Nutrition for Long Rides
June 11 — 2021 | Santa Cruz, California
Ever wonder why your buddy can wolf down a huge breakfast before a long ride while you’re stuck with pecking at toast? Our bodies, and especially our gut, differ in terms of what we can process efficiently at certain times of the day. There’s a steep learning curve to getting to know your own ideal tactics for fueling up for optimal performance on the bike. Here are a few tips to get you steered in the right direction. If anything, skip down to the Flavor Bomb section for some creative ride food ideas that will zap your taste buds into the next dimension!
PRE-RIDE OR RACE
A good rule of thumb is to finish eating 2-3 hours before your ride. If your stomach allows, have a complete meal containing a balance of carbs, protein, and fat. This could be your standard breakfast burrito or a rice and egg bowl.
If you have a more sensitive stomach or you’ve only got 1.5 hours before the ride, focus more around the carbs. Stick to a mini-breakfast of yogurt and granola, fruit, oatmeal, rice cakes, toast, or a protein smoothie. Lighter fare will digest more quickly so you’re ready for ride time. You don’t want to show up too full or too hungry, so strike a good balance.
Remember, you’ll also want to be hydrating before you hit the trail or pavement. Get the skinny on how and when to drink up here (link to hydration blog). And no, we aren’t talking about beer gardens this time. While we’re on the topic of alternative beverages, let’s address the espresso aficionados in the house. Of course it’s fine to sip a cup of joe to get you amped for the day, but if you’re pounding your fifth espresso before flying out the door you may want to think again. Sorry to be a bummer, but caffeine is a diuretic that can begin to dehydrate you, and that’s no way to start your effort.
DURING THE RIDE OR RACE
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of exercise. To put this in context, a Clif bar has about 44 grams of carbohydrates. Another way to think about it is in terms of calories. The goal is to replace roughly half the calories you’re burning every hour, so the average recommendation is 100-200 calories per hour. This includes your snacks and sports drinks.
If you’re exerting super hard during race events or tough training rides, it may be nearly impossible to consume enough calories. Just do your best to eat without overwhelming your digestive system, which may be primarily gels and drink mixes. Use what normally works well for your body in training to avoid surprises on your big day. Generally speaking, foods that are high in fat, protein, or fiber will digest more slowly, so factor this in especially if you start feeling like you swallowed a brick.
Using heart rate and cycling computers can give you an estimate of calories burned. If you’re burning 600 calories an hour and you’re not used to eating 300 calories per hour, start with 150-200 calories an hour and work your way up. Just like you train your cardiovascular and muscular systems, your gut can be trained too. Think of it like a “training phase” where you set out to discover which foods work for you, and which ones to avoid. Some people can suck down a tin of sardines mid-ride while others gag at the prospect. You might be more of a PB&J kinda gal. Just keep working with your body to reach these goals, it’s not just an on/off switch that you can suddenly engage. Be patient, grasshopper.
Know that intensity and the duration of your effort can also dictate a lot of what foods you can and cannot tolerate. The longer you’re riding, the more likely it is that your gut can manage small amounts of those slower digesting protein, fat and fibers because you’re likely going at a lower intensity. But, as your intensity increases, your ability to tolerate protein and fat and fiber decreases and you need to rely more on carbohydrates. This is especially true for the last thirty minutes of a long ride. By all means, grab that sugary Coke or gummies to get you home when you need it!
POST RIDE OR RACE
It’s super important to make sure you eat within 60 minutes after a hard workout or long ride so you can immediately start your recovery. You want to feel rad for the next ride, right? So don’t skip food and go straight for your favorite IPA. If you don’t have access to real food after your ride, make sure to prepare a recovery drink that contains 4 grams of carbohydrates for every 1 gram of protein to replenish your body’s glycogen stores and help rebuild your muscles. Skratch makes an awesome one you can keep in your car to mix with water when you’re ready. Another option, if you just can’t muster the appetite to eat solid food, is to make a super fast recovery smoothie.
As promised, here are a few of our favorite tasty ride treats. Because life should be full of variety and flavor! The main thing to know with fueling while training is to eat a variety of foods to prevent flavor fatigue and avoid overwhelming your digestive system with gut-bombs of pure carbohydrate. Instead, aim to have something sweet and something savory on hand. If you’ve ever been hours into your ride and wanted to puke at just the thought of another gel, this is especially important for you.
- Sliced strawberries and grapes
- Seasoned sushi rice with parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper rolled into balls (get more inspo from Skratch Labs)
- Baked goods like banana or zucchini bread, chocolate chip cookies, a savory scone, or fig bars
- Boiled potato tossed with olive oil, parmesan, salt and pepper
- Cashews and dried cherries
- Skratch gummies or peach rings
- Medjool dates and roasted almonds
- Ham and jelly on a baguette
- Justin’s maple nut butter packet
- Cubed sharp cheddar with olives and cherry tomatoes