Nutrition and hydration tips to get you through a long ride
Basic NUTIRTION FACTS
Protein, fat and carbohydrate are the main components of your diet.
Protein supplies the amino acids essential for muscle development, but little energy while a mix of fat and carbohydrate fuel the working muscles during exercise.
- Fat is relatively hard for your muscles to “burn” and it produces energy slowly.
- Carbohydrate is easy for your muscles to “burn” and it produces energy quickly.
The ratio of fat to carbohydrate in the fuel mix changes according to how quickly you need to produce energy (e.g. how fast you want to ride), your fitness level and how much carbohydrate you have remaining in your fuel tank.
During very low intensity riding, a higher proportion of fat and a lower proportion of carbohydrate are used by the working muscles. During moderate and faster riding such as during the long stage 1 race, carbohydrate is the main fuel used by the working muscles.
Unfortunately the amount of carbohydrate that your body can store is relatively small and it can become quickly depleted. When the body's stores of carbohydrate start to run low, the muscles are forced to burn a less energetic fuel mix, which contains a higher proportion of fat than they would like. The more-and-more you deplete your carbohydrate reserves, the more-and-more fat will be added into the fuel mix. This increasing reliance on fat is felt as fatigue.
So maximising the amount of carbohydrate fuel you have available is the key to maximising performance in an endurance event. So to have a good race you should:
- Ensure that your carbohydrate tank is full as possible before you start
- Feed yourself with carbohydrate during exercise
- Re-fuel your carbohydrate stores immediately after exercise finishes
- Topping up your CARBOHYDRATES throughout the ride
We all start with some carbohydrates in our bodies before we start and for a rider of 75kgs this would typically mean a maximum of about 450grams 'pre-stored' before the event. Now the maximum amount of carbohydrate that your body can absorb during endurance exercise depends on your body weight - such that we can only absorb about 1 gram of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per hour. (So our 75kg rider can only absorb about 75grams of carbs per hour of exercise).
Remember that although you can consume (swallow) a lot more carbohydrate than the 1 gram per kg, any excess will just sit in your stomach waiting to be absorbed which leaves you feeling full and bloated – uncomfortable!
So to ensure that you have the maximum amount of usable carbohydrates in your body during exercise you should try and consume about 1 gram of carbohydrates per kg of body weight per hour of exercise. Any less and you your energy levels could start dropping off and any more and it could sit in your stomach and you'll feel bloated.
Just remember that your muscles empty your carbohydrate tank faster than you can fill it. As soon as you start exercise you start to empty your fuel tank and therefore make room for more to be added, so make sure you keep eating and adding fuel back into the tank right from the word go. (Don't forget that sports drinks have carbohydrates in them as well so you can combine your hydration with your carbs intake – refer below).
So some key points are:
- try and consume approximately 1 gram of carbohydrates per kg of body weight per hour of exercise.
- start eating from the word go, don't wait until you get hungry
- eat and drink in numerous little bursts (almost continually) rather than in big binges which could leave you feeling full
- try and plan your eating so you have some variety and are carrying enough to get you through
This eating program is just on way of trying to keep adequately nourished during the event and if it is quite different to what you have been doing up until not make sure you test it out on a few longer training riding before the event.
Pre-event meal on the morning of the race
The pre-event meal aims to top up carbohydrate reserves and fluid levels, while leaving your stomach feeling comfortable and you feeling confident. Generally, the pre-event meal should be consumed 2 to 3 hours before the ride starts, so you have time to use the toilet afterwards!
There is a huge combination of foods which are suitable before exercise and it is important to experiment to find the most suitable option for you. Keep in mind the meal needs to provide both carbohydrate and fluid and ideally should be low in fat.
Some ideas for pre-event meals include:
- Toast + banana + honey + sports drink + Cereal + low fat milk + fruit + juice
- Spaghetti + toast + water + low fat yoghurt + fruit + cordial
- Ham salad roll + sports drink + fruit smoothie + an sports energy bar
These meals need not be too scientific and should not vary too much from what you eat ever breakfast time. If you are going to change your pre event meal then it is worth experimenting before the race – just to make sure that what ever you eat leaves you feeling good rather than heavy and sitting on the toilet!
