Fueling for Long Rides

XC Bike ride Duncan Philpott

Being an English student, I am blessed with copious amounts of time, which probably means I am not really getting my 3500 pounds worth of education. However the upshot of this is that I have plenty of time to ride my bike. I appreciate that those of you with actual jobs and an actual life will be steaming at the ears upon reading my smugness, but I’ll be right with you in a few years time, don’t worry. The reason I am telling you of this, the most wondrous of lives, is that this free time recently sparked the idea to ride home and back again, in two consecutive days. I go to university in Loughborough and live, by my route, 85 miles away in Worcestershire, so all told that is 170 miles in two days. It turns out that this equates to about ten hours and forty minutes in the saddle, if I account for the two hours spent walking to bike shops following simultaneous punctures. This is a long time, trust me, and the biggest issue it raises is that of fuelling for rides over a certain duration.

The average person will contain 300-400g of utilisable carbohydrate (glycogen) within their body, and the average person when riding will burn through around 100g in an hour. So if we were to be optimistic and say that a rider has the maximum amount of glycogen then they still only have enough for four hours riding, and if we are being pessimistic only three. Therefore for, any rides over three hours you run the risk of becoming a glycogen depleted vegetable, or ‘bonking’. For anyone who has been there then they will completely understand that when you get home you have never before appreciated your fridge and its contents to the extent that bonking provokes, and for those of you who haven’t then it should be avoided at all costs. When you ‘bonk’ you essentially fall asleep on your bike, with no fuel to get you home, and it is not pleasant.

So how do you prevent bonking easily and make a long ride less agonising? There are certain precautions and steps which make the whole process a lot easier, which are as follows

Before Riding:  The morning of your monumental Lord of the Rings style quest, the best way to start the day is with low GI, slow release carbohydrates. This ideally comes in form of about 100g of porridge or a low GI equivalent such as rye-bread. This will slow down the break-down of carbohydrate into sugar and delay the inevitably sky-high metabolism which can lead to bonking. To slow down this process even further eat your porridge with some protein such as eggs, as protein has been proven to further delay the carbohydrate break-down. Furthermore try and take on as much water as comfortable as it is sometimes hard to find water on the road and dehydration can end your happiness just as effectively as a lack of food.

During riding: There is nothing really more important when riding for long periods than to eat, constantly. I have mentioned previously how you only have a limited amount of stored energy and that this will soon go, and unfortunately no matter how much you eat you will not be able to take on the same amount you are burning, so you will always be depleting. The key is to attempt to stay on top of it, meaning that even if you don’t feel hungry you should still be eating. A study commissioned by the IOC in 2000 showed that ingesting carbohydrates half an hour prior to fatigue was more effective than when ingested at the point of fatigue, so when riding you should be eating roughly every half an hour in order to keep fatigue at bay.
The type of carbohydrate you should be ingesting is also critical, if you eat slow burn, low GI carbs then they will take too long to be used as fuel when you have an increased metabolism from riding, so eating things like oatcakes isn’t ideal. The IOC study noted that the best forms of carbohydrate to ingest during exercise were Glucose, Sucrose and Maltodextrin, sugar basically. The best and most practical forms of these come in things like cereal bars with high carbohydrate contents. However as you get further into your ride, your metabolism increases even further, to the point where even these break down too slowly to be effective.  This is where things such as gels come in, which are essentially easily ingested sugars in practical packaging, and should provide enough fuel to get you home without crawling.
It is also possible to find soluble sugars such as Maltodextrin which can be put in your bottles for added carb intake, however I find that as you are eating so much sugar anyway, water will suffice for hydration, unless it is very hot, (see here:  http://www.the-bike-expert.com/the-effect-of-heat-on-cycling-turbo-training/ ) and as such will prevent your mouth from becoming clogged with a sugary, sticky feeling, this is however personal preference, so sugar in bottles may work for you.

The video below shows some additional information from what I am giving:

After Riding: Well you’ve made it home from Middle-Earth, and you have begun to rest your weary limbs and wipe off the accumulated dirt of the miles from your exhausted body, but you should not get complacent. If you want to reduce the effects of fatigue perhaps on your next training session, or simply for daily functions, then how you eat after long rides is equally as important. When you ride for extended periods you will have depleted your stores of glycogen, and you will have broken down muscle fibres, which need to be replaced. The average intake of protein after exercise should be roughly 25-30g, easily obtained through a chicken breast, or even easier, though consumption of a protein drink. You can add to this Maltodextrin for an instant boost to your glycogen stores.  However you need to take on a fair bit of carbohydrate after such exertions. Research undertaken by the Australian sports commission states that we should be aiming to eat 1g per kg of body mass every hour succeeding exercise, with other research showing that the two hours immediately following exercise are the most important to recovery. Therefore a 70kg individual should be taking on 150g of fast absorption carbohydrates, such as white rice, white pasta, or a baked potato in the two hours succeeding exercise, and 25g of protein which should then be topped up regularly over the next 24 hours so as to ensure you do not look like a zombie.

I hope that the above means that you will not be lying on the side of the road crying to yourself on your next 4+ hour ride and that you do not become an unbearable person to be around in the following hours afterwards and that you actually enjoy some of the epic countryside that lies a little further afield.

Sources:

http://www.ausport.gov.au/ais/nutrition/research/post-exercise_nutrition
http://www.bentrem.sycks.net/NutritionInSport-Ronald-J-Maughan.pdf#page=130

Many thanks to http://www.duncanphilpott.com/ for letting us use his photo!

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