Tips for fuelling your sportive

If you have a sportive coming up, getting your nutrition right is a vital ingredient. Follow these top tips from the OTE Team to help fuel your ride

by Annie Simpson   May 28, 2014  

Mat drinking 2

Whether you’re tackling a sportive for the first time or returning to an event to chase a new personal best, one thing that will be hugely beneficial in helping you achieve your goal is planning your nutritional strategy. And it doesn’t even have to be a sportive – the same advice applies to any long ride.

Nobody wants to be stranded in no man’s land mid-sportive in one of those cycling clichés of ‘hitting the wall’ or getting the dreaded ‘bonk’. But stopping at every available feed station and filling your pockets and stomach with anything and everything on offer won’t benefit you either. Therefore, spending a small amount of time planning and thinking about your nutritional strategy will give you a confidence boost; you’ll know that your performance will not be compromised by your nutrition on the day. 

Follow these tips for pre-event preparation, and nutrition and hydration on the day…

 

On the day: before the event

First things first, always start your day with a good high-carbohydrate meal. In most cases, with sportives starting in the morning, this will be breakfast – and be prepared for an early meal, depending on the start time of your event.

• Avoid high fat foods that may lie heavy on your stomach.

• Try to consume the meal 2-3 hours before you ride to allow the food to digest (although this may not always be feasible). The closer to the event you eat, the smaller the snack should be. For example; if you are within 90 minutes of the start, opt for a large banana, energy bar and/or an energy drink that will provide a good source of carbohydrate to set you on your way.


On the day: fuelling during the event

Your body will use a combination of fat and carbohydrate to fuel your ride. The harder you work, the more carbohydrate you will use. The body’s carbohydrate stores are limited and can be rapidly depleted so it is very important to keep your carbohydrate stores topped up for the duration of the event. Without available carbohydrate your body will depend more on fat as a fuel. You may think that burning fat sounds great but to do this your body needs a lot more oxygen and in response to this your pace will slow. That’s not ideal if you want to achieve a fast time or a new PB.

The general rule for carbohydrate intake during an endurance event is that you need to supplement 1g of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight per hour of exercise (1g/kg/h), this will help you sustain your energy levels when riding at a brisk pace.

A 70kg athlete, for example, could consume one of the following per hour:

• 500ml of energy drink and a medium banana

• A medium slice of flapjack and an energy gel

• A small jam sandwich and 2 cereal bars

Using sport nutrition products is not essential. In ultra-endurance sportives it may be worth keeping the use of gels and caffeine gels in reserve for the closing stages of the event.

 

On the day: hydration

Did you know that as little as a 2% loss of body water could cause a significant decline in your performance? As you ride you are constantly losing water, predominantly through sweating. This needs to be replenished. There are some very good general principles to follow, but there are a number of variables to bear in mind, and these can change.

• Think about climate, the intensity you ride at and also the duration of the event. They can all play a huge part in not only how you maintain hydration levels but also fuelling.

• On hot days sweat rates will increase so fluid intake needs to be increased accordingly. Also note that sweat rates can also be as high in cold weather, especially when you put extra layers or non breathable garments on.

• As a rule of thumb aim to drink around 500ml per hour of riding. Adjust this upwards if you notice your sweat rates are high or if it is significantly warmer.

• Having plain old tap water maybe fine for 1-2 hours of riding but for long, gruelling sportives it is important to replenish your electrolytes; the salts lost as part of your sweat. This is where the use of energy drinks really comes into play. Not only can you use their carbohydrate content as part of your fuelling strategy, but you are also ticking the hydration box and topping up your electrolytes stores at the same time.

 

• Have a look at the course map beforehand to check out where the feed zones are in relation to the challenging parts of the course. If you can avoid it, you don’t want to be filling your bottles up when you have a huge climb around the corner.


Training for the event and recovering afterwards

Of course, whether it is your first sportive, or you are looking for a new PB, your focus is on the event itself – but remember that nutrition and fuelling whilst you ride is not only important during the sportive itself, but also during your training for the big day.