To load or not to load? Carbohydrate loading is one aspect of sports nutrition which can create a lot of confusion among athletes. Carbohydrate loading aims to maximise muscle glycogen stores before endurance exercise. Basically, athletes exercising continuously for 90 minutes or more at a high intensity will benefit from some form of carbohydrate loading.
Carbohydrate loading is not an excuse to gorge on anything you can find - commitment is required to achieve the necessary high carbohydrate intake. Guidelines for carbohydrate loading include:
- Reduce training load over the last 3 days before competition. During these 3 days, increase carbohydrate intake to 8-10g/kg body weight
- Avoid the temptation to indulge in high fat foods. This may cause weight gain and will make it difficult to consume enough carbohydrate
- Reduce fibre intake to leave room for high carbohydrate foods and avoid feeling bloated
- Make use of compact carbohydrate sources such as sports products
- Be careful eating too many carbohydrates the night before the race, you don't want to stuff so much in that your body does not have enough time to process it before you start and it is just sitting there as you start riding up that first hill!
Just as with nutrition and food, keeping hydrated whilst out on the bike will ensure you perform at your best and have an enjoyable day out.
Keeping yourself well hydrated isn't easy and for athletes the importance of staying hydrated cannot be overstated. During exercise the amount of sweat produced varies hugely from person to person according to body size, gender, exercise intensity and environmental conditions. The average sweat rate for an 80kg person cycling at a moderate intensity in 20 deg C heat is 1 litre / hour. So dehydration can occur very quickly if we are not making an effort to replenish lost fluids from BEFORE THE START!
There plenty of scientific methods to determine if you are dehydrated but the easiest guideline is to keep track of how often you have to go to the toilet! - you should be peeing every 3 hours and it should be straw coloured (not bright yellow!) so if things are different down there you should drink more!
Thirst unfortunately is not a good indicator of the need for fluid as by the time our thirst mechanism has kicked in, we are already dehydrated. This is why it is important to drink on a regular basis before, during and after riding as well as on non-exercise days.
Start drinking BEFORE THE RACE
Keeping hydrated on a daily basis needs to become a habit and especially so in the 2-3 days before the race – try the following tips:
- Keep a filled drink bottle with you whenever you can and sip from it regularly throughout the day.
- Keep the bottle on your desk at work or in the car or in your bag in the staff room – wherever you can access it frequently
- Try to minimise your intake of coffee and tea. Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning that it will cause you to urinate more and therefore lose even more water
- Likewise alcohol doesn't count as good fluid!! It too is a diuretic
- During a normal day even when you are not training, you should aim to get through at least 2 large bottles or 8-12 glasses of water
BEFORE THE START of a long race
- Drink at least 400 – 600mls of water or sports drink in the 2 hours before you ride
- Ensure that you are well prepared, fill your hydration pack and bottles are full with water or energy drink and carry plenty of food with you
- Avoid a heavy session on the beer the night before!
DURING a long race
If it going to be hot (which is very likely) these pointers become even more important to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable day:
- Aim to drink 200-300mls of fluid every 15 – 20 minutes or about a bike bottle an hour. If it is hot you may even need more even is you don't feel like it!
- Start drinking early and do not wait until you get thirsty
- Drinking regularly in small sips is often more comfortable than taking in a larger quantity at once. Hydration packs are great for this
- Practice pulling your water bottle in and out of its cage whilst on the move during training rides – don't wait until you stop to drink
- There are water points but don't rely on these alone – you must be drinking in between these points
- Fill your bottles up if you are running out. You will lose more time due to reduced performance if you keep cycling in a dehydrated state than if you spend a few minutes replenishing fluid supplies and keep drinking
- Avoid cordials and juices before, during and immediately after riding as the high sugar content can slow down stomach emptying and mean that the real fuels takes longer to reach the working muscles
- Sports drinks are absorbed quicker than water and have additional minerals in them to replace what you have lost through exercise.
The main message is keep drinking and eating the right stuff from before the start and you will keep going, enjoy your event and recover faster.