This is a common question I receive from athletes in all areas of endurance sports as well as something I have always been personally interested in. I have tried many supplements, sports drinks, gels, and other items that claim to “enhance your athletic performance immediately!” that usually come with a money back guarantee if you return it in an unopened package (yeah, I don’t get how you’re supposed to gauge it’s efficacy by not opening the package either!). I will first discuss what the sports nutritionists and research say, then give some personal recommendations based off of both mistakes and victories that I have had nutritionally.
What does the research say?
If we remember from a previous post regarding what to eat before a ride, we have approximately 1500-2000 calories of stored energy before we even begin exercising (as long as you did a good job recovering after your last workout). So, any exercise that will last >90 minutes is going to require additional energy so you don’t bonk. With that being said, here is what the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (1) has to say: (CHO = Carobohydrate, PRO = Protein)
1. Prolonged exercise (> 60 – 90 min) of moderate to high intensity exercise will deplete the internal stores of energy, and prudent timing of nutrient delivery can help offset these changes.
2. During intense exercise, regular consumption (10 – 15 fl oz.) of a carbohydrate/electrolyte solution delivering 6 – 8% CHO (6 – 8 g CHO/100 ml fluid) should be consumed every 15 – 20 min to sustain blood glucose levels.
3. Glucose, fructose, sucrose and other high-glycemic CHO sources are easily digested, but fructose consumption should be minimized as it is absorbed at a slower rate and increases the likelihood of gastrointestinal problems.
4. The addition of PRO (0.15 – 0.25 g PRO/kg/day) to CHO at all time points, especially post-exercise, is well tolerated and may promote greater restoration of muscle glycogen when carbohydrate intakes are suboptimal.
So, if we boil everything down and forget about the brands we like and consume, during intense exercise we need to be drinking 1/3rd of a 26oz water bottle every 15-20 minutes that should not be filled with just water, but contain 6-8g of carbohydrates (preferably high glycemic to prevent stomach issues) as well as some electrolytes to offset what we lose in our sweat. Remember to always be drinking and if necessary set an alarm on your Garmin to sound every 15-20 minutes to remind you. Losing only 2% of your body weight through sweat can spell disaster and serious decreases in athletic ability!
As far as solid food goes, you want to aim to ingest 15 grams of protein as well as 45 grams of carbohydrates every hour for exercise >90 minutes in length. You can get this done via just liquid (Perpetuem for example) or a combination of solid foods and liquids. Experiment with what works best for you and your stomach and, as always, NOTHING new on race day! For exercise lasting <90 minutes just focus on carbohydrate/electrolyte replacement and hydration.
What is my plan of attack?
If I am exercising for >90 minutes and I will be riding with a jovial group or solo I will try to pack real food into my jersey pockets. Some of my standbys are, dates, dried mangoes, rice cakes, PB&J sandwiches, and stroopwafels. If I will be racing >90 minutes then efficiency and safety are paramount and I will slide a gel or 2 under each bib-short leg so I don’t have to take my hands off my handlebars to reach into my jersey pocket. Make sure you push the gel back down to the bottom before you open it so it doesn’t get literally EVERYWHERE :-). I have seen others lick and stick Clif Shot Bloks to their top tube and just take 1 or 2 off every 30 minutes to pop into their mouths. This just weirds me out on many levels, but hey different strokes for different folks, right?
Hydration is dependent upon how hot the day is. If it is >80 degrees I will drink EFS. If it is <80 degrees I stick to good old Skratch. The reason for the switch in the heat is because EFS contains more electrolytes compared to Skratch. I sweat a tremendous amount of salt no matter how acclimated my body gets to the heat and EFS helps me replace the sodium lost. If it is <40 degrees I heat the water before I put it in my insulated bottles which helps me stay a lot warmer.
So, what should you eat during your ride? If your ride is <90 minutes just focus on replacing carbohydrates/electrolytes and keeping hydrated. If your ride is >90 minutes, strive to consume 15 grams of protein and 45 grams of carbohydrate every hour. There are many ways to skin a cat (so the saying goes) so be sure to practice your fueling strategy so it is optimized BEFORE race day.
Further reading: Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
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