentist with a chipped tooth. Best-case scenario, you stay hungry as the frozen mass is returned to a pack, useless and inedible.
Eating in the cold requires some ingenuity, as most bars will freeze fairly quickly. Fruits and bread products will also turn into bricks as the temperatures plunge, as will cookies, scones and muffins, eliminating many common ride foods.
While not the only factor, water density is one of the key factors in determining the edibility of a food when frozen. A banana, with seemingly low relative water content, will freeze into a solid block, and putting a frozen banana in a jersey pocket to attempt to thaw it will end with a mess of a banana peel and a frozen center.
So what are some of the better options for those who continue to recreate outdoors throughout the winter?
Short Ride Snacks
For shorter rides where calorie content is the most important and a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats isn’t a major concern, nuts are king. An almond is only about 5% water, compared to a banana with is 75%.
Almonds, pecans, peanuts, walnuts and macadamias all change very little when frozen solid and there are dozens, if not hundreds of ways to dress up a bag of nuts — but keep in mind that most nut butters are impossible to work with when frozen.
If looking for a salty snack, roast some almonds with spices of your choice: salt, pepper, cayenne, etc. Simply add the nuts to a fry pan, add a little oil along with spices, and toast over low heat for 10 minutes. If you have a sweet tooth, now is the perfect time to indulge in candied pecans (see recipe below). Or, turn to another primary calorie source for short rides: Chocolate.
Dark chocolate has a low water content of less than 3% and coats many things well, including nuts. Chocolate covered almonds are a staple for many snow-riders.
If you’re adventurous in the kitchen, these are also easy to make, if a bit messier than the candied pecans. Basically, melt a bar of dark chocolate in a double boiler, or over low heat in a pan, add a bunch of almonds (or nuts of your choice) and mix until all the nuts are covered in chocolate. Spread the result out on a sheet of waxed paper and refrigerate.
Straight up chocolate is also eaten easily, with the thinner wafers being easier to break off and chew.
For bacon lovers, winter rides are a perfect excuse to indulge in a favorite snack: chocolate covered bacon.
A chocolate bar, especially with nuts, will go far in freezing temperatures, a Snickers bar will not. There are some candies that do well in the cold: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Reese’s Pieces, Mini M&M’s.
Then there are some candies which freeze into a solid block: Milky Way, Starburst, Snickers. Other candies border on edible and can be thawed in the mouth while riding, such as Sour Patch Kids or Swedish Fish.
Long Ride Sustenance
For short rides, a bag of nuts and chocolate will provide enough fuel to get home and make a nutritious meal. They will even provide enough calories to ride from coffee shop to coffee shop on most rides. But on long snow-bike rides, traversing back-roads and getting away from civilization for entire days, or multiple days in the case of winter bikepacking or ultra-racing, a better caloric balance is needed than nuts with sugar can provide.
For higher quality carbohydrates, sweet potato chips, either homemade in a food dehydrator or store bought are an excellent source of carbohydrates. Chips in general freeze well and contain a substantial number of calories. They can either be preserved in a plastic baggie in their original shape and size, or crushed up and eaten as a powder. For more carbohydrates, dried fruit also packs and freezes well.
Protein sources are often hard to come by in a frozen state and jerky is a common fallback. Otherwise, I recommend a homemade approach to well balanced frozen snacks.
While I have no set recipe for a cold-weather snack, they are all variations on the same theme: food-process a bunch of ingredients together with some eggs for protein, spread thin on a baking sheet, bake at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes, freeze, enjoy. As long as the ‘mush’ is baked thin enough and doesn’t contain too many high water content ingredients, it can be cut into bars, frozen and eaten at any temperature.
There are no standard recipes for this, but below is an example. Some of my favorite ingredients include sweet potatoes, flax seeds, chia seeds, coconut flakes, dates, chocolate chips, almonds, walnuts, dried cranberries, and ground espresso beans.
A word of warning: nut butters do not freeze well so add nuts to the food processor at the end of the mixing cycle to avoid them getting chopped too finely.
Homemade Sweet Potato Frozen Bars
1 sweet potato
3 tbsp flax seeds, ground
3 tbsp chia seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp honey
Any other low water content ingredients: Nuts, dried fruit, ground espresso beans, etc.
1. Bake sweet potato and remove skin
2. Add all ingredients to food processor and blend until smooth
3. Spread thinly on a well-greased (I use coconut oil) cookie sheet.
4. Bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes until edges start to turn brown.
5. Let cool. Slice into individual bars and freeze in plastic bags.
Cinnamon Pecans (Recipe from my sister-in-law, Courtney Sterling)
1 lb. pecan halves
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 egg white
1 tbsp water
1. Mix sugar, salt and cinnamon in small bowl. Set aside.
2. Whip egg white and water in large mixing bowl until frothy.
3. Gently toss pecans in egg white mixture, until all pecans are well covered.
4. Pour cinnamon sugar mixture over pecans, tossing gently until pecans are evening coated.
5. Spread pecans evenly in one layer on an ungreased 9×11 cookie sheet.
6. Bake at 300° for 15 minutes. Gently turn all pecans and bake another 15 minutes.
7. Let cool completely.
Eszter Horanyi lives and mountain bikes in Crested Butte, CO. She has dabbled in road racing, cyclocross racing, and cross country mountain bike racing, but has gravitated towards ultra endurance and multi day self supported racing in the more recent past. She firmly believes that nothing tops a good ride with good friends on good trails, thus she spends her life in search of all of the above. All articles by Eszter.