Eat Right For Long Rides

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Spring is scheduled to start any day now, and we’ll all be looking to add in a couple two, three, even four hour rides into the mix of normal workouts. In the Hive, you probably already have your nutrition dialed in for a 60-75 minute effort, but what about for that second, or third hour of riding?

A big part of nutrition is timing, but you can also help yourself out by fueling properly not just on the days of your big rides, but by thinking about your calorie, nutrient, and fluid intake every day. Especially if you’re not racing, there isn’t a need to ‘carbo load’ or take on extra calories ahead of a big training day. You can typically add just an extra slice of toast or banana to your normal breakfast before you head out the door.

Once you’re on the move, remember that your body can only process so many grams of carbs per minute. While taking on 30-60 grams per hour is the widely expected range, how and when you take those calories on makes a big difference. The key is to take foods or gels that have that amount of carbs and ingest them in small portions. If you’re taking in your calories through fluids, that means taking small sips over the course of a full hour, rather than slamming it after sixty minutes when you realized it’s still completely full.

If you’re eating your carbs, just swap small sips for small bites. Know how many grams are in your food and break it up into halves or thirds. For example, my favorite snack on a big ride is just a good ol’ fashion banana. At 105 calories and 27 carbs, it’s the perfect food if you’re going for a two hour ride, and that 27 carb total neatly divides into two hours, eating half in the first hour and the second around 1:15. Now that’s probably not enough calories for a race, but if you’re balancing endurance miles with equalizing calories for the day, it’s just about ride.

Especially if your calories are coming just from solid food, plan on drinking a bottle with electrolytes per hour. If you sweat a lot or tend to have very ‘salty’ sweat, you’ll definitely want to add electrolyte to both bottles; if you don’t sweat too much, having electrolytes in your first bottle is a good idea.

For anything over two hours, add something a bit diverse to your normal snack. If you always bring a banana, consider an energy bar, possibly even one with more protein and a wider array of sugars. Bars with fruit, honey, and a whole grain or rice are more dense with calories while offering a different source of carb and sugar. That extra protein can serve as an inefficient but viable energy source, and it’ll get in your muscles to start repairs more quickly. My go-to bar on a longer ride is a Luna Lemon Zest bar. It’s 190 calories and, in addition to another 28 grams of carbs, offers 8 gram of protein 6 grams of fat.

So how does it all come together? At last year’s Cherry-Roubaix, I went in looking to stay on the front as long as possible to keep the pace high and the race controlled for our team. I had my banana down by an hour and fifteen minutes, and ate two and a half Luna bars over the course of the next two hours. In that time, I drank two bottles with Fizz and one plain bottle that I was able to grab from the lead car. That’s definitely on the low side of what you’d want to take on, but it’s always a bit tough to eat when the race is on!

With anything nutrition and exercise related, make sure you experiment and learn what works best for you. Use those two hour rides to inform your fuel for three and four hour rides so you’re not experiencing stomach issues on a day that finds you a long ways from home.

Eat what you need, not more, and remember that if you’re able to really track, adjust, and manage your diet every day, you don’t need to make any drastic changes to your meals before those big days. Add the extra calories on the bike, so you know you’re using what you’re taking in.