Question: I don’t have a problem with energy on my 90-minute weekday rides. But I bonk badly when going 75-100 miles on weekends. What should I eat for longer distances? — Pete T.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies:
It’s amazing how many calories we burn on long rides. A century can incinerate more than 4,000. Riders tend to underestimate how much food this represents.
With the help of a calorie chart, put 4,000 calories worth of bagels, sandwiches, fruit and cookies on your kitchen table. Hint: It’s equivalent to about 17 energy bars.
They don’t make jersey pockets big enough for so much grub. And, of course, you don’t need to replace every calorie burned. The trick is to start long rides with a full tank and then begin steady in-flight refueling.
Eat 2-3 hours before the start. If you scarf down a quick slice of toast and cup of coffee, you’ll soon be toast, too. Get up early if necessary.
Mix protein and fat with carbs. Most nutritionists suggest a pre-ride meal that includes all three food components, not just carbohydrate. I like a bowl of cereal with skim milk, a banana, juice and a bagel with cream cheese.
Carbohydrate is essential to endurance performance, but fat and protein “stick to the ribs” better and make the meal last longer. Find what agrees with you and doesn’t let your stomach feel hollow an hour into the ride. You’ll find what works well for you by trying different combinations of foods.
Of course, an ample breakfast means it’s uncomfortable to start fast, but that’s a good thing when you’re touring or riding for fun. It holds you to a reasonable early pace, the key to lasting the distance. You can always ride harder in the second half.
Keep re-fueling. Even after a fairly hefty pre-ride meal, you need to begin eating and drinking no later than an hour into the ride. At a burn rate of approximately 40 calories per mile, it’s amazing how quickly cereal or an omelet gets converted to energy.
The rule of thumb for long rides is to consume 300-350 calories per hour. That’s not as much as you burn, but it’s about all you can digest. It’s the equivalent of a typical energy bar and bottle or two of sports drink. These calories, plus the muscle fuel already stored in your body, should give you the energy you need to stay ahead of the bonk all the way to the finish.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred's full bio.