The following is a primer on getting started with sports nutrition to fuel a long ‘endurance’ bike ride, (by ‘long’ here we are talking 4/5+ hours). While for most of my clients I’m a big fan of using real food and some alternative methods of fuelling, the advice below should give you a good place to start if you’re:
It should go without saying that this advice certainly isn’t a substitute for personal experience and proper testing. What works for one person isn’t going to necessarily work for another – you may be a fat burning beast able to go all day on a handful of almonds or you may be a ‘gel every 20 minutes’ kind of guy. We are also not going to delve into adapting fuelling for; different intensities, specific training goals, terrain, climactic conditions, optimal macro-nutrient ratios, electrolyte loading, use of caffeine, home made sports nutrition, etc… all of which merit in-depth posts of their own.
Today we will look at fuelling using standard sports nutrition products during the ride + some real food suggestions for before and after.
While, for most athletes, I’m a fan of using fasted training for shorter seasons to encourage certain metabolic adaptations; when going for a long ride, most folk, especially those who are not as ‘fat adapted’ would do well to eat an appropriate breakfast.
The key here is to take in something that will provide sustained energy for the day and doesn’t upset your gut once you start peddling, (testing is key here).
Steer clear of high GI carbs that will spike your insulin and crash it back down before you even leave the house, (I’m looking at you ‘white toast and jam’!) and focus on low GI carbs, some poly unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats and little easily digested protein.
The range of options here are endless, but a good quick choice that can be prepared the night before is my bircher bowl:
Just soak whole/steel cut oats overnight – I prefer to use almond milk, (you can use whole milk if you tolerate dairy but I’d avoid ‘traditional’ soaking in juice as that’s pretty high in sugar). Add in a sprinkle of berries, nuts and seeds, flax meal, coconut flakes, etc, (whatever you have around) chia seeds are good as they make it thicker and more substantial. Add in some good unprocessed salt. Very simple and tasty.
Coffee is also a good option as it’s a proven erogenic aid, (helps with endurance) + y’know… coffee.
Research has shown that most folk can tolerate around 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. You may need to aim for the higher end of this scale if you’re finding the pace on the ride tough, (suggesting you are burning more glycogen for fuel instead of fat) or the lower end if you’re cruising in your fat burning zone and in need of less external sources of fuel. This range is a good place to start and you can modify depending on how you feel, (you may be picking up that I’m quite big on personalisation!). I’d suggest packing slightly more than you think you’ll need for the ride, you can always take it home with you.
The calories can come in the form of whatever bars, gels or sports drink you like and work for you, (I’d encourage you to look for products which are as ‘clean’ and free of artificial sweeteners, additives, colourants, etc, as possible). For endurance riding I’m a fan of more complex sources of carbohydrates, look for ‘maltodextrin’ as the primary source of carbs, (when choosing liquids).
For bars you can go for options that contain a little protein and fat as well – here you’ll want all the ingredients in the bar to be recognisable as ‘real food’, e.g. dates, honey, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, oats, etc.
Just take a look at the label and do the simple math to work out how much you’ll need of your chosen mix of solids and liquids to get to that 30-60g range.
Drinking your calories is a good option as it also allows you to get your hydration in at the same time, (and can enhance cellular fluid uptake as most sports drinks contain a decent mix of electrolytes). One key thing to remember is not to over concentrate your sports drink! Doing so can really lead to GI problems and poor absorption of calories – so follow the mixing instructions.
While we are talking about hydration – I’m a big fan of drinking to thirst, your body is very good at providing you with signals for how much liquid it needs. But if not sure how much you should be taking in and need a ball-park, you’re pretty safe operating in the range of 475-830 ml per hour, (depending on intensity, climate and body size). I know this is a pretty broad range… but hydration is a broad church.
Please note that over consumption of fluids can be dangerous, potentially leading to hyponatremia, (for more information, see here) so be mindful not to simply down as much liquid as you possibly can!
Nutrition after long rides is important, especially if your looking to back up with another training session the next day. The right food will help you:
The best way is to use real food, and a ‘recovery super shake’ is a convenient and effective option – there is a great guide here. You really don’t need to go for the standard ‘body-builder’ shake, (I’ll go into why is another post). http://www.precisionnutrition.com/super-shake-creation-infographic
A good ‘Super Shake’ example from Precision Nutrition:
Step 1: Water (just enough for it to mix)
Step 2: 2 scoops of plain pea protein powder
Step 3: 2 kale leaves and 1 tsp of powdered greens supplement
Step 4: Half a frozen banana and 2 pitted dates
Step 5: 2 thumbs of walnuts
Step 6: Top with a few sprinkles of coconut and 5 ice cubes
Step 7: Drink. Feel smug about getting more nutrition in one beverage than most people get in a week.
You will get adequate protein from the pea powder, (I would look for a mix of pea and brown rice proteins for a complete amino acid profile) I also really like hemp protein as I’m generally a fan of a mix of vegetable protein sources and not whey unless it’s from a really good grass fed source. As with all sports nutrition look for a short ingredients list and only natural sweaters, (e.g. stevia) if any. The fruit will take care of the carbohydrate source.
I’d follow this up with a solid meal an hour or two later – this should consist of a high quality protein source, a moderate amount of low GI carbs and plenty of nutrient dense vegetables and good fats.
So what could that look like in practice?
Ride: 5 hours, moderate pace over rolling terrain
Remember – don’t stress about getting it 100% spot on first ride. Lot’s of athletes, when stepping up to an unfamiliar distance worry and obsess about ‘doing it right’ – trust me, your body will let you know if you’re ‘doing it right’, (or not). Think of the guidelines above as a the ‘default’ mode, the base to start your journey to discover what mix works for you – the place you’ll end up at will almost certainly look different from what I have just described.
Give it a try, note how you feel and perform, adjust accordingly.
That about covers it! Any questions please do reach out in the comment section below.
See you on the road!
Phil Cross is one of our Elite Energy Ambassadors, and is a Holistic Performance Coach. You can read more from Phil on firebrandcoaching.com