What To Eat On A Long Bike Ride
Interestingly, most people really focus on a training plan and often forget how important a nutrition plan actually is. When I first started endurance rides I had no clue what I was supposed to do, I ate when I was hungry and drank when I was thirsty, which inevitably was too late. Bonking is no fun for anyone but I did it on a regular basis, it was just a given, 3-4 hours on a bike was my limit! That was until I learned what to eat on a long bike ride.
What You Should Eat On A Long Bike Ride
Most of us already know the answer to this, it is carbohydrates, but why? Carbohydrates can be broken down quickly and efficiently into glucose, which is then used as energy. Proteins and fats can be broken down in to glucose as well; however, the process is long and inefficient.
Factors Affecting Carbohydrate Intake
Multiple carbohydrates: The ability to digest and utilize carbohydrate is dependent on the amount and types of carbohydrate consumed. Individual carbohydrate sources have different transport mechanisms in the gastrointestinal tract which allow for different rates of absorption. There is good physiological data to support an upper limit in our ability to breakdown carbohydrate during exercise. However, the upper limit is increased if there are multiple sources of carbohydrate consumed. By selecting a product with more than one source (e.g. sucrose and fructose), you are able to absorb more than when you consume a single source (e.g. glucose only). Glucose, sucrose and maltodextrin are absorbed more quickly than fructose, galactose and amylose. –
Effort Level: At increased intensities the blood required to convert carbohydrates to glucose has moved from your digestion to your legs resulting in a less efficient conversion process.
Heat: As temperatures rise your body is not able to digest or absorb as much carbohydrates – even though your body requires more.
Info from: First Endurance
How Much Should I Eat On A long Bike Ride?
Truthfully, the better question is how much carbohydrates can I process? The answer depends on factors listed above, (and has little to do with how many calories you burn per hour) but it is anywhere from 45g to 80g of carbs per hour. If you have one single source of carbohydrate (e.g. glucose) then you are able to absorb a maximum of 60g of carbohydrates an hour. When you combine two different carbs, studies show that you are able to absorb as much as 90g of carbohydrates an hour. (I max out at taking 80g though).
So What EXACTLY Should I Eat and Drink Every Hour?
Aim to drink a minimum of one bottle of sports drink (500 ml – 32g of carbs – 130 calories) half a bottle of water 250 ml, and eat one gel (30g of carbs – 100 calories) every hour on the bike. If it heats up you will need to drink more. Remember that this is an absolute minimum at moderate intensity.
I often add half a banana (12g of carbs – 50 calories) and more sports drink to get up to 80g of carbs per hour. Be careful not to drink more than 1.5L/hr though as most people are only able to process between one and one and a half litres of water per hour. For better hydration guidelines read this post.
When To Eat?
Start eating and drinking within the first half an hour of your ride. You may not feel hungry or thirsty, but by the time you do it is already too late. Eating and drinking steadily is much better than stuffing your face all at once. Set a timer for every 15 minutes to eat and drink. One important consideration is if you are eating powerbars or gels, then wash them down with water (not sports drink) so they are easier to digest.
Can I Eat Too Much On A Ride?
This happens quite frequently, do you ever get that nauseous feeling or have gastrointestinal problems? It is likely a result of eating too many carbs. If you feel this way in a middle of a long race make sure to dilute the high concentration of carbs with water and eat less frequently. Slowing down, drinking more water and eating half a banana (instead of a gel) will often save a ride.
Some people have lower tolerances to the high carbohydrate concentration in gel’s and gu’s. It is important to find your individualized nutrition and hydration plan that considers how long the ride will be, effort level, heat and tolerances.
What If I Don’t Eat?
You will likely be ok for an hour to an hour and a half at moderate intensity levels, but anything past that and you will lose energy, strength and focus and it will seem nearly impossible to finish the ride. In other words you are going to bonk!
A 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is a general guideline for efficient post-ride recovery. When putting together a meal or snack to help you refuel, aim for this 4:1 ratio by combining different food options listed here. It is important to eat within 30 minutes to an hour immediately following your ride for optimal recovery as those nutrients get “fast tracked”. The carbohydrates will replenish you lost glycogen stores while the protein will help rebuild the damaged muscle tissue.
- Eat carb rich foods – low in fats and protein.
- Consider effort levels, heat, duration and tolerances when implementing a nutrition and hydration plan.
- Eat and drink early and often.
- Consume between 45-80g of carbs per hour.
- Don’t drink more than 1.5 litres of water per hour.
- Always wash gels and power bars down with water and not sports drink.
- Don’t dilute sports drinks with more water as they are absorbed fastest with pre-mixed amounts.
- Have a fun ride!
Did you know all of this? Share it with your friends below and comment on what works for you to help out the cycling community!