• During training you should take a similar approach to what you are planning to do during the event itself.

• One major thing to remember during training is nutrition for recovery. Not only is this very important in helping your body adapt and improve from the training you have done, it will also help you speed your recovery ready for the next session.

• It’s important to kickstart the refuelling process within 30 minutes of the end of your ride. This is known as the ‘window of opportunity’ for optimum recovery. 

• After training or the event itself, especially if it is a multi-stage event, aim to consume a snack or meal that is high in protein to aid muscle repair, and rich in carbohydrate to refuel your body’s glycogen stores.

• Sports recovery drinks are convenient and formulated to give you the right amount of protein, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals.

• If you prefer to eat, try and consume a snack that is rich in protein and carbohydrate, for example a chicken sandwich, eggs on toast or low fat chocolate milk.

• Check out our Top 5 Tips For Optimal Recovery.

This information should be used as a guide to help you devise a strategy that works best for you in fuelling, hydrating and recovering from training and any sportive or endurance event you are undertaking. Nutrition is a very individual thing,and no two people are exactly alike in their requirements, so we can only provide you with a guide. It is always best to trial any fuelling or hydrating strategies in training before the big event, that way you can find foods that work for you.

For more information, or should you have any specific questions, please contact the OTE team: email thebunker@otesports.co.uk or check our blogs.

OTE Sports are the Official Sports Nutrition Partner to Belkin Pro Cycling Team.

25 user comments

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it is important to replenish your electrolytes; the salts lost as part of your sweat. This is where the use of energy drinks really comes into play.

Or alternatively, opt out of paying ridiculously exorbitant prices for over-marketed staple salts & sugars that are available at 1/10th the price in bulk at super-markets, and just put some reduced-sodium salt (e.g. "LoSalt") into your drinks, maybe along with some sodium bicarbonate and honey.

A pinch of LoSalt (66% potassium, 33% sodium salts), a teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate, 1 to 3 tsps of honey and 1 to 2 shots of fruit concentrate in a large drinks bottle works really well for me. (FWIW, I sweat a lot, and usually encrusted in salt when I dry out).

posted by Paul J [558 posts]
28th May 2014 - 14:59

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Ssssshhhh Paul. The Secret Ingredient Service will hunt you down.

Silly me. You're probably right....

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posted by MercuryOne [1031 posts]
28th May 2014 - 16:57

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The DIY route is great, but only in the 2 you fill at home, in the grand scale of things, electrolyte tabs are cheap, convenient and you can find one to your taste that will be consistent

All Campag

posted by Flying Scot [458 posts]
28th May 2014 - 17:47

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If you're going on longer rides where you might need to refill, then you can easily bring salt/sodium bicarb mix with you in a suitable container. E.g. I've used a small, plastic, pill bottle in the past. Though, then you may wish to get maltodextrin powder to add in - honey obviously won't work, and ordinary sugar isn't easy to digest. Also, then, you won't be adding fruit concentrate, and you may wish to add some citric acid powder (bigger and asian supermarkets often sell this) (you want about ¾ tsp citric acid to 1 tsp sodium bicarb).

If you really do prefer to buy something pre-packaged, you could also just get some di-oralyte sachets from a pharmacy. Not as cheap, but still usually a little bit cheaper than these energy drink powders.

If you really do want to be absolutely fleeced, then sure, go ahead and pay 10x+ the price for very basic ingredients and buy these sports energy drink powders.

posted by Paul J [558 posts]
28th May 2014 - 18:06

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Or mix one bottle to 3 or 4 times concentration and use that to top up your main bottle when you refill.

posted by VeNT [36 posts]
28th May 2014 - 18:31

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And enjoy the grilling you get when you buy the citric acid... As I did when making elderflower champagne. Apparently heroin users buy it to cut drugs with!

posted by barbarus [11 posts]
28th May 2014 - 19:37

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I should say it was just electrolyte I was referring too with the wee tabs, not energy powder mix, I don't use the latter.

