Top 5 ways to survive a bonk

by Kris Swarthout

One of the biggest spoilers of a great long ride is a “bonk”. A bonk is the point when your body simply starts to run out of fuel. When the glucose levels in your blood serum drop below normal standards your body starts to react as a way of self-preservation. Bonking does not have to signal the end of your ride or your day, these tricks will help get you back in the game and back on your bike.

1. Learn to recognize the symptoms. If you know a bonk is starting to hit you, you can most times fight it off without stopping your ride. Common symptoms or signs that a bonk is knocking at your door are feeling extreme fatigue, hunger, dizziness, light headed or cramping.

2. After recognizing a bonk is starting, you need to first dial back your effort/speed/pace, then you need to get some fuel on board. If you insist on staying with the lead pack or holding your goal pace you will never be able to digest your energy and beat that bonk. The stomach needs blood to process food into energy and if all the blood is going to your legs, your food will simply sit in your stomach, slosh around and eventually come back out the same hole it went in.

3. The best way to refuel is to first get some high glycemic simple sugars in your body. Sports drinks, cola, candy or energy gels are perfect for this. Simple sugars burn like jet fuel in your body, hot and fast. If you planned ahead and packed these in your jersey pocket (yup that is what they are for), in your bento box or saddle bag, great! If you didn’t stop at a store or gas station and get something quick. If you’re at a race or organized ride, stop at the next aid station and load up.

4. Now it’s time to take in some complex carbohydrates to give you longer lasting energy. Energy bars with a 4-1 carbohydrate to protein ratio are perfect for this. A premade sandwich can also serve as a good source of sustaining energy. Avoid consistently taking in simple sugars. It will keep you fueled for a short time, but at some point your stomach will turn against you and fight back. Remember when you were a kid and you ate all your Halloween candy in one sitting? Do you remember what happened next? Yup, we don’t want that to happen again.

5. Don’t forget the water. Your body is made up of mostly water. Without it cramping and worse yet dehydration can set in which could spell the end of your day. Be sure at least half of your bottles are filled with water and always know how much you have left. Think ahead and refill when you can, running out can be fatal. The nice thing about water is you can always spray a little bit on your face to freshen up or cool down; you can’t do that with a sports drink.


Coach Kris has been a competitive presence in triathlons since 2001 completing six Ironman races. From 2004 to 2007 he was selected as a USAT All-American Honorable Mention athlete. Kris is currently the Midwest Regional Chairperson for USA Triathlon and is the head coach of the Minnesota Junior Elite Team. In 2010, 2012 and 2013 Kris was selected as the Official Team Coach for Team USA by USA Triathlon and accompanied Team USA to the ITU World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Auckland, New Zealand and London, England. In 2013 he was also coach and manager for the Team USA short Course Duathlon team in Ottawa, Canada. Kris has coached athletes ranging from professional to first time amateurs. He strives to help people achieve the ultimate balance of family and sport in their lives.