It doesn't seem all that long ago when I excitedly called my husband to tell him that I had just completed a new long distance bike record: a whopping 16 miles. Seriously; that is not a typo! To me, that was a huge deal as I was preparing for my first super sprint triathlon back in 2006. Today a typical ride is 40-50 miles a day as I roll a minimum of 200 miles a week since racing and century rides have become much more fun. Cycling itself is much different than when training for sprint triathlons and the nutritional needs for each sport is as well.
Coming soon is another first for me and many of my cycling buddies: a cross state ride that encompasses 170 miles from the east coast to the west. That's tens of thousands of crank turns for some 9 hours in the saddle as well as thousands of calories to be burned. In preparation for this epic ride I have done a goodly amount of research on nutrition for endurance rides and since this is century season, I thought it would be timely to share with other passionate cyclists who may have questions about nutrition on lengthy rides.
How Many Calories Will You Burn?
Based on your body weight and overall mph average, you can calculate how many calories you expect to burn ahead of time. This will help with pre-ride fuel as well as how much to take in per hour in the saddle. The following formula was consistent in the sources I viewed:
Of course, weather and topography will change the numbers some but this is a good guideline to use for planning. According to this chart, I can expect to burn over 5,500 calories just while riding. Add back in my normal daily caloric requirement to simply live and my ride day becomes a day that any girl would live for: to take in a whopping 7,000 calories. WOW! (18mph avg. x my weight in kg x 9.8 = # cals per hour needed)
What is the Best Type of Fuel?
According to my own experience and other sources that I found online, gels and other quick nutrients are fine for shorter rides, but endurance events of century status or more need real food as stomach upset can come with "quick foods". Carbohydrates are the very best source of fuel. Approximately 300-400 calories an hour should be consumed to ensure completion of the ride. Bagels, raisins, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, salted nuts and easy to chew fruits are excellent for long rides.Heavy, weighty and fat-laden foods are to be avoided as well as those high in fiber or protein. Foods with a low glycemic index are best also so as not to cause a blood glucose spike that is followed by a crash in your blood sugar.To learn more about fat to carb ratio based on VO2max, read more on this site.
There is much more to completing endurance rides than simply being strong and able to go far. One hopes to complete the ride without duress! Before you embark on your first (or next) century, brevet or cross-state experience be sure to study up on how to best fuel your body. Those riding with you will appreciate it and you will not only complete the ride but have a good time while doing so.
Fuel right & ride safely!