Do you struggle with longer rides? If you know you’re doing enough training, perhaps it’s time to look at your fuelling. What to eat when you’re riding can seem like a minefield. Bike shops are full of packs of mysterious ‘foods’ – do you really need them?
We speak to Elizabeth Malins, Ashleigh Fraser and Angela Hibbs from Fusion RT Fierlan to shine a light on what you should be doing on riding days.
Why Eat on Long Bike Rides
On mega-hard or long rides (over 90 minutes) you’re going to need to pay attention to your fuelling needs.
When you’re cycling, you’re going to be using 2 main sources of fuel to power your muscles – fat and carbohydrates. Fat is stored around the body but it takes a long time to break down into usable energy. Because your body takes so long to make use of fat, it relies on carbohydrates as its fuel source…
The problem is your body can only store enough for about and hour and half of exercise in your muscles. To maintain your performance, it’s a good idea to top up your levels of carbohydrates whilst you ride.
You’ll need to make sure you’re taking on mid and high GI (Glycemic Index) foods during your ride.
With GI the gist is the higher the GI, the faster your blood glucose levels will rise. The NHS explain GI simply here.
Carbs that can be digested speedily (high GI) feed glucose into the bloodstream quickly, giving you a rush of energy. Ones that break down slowly (low GI), drip-feed the glucose into the system. The ones in the middle, called mid-GI foods, don’t do either of these things but provide a gradual rise in glucose.
Before You Set Off
Porridge is a brilliant breakfast option and you can turn it into something truly marvellous a la Kim Morrison… It’ll give you a slow release of energy. If you’re a coffee fiend do make sure you’re also topping up with water so you’re not dehydrated.
We also love a banana about half an hour before a ride! They’re super yummy and a mid-GI food – so they’re a great thing to eat ahead of a training ride as you’ll get neither a rush nor a drip-drip-drip of energy.
Eating During the Ride
Ideally, you should be looking to eat or drink about 30-65g of carbohydrates every hour. Try not to go over this amount as it might make you feel sick as your body will struggle to absorb a massive amount of carbs!
There’s an unbelievable range of ‘on the bike’ foods out there and it can get a little mystifying…
Gels are probably the first thing that will come to your mind. They offer a lot of fuel for their weight, and they’re very easy to consume on the bike, so they’re great for races. That said, watch when you take them on.
“I don’t use them in the first half of any race. This makes your body and energy systems rely on the immediate sugars and energies in them… Once you start on them you have to continue for the rest of that race. I tend to take 2 (or 3 for an emergency) in a long road race (70 miles +), 1 for a TT of 50 miles or more” says Angela.
Lots of gels can start to make you feel a bit sick too, and they are usually packed with sugars (not to mention pretty expensive). If you’ve got a bit race or event ahead, try out any new gels on a training ride, just to check you don’t have a bad reaction.
Cereal bars are Ashleigh’s suggestion, “they’re high in calories but they can have the added goodness of fruit and ‘super foods’ depending on which bar you choose, so you’re getting plenty of energy and adding that little kick of health”. They’re usually pretty yummy too.
You should be trying to get your carbs in via a mix of drinks, real food, gels and or bars.
You should always take liquids with you. Water is fine for short rides, but for longer ones sports drinks will sort out your hydration and glucose needs in one go. Elizabeth recommends Last Mile Endure-Fuel powder.
Eating properly after exercise is also super important. Protein will help your body to repair your muscles and reduce that dreaded aching feeling. When you’ve given your muscles a punishing, having some post-workout protein means you’re treating your muscles to amino acids that will help them repair.
Protein also blocks cortisol production, which is what breaks down muscle tissue and can make you feel super sore. You should be aiming to take on some protein within 30 mins of finishing up your ride.
You can get some protein in with normal food- a portion of greek yoghurt, a tuna sandwich or a chicken pasta salad. There is also the option of protein shakes if you’re not quite feeling ready for food!