Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Endurance Cycling - what to do

So you've done the training and your nutrition leading up to the start line was dialed in. That can all go out the window if your on-bike nutrition plan isn't solid. Your body has enough stored carbohydrate to a few hours but after that you will run out of gas if you aren't feeding on the bike.

You want your eating and drinking during an event to be habit that has been worked out in training so you don't even have to think about it. That's because some time during the event you become a bit dumb. You don't want to have your performance crash and burn because you forgot to eat and drink.

On the bike nutrition is broken into 4 areas: Hydration, Energy and Electrolytes.

Hydration is just fluid. You can drink water, energy drink or water with electrolytes. Energy is food, gels or energy drink. Electrolytes are minerals such as sodium and magnesium that are needed for muscular contraction and fluid balance within the body.

If you are new to endurance cycling all of this will seem complicated but the simple rule to follow is that you want to consume a large bike bottle per hour of fluid and take in 200-300 calories per hour mainly from carbohydrates.


The amount of fluid you need can vary depending on the heat but a large bottle(750ml) per hour is a good starting point. The hotter it is the more you will need to drink. To fine tune your fluid requirements, weigh yourself before a long training ride and weigh yourself after. Add in the amount of fluid you drank during the ride and divide this by the number of hours of the ride. This way you will know how much fluid you sweat out per hour. Pay close attention as a 2 % weight loss due to dehydration will decrease power output by 10% or more. And of course severe dehydration is even more dangerous possibly leading to heat stroke.


Your body can only store so much energy in the form of carbohydrate. A well trained rider that weighs 160 lb will have about 1800-2000 calories of carbohydrate in the body between the muscles, the liver and blood stream. During a fast century ride that rider will burn 600-750 per hour. This means they are good for 2-3 hours before bonking if carbohydrates aren't ingested during the ride. By taking in 200-300 calories per hour you push out the time before the body runs out of fuel. I recommend starting with 100 calories per 60 lb of body weight and experiment from there. Over time you can train your body to absorb more calories while exercising but it takes time like any training. If you start taking in calories in the first 15 minutes of the ride and keep on it you will dramatically increase endurance just by providing energy. To absorb this many calories while exercising takes practice. You need to train your system to absorb food while exercising just as you have to train your legs.

My own approach to long events is to go all fluid in the form of energy drinks and gels. I find it hard to chew and breathe so the liquid lunch on the bike works well for me. I use Hammer Nutrition HEED, Perpeteum and Hammer Gels as they work better than any other products I've tested. Part of the appeal is they are easy on the stomach but I also find the taste better which helps when you are taking this stuff down hour after hour.

You can experiment with solid foods like bananas, oat meal squares, fig newtons and even peanut butter sandwiches. There are a ton of drinks, bars and gels on the market but make sure you test it out in training before going into an event. What ever you do, make sure you have it down as a system, knowing how much you need to take in per hour to give you the calories you need.


Electrolytes are minerals that regulate body functions. Getting low in electrolytes can lead to muscle cramps, poor heat regulation and weakness. They get sweated out when exercising so you need to pay attention to replenishing them during long rides. While any of the food and drinks (other than straight water) you take in will have some electrolytes, I recommend adding extra to your water bottles. I use the Hammer Nutrition Enduralytes as they are a full spectrum electrolyte supplement. You can get them in capsules or powder form. The capsules are great because you can break them apart to put in water bottles as well as carry some extras in a baggy in case of cramping. If you get muscle cramps, taking 2-3 capsules will make them go away within a few minutes.

Drinking straight water dilutes the electolytes in the body which in extreme cases can lead to death. This condition is known as hyponatremia, is a severe case of electrolyte depletion leading to heart failure. If skeletal muscles can cramp due to electrolyte imbalance, so can the heart which is a muscle too. Make sure you have electrolytes in your energy drink and gels as well.


Here's where you are looking for an edge. Caffeine has been shown to increase endurance if you aren't a regular coffee drinker. 50 mg per hour is a good starting point. There are gels with caffeine as well as tablets available. The thing to watch is that it can be hard on your stomach. Make sure you try it in training.


Make sure you get 200-300 calories per hour and 750-1000 ml of fluid. If you are using energy drink make sure you calculate those calories. Supplement Electrolytes as needed depending on the heat. Following these guidelines will help you do better at longer endurance events.

It's in you to become a better cyclist. Helping you get there is my goal. Equipment, riding skills, fitness and nutrition all have to be dialed in to reach your potential. To take your next step on that journey visit http://www.cyclecambridge.com

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