Under-fuelling can be the most depressing experience you can have on the bike as your usual form disappears without a trace and every hill, every tiny incline becomes an impossible ask. Muscles and willpower require fuel to perform and without them your body will slowly shut down and prevent any dreams you might have had of cycling glory.
Nutrition and fuel are not just essential come race day, you need to consider how you manage your nutritional needs for training all year round. In winter with long nights and short days eating can become a challenge to squeeze it in around busy lifestyles with a late raid of the fridge all you have time for. Loading the body with fats and at the worst possible time before you head for bed.
Another good reason for considering your nutrition plan throughout your training is it avoids any unexpected surprises come race day. While that carefully calculated plan with protein measured out to the gram for racing if you can’t stomach five bananas at 6am without gut wrenching pain better to discover this one in February on a morning ride on your own rather than on that A race sportive in July that you have travelled for.
Carbohydrates are king and help muscles replenish glycogen that is lost during exercise. A very rough rule of thumb is that you need 60g of carbohydrates per hour of riding but your body may need more of less depending on how your muscles translate this into energy. It is also not advisable to try and take all this on before you start as your body can’t store it for long periods so larding it up with 600g of carbs at breakfast isn’t going to be much use to you come midday. If your ingesting your carbs via energy gels it is pretty easy to calculate as the amount of carbohydrate is listed on the pack (normally 20g per 60ml sachet) but on a long ride those sweet tasting treats soon start to taste pretty grim and your guts will begin to crave some real food. There are plenty of great recipes out there for energy bars and flapjack based tray bakes well worth a trial of and attempt to wow Mary Berry next time the bake off is looking for contestants.
Nutrition isn’t just about solids and you need to consider fluid consumption as well with your body losing hydration through sweat during your ride. Everyone suffers from this in different ways so you need to experiment with how much fluid you need to carry in order to counter this. If you train on a turbo trainer this is a great method to test out your bodies hydration needs and have on hand plenty of water to manage this, much simpler than taking 4 bottles out on that 1 hour ride “just in case”. To give you some very rough guidelines we recommend one water bottle per hour of cycling when riding in normal weather conditions but crank up the temperatures and you might see this spiral up to as much as 4 bottles an hour, pretty tough carrying that much! Those guidelines are based on standard sized cyclist so you might have to tweak the numbers depending on your size and shape. After that long ride hydration doesn’t end there and you need to continue to replace those lost fluids and all important electrolytes.
Heading out for a long ride consider the nature of your course and your appetite for how hard you are going to push yourself. Measure these dynamics against your past experience with hydration and nutrition to fuel your ride appropriately. Consuming these vital fuels needs the right timing as well and if you wait until you have dry lips and cramping muscles, you have waited too long. Little and often throughout your ride will help ensure you enjoy the day and maximise your performance.
About the author – Billy favours a flapjack based snack over a banana and has a mean recipe for tasty fuel for his ride.