All Campag

posted by Flying Scot [458 posts]
28th May 2014 - 19:49

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Load up on ham sarnies from the start, preferably in rolled flatbread form, then onto the bars/flapjacks and bananas, only gels if absolutely necessary. caffeine gels, coffee, coke etc are only any good if your body is not used to the caffeine, so if you want that boost, do stay off the stuff for a week before, then it'll be like rocket fuel. (Works for me any way).

posted by CarbonBreaker [76 posts]
28th May 2014 - 19:56

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Ham & egg butties, potato cakes, flapjacks, jelly babies and in dire straits a gel. Sorted.

posted by arfa [445 posts]
28th May 2014 - 20:19

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Home made sports drink works for me a pinch of salt good squirt of honey and some orange squash. I've not tried the bicarb what does that do?

As for carbs malt loaf is the fuel of choice for me it keeps you going big time, not forgetting bannas the potassium provides a boost that works amazingly well.

I've experimented with shop bought stuff but it's expensive, doesn't taste great and works no better than the stuff I've described above.

Finally y'just carn't beat chocolate and the co-op do a brilliant flapjack with chocolate.

This stuff has got me round the Fred Whitton in 7:38.

Endorphines going up and adrenaline going down, who needs drugs?

posted by banzicyclist2 [186 posts]
28th May 2014 - 21:14

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Oh dear. It's the same old junk food comments like gels, jam and fried eggs. That's why fit cyclists drop dead with heart attacks. You do not get carte Blanche to eat junk. The best advice on thisarticle is the bananas. The water bit is OK but others have noted the electrolyte controversy. Other than that, make yourself cereal mixes or bars and eat good healthy meals to get the carbs in.

posted by a.jumper [681 posts]
28th May 2014 - 21:18

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Hmmmm so a sports energy company is suggesting we use sports energy products! Surprise! I'll take it with a pinch of salt.

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posted by Comrade [134 posts]
28th May 2014 - 21:56

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Where can I get a decal with my name and Union Jack on it? I am that good.

Between the S and the LOW

bikeboy76's picture

posted by bikeboy76 [1186 posts]
29th May 2014 - 0:04

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a.jumper wrote:
Oh dear. It's the same old junk food comments like gels, jam and fried eggs. That's why fit cyclists drop dead with heart attacks.

Fried eggs are not junk food. There's nothing unhealthy about natural fat and eggs provided you exercise enough to use the energy they provide. Any food in moderation is fine.

And fit cyclists tend not to have heart attacks, certainly not on the same scale as obese, inactive people.

posted by Peowpeowpeowlasers [59 posts]
29th May 2014 - 0:09

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Eggs contain all the essential amino acids; coffee with a raw egg in it and GO

Charlie Horse

posted by ch [99 posts]
29th May 2014 - 4:37

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bikeboy76 wrote:
Where can I get a decal with my name and Union Jack on it? I am that good.

http://www.namesonframes.co.uk/shop.html

I have no affiliation with this company

posted by wellcoordinated [69 posts]
29th May 2014 - 7:30

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bikeboy76 wrote:
Where can I get a decal with my name and Union Jack on it? I am that good.

road.cc reviewed these a while back, and they even do a road.cc logo.

http://flandriabikes.com/shop?page=shop.browse&category_id=6

neildmoss's picture

posted by neildmoss [176 posts]
29th May 2014 - 7:52

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Or if Sir Bradley Wiggins is your name...... " I did 7½ hours on the bike that day in Majorca. I had no breakfast, and didn’t eat anything on the bike all day "

onward ever onward

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posted by bikecellar [224 posts]
29th May 2014 - 8:03

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Peowpeowpeowlasers wrote:
a.jumper wrote:
Oh dear. It's the same old junk food comments like gels, jam and fried eggs. That's why fit cyclists drop dead with heart attacks.

