"Eat before you are hungry.
Drink before you are thirsty,"
That is one of the earliest bits of commonly shared cycling advice, written over 120 years ago. While the choices and options have changed, it remains true today. During a long ride or event, if you dig too deep into your body’s energy stores without replenishing, it will diminish your enjoyment as you work through the “bonk” to finish. And if you fall behind in hydration, you put yourself at a serious health risk, especially in warmer weather.
|Prepping my on-bike and sag bottles for RAIN 2016|
For the novice, the duration of the ride is your best guide to eat and drink. As your workout time increases, you will need to plan accordingly. Workout intensity, on the other hand, impacts what you can choose to eat or drink; the harder you are attempting to ride, the simpler your foods should be, and you rely on smaller, more frequent snacks. Here are the three time frames you should consider for your training and event ride.
Rides up to an hour – Fluid Replenishment is Your Primary Concern
These are your weeknight and recovery rides. Yes, even on these shorter rides, drinking is important, especially in warmer weather. It’s also good practice if learning to drink while rolling is a new skill for you. Your goal is bottle per hour, and for these shorter rides plain water is fine. Most people start with enough stored energy for a 60-minute workout, but carry one energy gel, which has about 25g of carbs, just in case, for example, if you are riding after work and before dinner. A tip from experience: eating a full meal within an hour of finishing an intense workout will help your recovery.
Rides up to 2 or 3 hours: Time to think about Carbohydrate Replenishment
You need be ready with a bottle each of water and sports drink, as your rides go over an hour. You may start the ride hydrated, but make sure to start into your first bottle during that first hour. While you can get some carbs from an energy drink don’t depend too much on sugary drink, your first solic snack should come after an hour. Fresh fruit or an energy bar a good choices her. Rather than calories, learn to think in terms of carbs, and your goal is to take 30-60g of carb per hour. Bars have more carbs, about 45g, but take more effort to eat on the go. Sport Gels are an easy alternative to bars, but be sure to try them during training; don’t add something new to your diet the day of the event.
Rides of three hours and longer: Keeping the Body’s Pantry Stocked
As your rides get longer, you have to keep drinking and keep snacking. It’s important to be adding both water and sport drink with both carbs and electrolytes, and be drinking at least a bottle an hour. You also need to 30-60g of carb per hour, from fruits, energy bars, and real foods. Digestion can get harder as rides get longer, so eat more solids at the beginning of the ride, and rely on gels for quick energy in the last third of the ride.
On these longer training rides and your events, your challenge is keeping up with the demand for energy. If you wait to long to “re-fuel”, it can take 30 to 45 minutes for your body’s metabolism to catch up. This is what experienced riders call the “bonk” or “hitting the wall”. In most cases, you just start to feel lethargic and your legs feel empty, at it’s worst, you may even feel light headed. With experience, you can learn to ride through the bonk, but if you find yourself feeling “out of gas” you may need to take a short break off the bike to let your body catch up. As little as 10 minutes off the bike will put back on an even keel and feeling ready to move along.
There are also a couple of good reasons to make eating and drinking a habit while working out. First, your event will be a change in routine with event day excitement, in surroundings and more riders, and this can leave your forgetting to eat or drink . And later in the event, you may just get bored with the warm drink in your bottle, or taking one more bite of energy bar. Freshen your bottle at the next stop, or hit a convenience store or sag for a different snack; but just know the consequence of not eating and drinking are much worse than boredom.
On a final note, as novice rider, don’t be too concerned with special energy drinks and food items. A banana is still one the best foods for cyclists while riding, as are most fresh fruits, and a quick shop bottle of Gatorade is still reliable drink for a thirsty, tired rider. Your goal for these first rides is to learn the basic eating and drinking habits that allow you to enjoy and finish your ride. Over time, as you may find the need for more sophisticated drinks and snacks, as you challenge yourself more or ride with more challenging goals.
Download the #10weeksto100 Training Framework
Week 8 of the #10weeksto100.
The series is intended as mentoring, rather than athlete specific coaching. The being the case, these are broad, general guidelines of a riding style and philosophy. You can find the series intro here - Preparing for Your First Long Ride or Century