Getting your nutrition right during long rides can be a tricky balancing act at times. Don’t eat enough and you might run out of energy and bonk, overeat and you could end up with stomach troubles. To make it more complicated, the more trained you are improves how efficient your body is at using fat stores as fuel. You may find you’ll be able to ride further without eating as much after a few years of cycling compared to when you first began.
Why Do I Need To Eat During a Long Ride?
The main reason to eat during a ride is to maintain your blood glucose levels and preserve glycogen stores in the muscles. Underfuelling can limit not only how far you may be able to ride and how fast you can ride, but also impact how you feel on the ride.
How much carbohydrate should I eat?
Exactly how much carbohydrate you need is all dependent on your individual goals and what you are trying to achieve through the ride. The higher the intensity, the more carbohydrate you should eat. The lower the intensity, the less carbohydrate you should take in as your body is more able to use fat stores as fuels.
It’s a matter of fuelling for the work required. There is a place for fasted training and strategically riding without carbohydrate at times to improve performance, however when it comes to race day you want to ensure that you fuel optimally to get the best result possible on the day.
As a rough guide, your body can digest about 60g of carbohydrate an hour during exercise. That would be the optimal amount of carbohydrate to eat or drink on race day, but may not be necessary for everyday training and riding.
As a bare minimum for everyday riding, I advise riders to eat at least 30g of carbohydrate per hour to keep their blood sugar levels topped up. Start early and eat small amounts regularly rather than leaving it to the last minute when you start to lack energy, and it’s too late.
While this is a general guide, for specific nutrition advice tailored to your training and racing needs, consult a sports dietitian or performance nutritionist.
What does 30g of carbohydrate look like?
It doesn’t matter whether you prefer to get your nutrition from real food, gels or liquids. It comes down to your personal preferences for what you like best, what feels and tastes good and what you can manage to eat or drink regularly.
Here are a few examples of what 30g carbohydrate looks like:
• 1 English muffin (30g per muffin)
• 2 slices Soreen malt loaf (25g per 2 slices)
• 1 small banana (30g per average 150g banana)
• 2 medjool dates (approx. 18g per date)
• 1 Mission deli wrap (approx. 30g per wrap)
• 1 medium potato (30g per 150g potato)
• 2 Nakd bars (13-17g per bar)
• 1 Trek flapjack (21g per bar)
• 2/3 Clif bar (approx. 45g per bar)
• 1 SIS isotonic gel (approx. 22g per gel)
• 500ml SIS go electrolyte drink (36g per serve)
• 5 jelly babies (approx. 30g)
• 3 Clif Shot bloks (approx. 25g)
Any of the above will give you adequate energy to ride, although it would be advisable to find what works for you and stick to that – consistency is crucial, especially if you plan to race in the future.
Fluid requirements during long rides
Drinking regularly while you ride is essential to help prevent you from getting dehydrated, as this can reduce your power and concentration on the bike. You can drink to a plan with a few sips every 15 minutes for example, or drink to thirst. Electrolyte tablets can be a great addition to a water bottle to help you drink more, particularly if you don’t like drinking water or sweat quite a bit. Aim to drink about 500ml per hour of riding – more in high temperatures or if you sweat a lot.