22nd July 2016
Whether you’re planning to cycle a short flat route or tackle a more challenging hilly one, a good sportive nutrition strategy will help you perform at your best. What you eat and drink in the days before as well as on the day is essential to surviving a sportive. I’ll be on centre stage at the 2016 Prudential RideLondon Cycling Show 28 – 30th July with some simple tips on how to fuel your spotrive.
Nutrition in the final few days
Your main focus during the last few days will be on fueling and hydrating properly as well as staying healthy and injury free.
During the ride you’ll be burning a mixture of fat and carbs for fuel. However, your carbohydrate store (glycogen) is limited – enough to last just 1 ½ – 2 hours – so you’ll almost certainly benefit from some form of carbohydrate loading. This is the process of maximising your glycogen stores in preparation for a long endurance event, and may improve your endurance by up to 2 – 3%.
Taper your training during pre-race week (you should be resting for the final 1 -2 days) and increase your carb intake for the final 2 days to 7 – 10g/ kg bodyweight. That’s 490 – 700g/ day for a 70kg cyclist. Don’t increase calories, though – just tip the balance of calories so you eat more carbs, less fat. Carb loading is not to be confused with eating as much as you can!
The day before
Continue to eat the food you normally eat and avoid anything new. Drink plenty – that way you’ll start the ride well hydrated rather having to play catch up in the morning. Your urine should be pale straw coloured. Eat several small high-carb meals to maximise glycogen storage. If travelling, pack suitable food e.g. sandwiches, salads, fruit, nuts, dried fruit and bars.
It’s best to steer clear of high fibre, gas forming foods, such as beans, lentils, cauliflower, sprouts and spicy foods, in case they jeopardise your performance. Avoid eating too late in the evening and don’ t over-eat (no need for huge bowls of pasta!). Suitable evening meals include baked potato, chicken & veg; a simple pasta dish with salad; plain rice, fish & veg; or a turkey or tofu stir-fry with vegetables and noodles. Avoid heavy, hard-to-digest meals.
Before you set off
Aim to have breakfast 2 – 3 hours before you start the ride, so wake up early enough! Eating a good breakfast means you’ll feel a lot better during the ride and delay the onset of fatigue. Include foods rich in carbs (approx. 100g) and protein (approx. 20g). Porridge is the perfect pre-ride breakfast but extra milk, fruit and nuts will give you sustained energy. Two or three eggs with toast or a generous bowl of granola with milk, yogurt and fruit are also great options. Drink 350- 500ml fluid 2 – 3 h before you start riding. Many cyclists like to include coffee or tea for a pre-ride caffeine boost!
About 30 – 45 minutes before the start, sip 125 – 250ml water, squash or a sports drink and, if you can, consume an extra 25g carbs, a banana, gel or a small bar.
Fueling and hydration on the route
Take two bottles. One for water and one for a sports or electrolyte drink (take what you used during training). Pack a variety of high-carb snacks that you have trained with e.g. bars, gels, bananas, sandwiches, flapjacks and dried fruit. Prepare as much as possible e.g. cut bars in half and open wrappers to make them easier to get into to, and put them in your pockets. Try and remember what’s in each pocket so you won’t be searching around for a particular food while you’re cycling!
Start fuelling after about 30 – 60 min and then plan to have 2 – 3 microfeeds (15 – 30g carb) every 20 – 30 min for a total of 30- 60g/ h. The key is to eat little and often; don’t over-eat but don’t forget to eat either. Some riders set a regular alarm to remind them. 15g carbohydrate is equivalent to:
- 250ml sports drink (6%)
- 20g (a small handful) raisins
- ½ energy bar
- ½ granola bar or flapjack
- ½ large banana
- 2 bloks or chews
- ½ gel
You need to avoid under-drinking (dehydration) as well as over-drinking (hyponatraemia). Drink to thirst; the amount you need depends on your sweat rate, which will increase during hot humid weather and on climbs. Aim for 400 – 800ml/ h. The maximum you can absorb is 800ml. Any more will just slosh around your stomach and won’t provide any benefit. Drink regularly (little & often), do not force yourself to drink or drink water excessively. Drinks containing electrolytes are recommended on rides over 2 hours or when sweat losses are high.
Some cyclists like to use caffeine to give them a boost near the end of a ride. Caffeine tricks the brain into making the ride feel easier and can help you keep you going longer. The current consensus is 1 – 3mg/ kg body weight, that’s 70 – 210mg for a 70kg person, equivalent to 2 – 3 gels.
Check in advance where feeding and drinks stations are on the route. Use the opportunity to re-fill your bottles and stock up with food. Be wary of trying new products, though – stick to what you’ve trained with.
After the sportive
You need to rehydrate and refuel. Sip water or a sports or electrolyte drink. Rehydration can take up to 24 hours so continue drinking little and often and listen to your thirst. A milk based drink will speed muscle recovery, as will sandwiches, yogurt, flapjacks and bananas. Then go ahead and celebrate!
If you enjoyed this post and want to find out more about food and nutrition, then read the new edition of my book:
A sports nutrition guide and recipe book rolled into one, Food for Fitness dispels popular myths and gives you the tools you need to reach your maximum performance. It is the ultimate resource for anyone who is serious about sport or fitness. Now in its fourth edition, this bestselling book has been updated to include the very latest nutrition research for exercise and performance, and is packed with easy, delicious and nutritious recipes, snacks and helpful new menu plans.