Two of my clients recently had nutrition problems during long rides. Although most roadies won’t necessarily ride this far, the lessons apply to any endurance rider.
After DNF’ing he wrote, “I rode well at first, but around 50 miles my gut stopped working and it felt like I was bonking despite eating regularly during the ride to that point. I crawled from there to the 75-mile mark. I don’t have an accurate count, but I know I ate 100-calorie energy gels 3 or 4 times per hour at a minimum, so at least 300-400 calories for each hour. I’m curious, am I eating more than my gut can process and making myself sick? I know I tend to bonk if I don’t get in ~250-300 calories per hour, but could it be I’m overdoing it at 300+?” Brian bailed at the 75-mile mark.
Coach Hughes explained that a rider can digest 60 gm (240 calories) per hour of one kind of carb (glucose or sucrose or maltodextrin, etc.) Brian could digest 90 gm (360 calories) per hour of two different types of carbs, for example a gel made of maltodextrin and a sports drink with glucose. During an endurance ride he is burning a mix of triglycerides (from fat) and glucose (from carbs). Every rider – even the pros – has enough fat to fuel a ride. Glucose is stored in the body as glycogen and glycogen stores are limited to several hours of hard riding. Protein contributes only about 5% of your energy while riding. Brian should eat carbs. Fat and protein both are harder to digest.
Brian reported that on his next ride he used a new feeding strategy, “A Luna bar (~200 cals) at the top of the hour, then a GU (~100 cals) at the bottom of the hour for 300 calories per hour. My gut was happy and I seemed to have enough energy.”
Coach Hughes explained that the carbs in Luna bars are from rolled oats, rice flour, brown rice sugar and organic cane sugar. The carbs in GU come from maltodextrin and fructose. Brian is eating a variety of types of carbs, which is good. However, one Luna Bar has 190 calories but only 104 calories from carbs. GU has 100 calories all from carbs. So Brian is actually eating just 204 calories / hour of carbs, not enough to sustain an endurance ride. I suggested he try adding a sports drink to his on-the-bike nutrition.
Although they are heavily promoted none of the sports nutrition products are superior in terms of performance. I eat assorted cookies and breakfast bars and drink green tea sweetened with sugar. My nutrition is just as good as the sports stuff, tastier and cheaper. My eArticle Eating and Drinking Like the Pros: How to Make Your Own Sports Nutrition includes recipes for home-made solid food, bars, drinks and gels.
Will’s 24-Hour Race
Will covered 307 miles in 16:37 (18.5 mph) before the race was stopped because of lightning.
Will wrote, “My crew and I had several times where we weren’t tracking carbs, but just total calories and I got in to trouble twice. Once for not taking in enough carbs (total calories were fine but the carbs were low!) and the second time for taking in too many calories at once. My gut shut down and it took a solid 50 miles for everything to wake back up. Put me in a world of hurt for a few hours, but I recovered again.”
Coach Hughes told him the same thing that he told Brian. He needs to eat carbs and can only digest digest 90 gm (360 calories) per hour of several different types of carbs.
Will also tried caffeine, which is a known ergogenic aid. He wrote, “Unfortunately we only had Coke and Starbucks espresso drinks that had dairy in them (I don’t do to well with dairy!). Any suggestions because I really need to get this dialed in?”
Coach Hughes said that the pros often drink de-fizzed Coke. Some gels contain caffeine. Will could make coffee before the event and drink iced coffee. During the Race Across AMerica I used caffeine pills. Now I drink cold green tea with sugar in it. The key is to experiment on his next long rides to find out what improves his performance without screwing up his stomach.
Every endurance rider can learn from Bryan and Will’s experiences!
My eArticle Nutrition for 100K and Beyond combines the best of current research and 40 years of riding and coaching experience to teach you what to eat before, during and after endurance rides. The 17-page Nutrition for 100K and Beyond is only $4.99.
Nutrition for 100K and Beyond is included in two bundles:
Endurance Training and Riding includes 1) The Century and Beyond; 2) Nutrition for 100K and Beyond; and 3) Mastering the Long Ride. The 48 pages Endurance Training and Riding cost-saving bundle is $13.50 (10% savings) and, as always, just $11.48 for our Premium Members (includes their everyday 15% discount!).
Preventing Cycling’s Ailments includes 1) Nutrition for 100K and Beyond; 2) Butt, Hands, Feet – preventing pain in cycling’s pressure points; 3) Preventing and Treating Cramps; and 4) Gaining a Mental Edge – using sports psychology to deal with discomfort. The 56 pages Preventing Cycling’s Ailments cost-saving bundle is $15.96 (20% savings) and, as always, just $13.57 for our Premium Members (includes their everyday 15% discount!).
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.