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What to eat at an endurance gravel event — Dirty Reiver 2023

Suvi tackles the 200km gravel event with an expert fuel plan

Fueling for a multi-hour endurance gravel event is not an easy task. You need to ensure you have enough energy to complete the ride but because you’re off-road, you also face added elements contributing to the difficulty of eating and drinking while riding. 

In order to learn how to do it, I asked endurance nutrition brand Styrkr to help me develop a battle plan for one of the UK’s largest gravel events, the Dirty Reiver. The event takes place in Kielder Forest every year and offers three challenging route options: 60, 130 and 200km. 

Having done the 200km route last year, I signed up for the event again with the hopes of doing the same distance but completing it faster and feeling a little better throughout the ride. Last year, the lack of a proper nutrition plan was a real pitfall of mine, especially towards the end of the ride when I felt completely depleted and had to have frequent stops just to gather energy for the next hill. 

Without further reminiscing about my near-tear feelings from last year, let’s see how things went this time around. 

Step 1: Creating the fueling plan

2023 Styrkr video box

The first step of the process of becoming an expert in fueling myself was to create a fueling plan. I set up a call to get some expert help with this from Styrkr's Head of Sports Nutrition & Innovation, Leon Veal. Because as much as I can claim to be a semi-expert in eating lots, I think there’s always a lot more to learn about what I should be munching. 

“It is a multi-faceted thing, and not one size fits all,” Leon started with, and from there we got to the basics of on-the-bike nutrition. 

As a general rule, Leon recommends aiming for 30 to 90 grams of carbs per hour. You could go even higher but that is for intense efforts and you might struggle to make your gut absorb the amount of carbs (more on that later). 

Next, we talked about where to get the carbs from. Instead of figuring out how many carbs I could get from a banana or a handful of Haribos, products like Styrkr gels, drink mixes and bars help you easily figure out your carb intake. 

For example, each of the BAR50 rice bars gives you 50 grams of carbs, and the GEL30 Dual-Carb gels boost you with 30g of carbs. The carbohydrates in these products consist of two types - meaning that you get an optimal amount of maltodextrin and fructose. Mixing the two types of carbs in a special ratio allows you to have more - and that is what you want at an event. 

2023 Styrkr video drinking

Together with Leon, I created a plan for the ride I planned to complete in about 9 hours, and we then talked through the products I should be taking with me. To start off with, we used Styrkr’s online Fuel Tool which allows you to create a plan easily with a couple of clicks. 

The plan suggested I aim for about 60 grams of carbs per hour from the Styrkr products and support my energy intake with the normal food available at the Dirty Reiver feed stops. I was happy with that, so the only thing that remained was to get familiar with the products. 

Step 2: preparation and training the gut

2023 Styrkr video bar

As Leon highlighted, nutrition is very personal and what works for one doesn’t necessarily suit others. The Fuel Tool plan was a great ballpark to get started in thinking about which products I should be having and timing my intake of them right. 

In the weeks leading up to the Dirty Reiver, I was testing out the Styrkr BAR50 rice bars, GEL30 Dual-Carb gels and DRINK90 carb drink mixes on my training rides. This was recommended by Leon not only to figure out if I had any preferences in the flavours but also to make sure my tummy got used to the number of carbs I wanted to take in. Even on my shorter rides, I was using the quad-blend electrolyte products, the SLT 05 and SLT 07, to get familiar with how exactly to perfect my performance. 

I almost always ride with a cycling computer, and with the help of “eat” alerts every half an hour, I also tried my best to learn to eat and drink at regular intervals. 

2023 Styrkr video gel

On a long bike ride like the Reiver, it’s very easy to get bored of eating, especially if the products you have with you aren’t something you actually enjoy. The Styrkr gels and drink mix both have no real ‘flavour’ to them, which made them very easy to consume. From the rice bars, my initial favourite flavour was the Apple Cinnamon, but when I packed for the event, I wanted to have all the flavours with me because I ended up liking them all - and I quite like having different flavours on long rides. 

You can see in the video exactly what products I packed with me, and also my setup in terms of storing my nutrition. At events like the Dirty Reiver you do get support from the organisers, which was handy as I didn’t have to carry all of my nutrition with me for the whole 200km. But let’s get to the actual event… and the aftermath of it. 

Step 3: executing the plan and analysing the results

2023 Styrkr video feedstop

Well, let’s start by saying that this year, I didn’t bonk, nor did I have any stomach issues or felt hungry or weak throughout the 200km route. I relied on the GEL30’s for most of the ride, and saved the BAR50’s for the very few flat sections. Compared to last year, I think the biggest difference in my performance came from my bottles. I had plenty of electrolytes (a blend of the SLT 05 and 07) and ensured that I was always sipping carbs from my drink. 

The Reiver was by no means an easy day out on the bike. I knew the course to be brutal with lots of elevation, but the rainy and very dirty conditions made the ride a lot harder mentally than it was last year. However, I think the fueling plan helped me in this aspect as well: it was something to focus on when the ride itself seemed to drag on. The half hour-ly “eat” notifications kept me pushing on, and having a piece of the Chocolate Chip BAR50 felt like a treat when my legs were aching. 

My aim was to improve my time from last year and overall, to finish feeling stronger, and it’s exactly what I did. My time wasn’t the fastest on the course - it got me a third in my age category, though - but I felt heaps better at the finish line than I ever have before after a 200km ride. 

This year’s Dirty Reiver only confirmed that fueling on long rides is always a challenge, but even more so on gravel where things are rattly, everything is covered in dirt and you have a lot more obstacles to focus on than on the road. Fitness is one aspect of doing well, but after this year I really realised that the right fueling is perhaps even more important. Training the gut to get familiar with the products you’re about to have at an event is something that I have - as so many others do - ignored, and this year I noticed the difference it makes. 

The Styrkr products made it super easy for me to keep track of my carb intake, and with the well-thought-active ingredients and carb ratios, I have no doubt saying that I performed miles better than I would’ve on Haribos and crisps alone. 

If you wish to test out the Styrkr products yourself, head over to their website

Suvi joined F-At in 2022, first writing for She's since joined the tech hub, and contributes to all of the sites covering tech news, features, reviews and women's cycling content. Lover of long-distance cycling, Suvi is easily convinced to join any rides and events that cover over 100km, and ideally, plenty of cake and coffee stops. 

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