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Fuelling for epic rides — how to get the right food to keep your energy levels up and avoid the dreaded bonk

For sportives and other long rides getting your nutrition right is vital. Follow these top tips from the OTE Team to help fuel your ride

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 [at] or check our blogs.

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

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