Fried eggs are not junk food. There's nothing unhealthy about natural fat and eggs provided you exercise enough to use the energy they provide. Any food in moderation is fine.

And fit cyclists tend not to have heart attacks, certainly not on the same scale as obese, inactive people.

No, but being fit and active is not an excuse to pig out on Caramacs and Yorkies.

Bananas are tasty, cheap, come in their own yellow jersey and - crucially - are the most aero fruit of all. However, rumours that Team Sky are wind-tunnel testing genetically-enhanced straight bananas are as yet unconfirmed.

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posted by Ghedebrav [1022 posts]
29th May 2014 - 8:41

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Home made sports drinks work too, it is all a matter of preference & convenience when it comes to fuelling for Sportives.

In terms of Bicarb- The research isn't 100% clear on its mechanism but it is most widely believed that it acts as a buffer to reduce the acidity in the blood that builds up during intense exercise. It does however a number of rather unpleasant side-effects linked to its usage, mostly stomach upset, so it is probably not something to try for the first time in a sportive if not tried in training first.

Hope that helps, and well done regarding Fred Whitton- that event is savage!

posted by Annie Simpson [16 posts]
29th May 2014 - 11:00

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Peowpeowpeowlasers wrote:
Fried eggs are not junk food. There's nothing unhealthy about natural fat and eggs provided you exercise enough to use the energy they provide. Any food in moderation is fine.

And fit cyclists tend not to have heart attacks, certainly not on the same scale as obese, inactive people.


Yes, I agree that obesity is worse, but a distressing number of "fit" endurance riders have heart attacks. You must not get too much energy from fat or refined sugar, as far as we can tell from research so far. Poached or boiled eggs will usually beat fried.

posted by a.jumper [681 posts]
29th May 2014 - 14:41

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Some sensible advice here although more and more research is coming out to indicate that energy drinks actually contribute to dehydration, ironically, so I now prefer to stick with electro tabs and get my kcals from solid food.

Also, that 1g carbs per kg per hour ratio is on the high side, depending on intensity. A lot of people find that something between 40-60g is the maximum carbs their body can absorb every hour without feeling nauseous. So it's worth experimenting.

posted by Yennings [205 posts]
29th May 2014 - 16:21

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Yennings: Yeah, high sugars content can make energy drinks hard to stomach. Some suggestion even that at quite high concentrations they can even *extract* liquid from your blood stream into your intestines (presumably to be re-absorbed again, but later, once the carbohydrate has finally been digested - or you'd end up with bad diarrhoea).

The sickly high sugar content of energy drinks is what made me go mix my own.

posted by Paul J [558 posts]
29th May 2014 - 16:44

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Sodium bicarbonate or sodium citrate is found in a lot of energy drinks. It's alkaline/basic (though sodium citrate only weakly so), possibly may act as a buffer against acidic by-products of metabolism. A range of studies suggest this has a small but significant positive effect on performance.

Though, the amounts used in studies are usually a good bit higher than the teaspoon I suggest. Too much sodium bicarbonate can cause heart arrhythmias, so be careful.

Sodium citrate is produced if sodium bicarbonate reacts with citric acid. E.g., if you add fruit juice or concentrate to your drinks bottle with sodium bicarbonate.

posted by Paul J [558 posts]
30th May 2014 - 17:54

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Honey is like a magic food for me. A good quality one (like the stuff I brought back from Crete) works best, although any reasonble one works well.

A spoon full before setting off on an evening ride works wonders.

A pinch of salt in your water bottle is a good idea too. No need to buy sports drinks with all those weird chemical ingredients, best avoid all that shit!

Ride food, Bananas of course, malt loaf, flap jack and a few nuts, dates and dried fruit all work for me on longer rides.

Endorphines going up and adrenaline going down, who needs drugs?

posted by banzicyclist2 [186 posts]
22nd July 2014 - 22:48

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