Fueling for a Strong Century

by Hilary Warner, MPH RD LD

It used to be simple. Eat pasta before the ride, drink water while riding, and have some more pasta afterwards. But now there is an abundance of sports gels, powders, and bars to choose from. Just what combination of food and supplements will get you to the end with energy to spare?

To ride fast and strong in a long ride like the Seacoast Century, you must feed your body high-octane fuel before, during, and after! If you eat smart, you will be able to ride faster and longer than riders who might be better trained than you but who ignore some of the most basic strategies available to them for maximizing their performance. The wrong food choices will make them (and you) slow and tired.

In a long ride, meeting your fluid, calorie, and carbohydrate needs are your top nutrition priorities. Although you may get away with shoddy nutrition for shorter rides, you and your performance will suffer if you do it for the Century.

Fueling for the Century starts days before the actual event. Your primary objectives prior to the ride are to stash away as much glycogen in your muscles as you can and to hydrate. Make an extra effort to eat plenty of quality carbohydrates like whole grains, fruit and juice, starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes, and legumes. Drink lots of fluids, go to bed early, and taper your riding off. Do not spend the day before the ride moving your woodpile from one side of your yard to the other just because you are not riding.

On event day, plan to have a decent breakfast. Your pre-ride meal should include fluids and easily digested carbohydrate-rich foods. Some ideal pre-ride foods include cereal, French toast, bagels, rice, fruit, juice, and yogurt. Try a smoothie or liquid meal replacement if the jitters keep you from eating anything solid. In general, the closer it is to start time and the more nervous you are, the less you should eat.

During the ride, your nutrition goals are to drink enough fluids to stay hydrated and get enough carbohydrates down to extend endurance and avoid getting a "food flat." Plan on consuming 30-60 grams carbohydrate and 1-2 small water bottles (20-40 oz.) per hour. You can eat and drink any combination of water, sports drink, gels, energy bars, fig bars, etc. that you like during the ride as long as you meet your carbohydrate and fluid needs. Sports drinks are formulated to deliver a desirable and well-tolerated amount of electrolytes and carbohydrates.

Start fuelling early and get on a schedule so that you are drinking regularly- aim for every 15 minutes. Do not rely on thirst to tell you when to drink. If you lose just 2% of your body weight as sweat you will not be able to ride as hard or as long as cyclists who are drinking enough. Sweat rates vary dramatically from person to person and with ride intensity and weather. Cooler temperatures that often accompany the Century will result in less sweating and lower fluid needs than during the heat of the summer.

Immediately after the ride, take the time to replenish your glycogen stores and rehydrate. Although you probably won't be going for any big performance rides right after the Century, this recovery strategy is most critical earlier in the season when you're riding frequently and at high intensity. Eat plenty of carbohydrates and drink until your urine is light colored again. Pretzels, thick crust pizza, and other salty foods can help you rehydrate by making you thirsty and delaying urine production. Other recovery food ideas include a pint of sorbet instead of premium ice cream, fruited yogurt, fruit, turkey sandwich on a bagel, lemonade, and commercial recovery drinks.

No matter what your goals are for the Century, make sure you feed your body right! Take the time to maximize your glycogen stores beforehand, make an effort to meet your fluid and carbohydrate needs during the ride, and refuel afterwards. These are the cutting edge nutrition strategies that will get you to the end in style!

Hilary Warner MPH RD LD is a nutrition coach in Concord, NH. She helps people figure out how to eat and drink what they need to perform at their best. You can reach her at nutritionworks@rcn.com or (603) 223-8119.


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