I love food. I’m one of those people who could quite happily (and frequently do) spend all day wandering around a market trying the various snacks on offer before buying my body weight in cheese and pies. Just the sight of all that food makes me hungry. And boy, does cycling makes me hungry too. I regularly astound my work colleagues with the amount of food I put away during the course of a day in the office. Four meals a day is not an unusual occurrence. I even had three breakfasts once.
That’s all good to keep me going when I’m just banging out the usual 25/30 miles a day over two commutes, and I’ve even survived a couple of shorter sportives on water only, but as I’m now starting to build some longer rides into my training I thought it was time that I started learning how to fuel myself properly as it’s something I’m going to have to get right if I’m going to be able to complete 9 consecutive 100+ mile days without bonking.
I’ve long understood the concept of drinking to replenish lost fluids, but the effects of under eating were really brought home after the last winter sportive I did, an 84 mile hilly course that remains my longest ride to date. All I consumed during the ride was 1.5 litres of electrolyte drink and a flapjack. I got round fine, but it wasn’t until I got home that I started feeling crap. Really crap. It turned out I’d totally depleted myself of glycogen and my body was letting me know. I spent most of the afternoon thinking I was going to throw up and just looking at food had the bile rising in my throat. It was like some sort of cycling induced hangover from hell. There was no way I’d have been able to ride the same course again, let alone longer, for the next 8 days.
A bit of digging on the interweb revealed that the rule of thumb for sustainable cycling is to consume 1g of carbs per hour per kg of bodyweight, which then gets produced into blood glucose to keep your muscles going. Most energy bars and gels (and large bananas) I’ve come across have about 35g which means I should be demolishing exactly two of them an hour to keep myself going, giving you some idea of how badly I’d under done it in the 4 hour sportive mentioned above. So off I went to the local bike shop (and banana seller) and scooped up a variety of sugary treats to try and find what works best for both my palate and stomach.
I quickly discovered that there’s some really grim products out there (chemically tasting sickly sweet chocolate bars with a mild laxative effect are certainly not my cup of tea), and that banana’s go all mushy when in a warm pocket for a couple of hours. Turns out I’m more of a fruity flapjack man (who would have though it?) which, despite hardly being gourmet cuisine, are at least easy enough to get hold of at most garage forecourts if needs be. Energy gels are an interesting concept though, essentially a caffeine enriched sugar syrup they definitely deliver an instant hit, although just the thought of banging 2 of them per hour for a whole day is enough to turn me diabetic! Handily, my bike computer has an alarm function that can be set to go off at regular intervals to remind me to drink or eat (because I’m a bloke and can’t cope with simple multi-tasking like remembering to turn my legs and eat) which makes it easy to make sure I refuel at regular intervals whether I feel hungry or not.
Since the sportive I’ve managed a couple of 70+ mile rides at a decent pace and felt fine, if a little stiff, afterwards (that reminds me, I must tweak my post-ride recovery drink ingredients). Last Sunday I actually felt like I could have easily gone on and done my first century ride, despite the headwind, but I ran out of time before I had to head home to light the BBQ (got to make sure you’re priorities are right!). It may be costing me a fortune in high carb snacks, but it’s worth it to know that I’m going to be able to keep going for the full 9 days come September.