Fuelling your body in the right way is essential to any endurance ride, and the fitter you become the more important it is to get right. So we asked our Le Col founder, Yanto Barker to lend us over twenty years of his experience on what to eat, and when.
WHY FUELLING RIGHT IS IMPORTANT
The stronger and fitter you are, the faster you'll burn through the fuel that you're putting into your body. And that means you're likely to run out of fuel faster, and feel it more acutely when you do.
If you're planning to ride for over 90 minutes, you should be looking to fuel yourself both before, during and after that, if you want to get the most out of it. Fuelling correctly will help you reap the benefits from your training - something which is called training ‘assimilation’, and is significantly effected by fuelling correctly. If you finish a hard workout and fuel correctly, then your body will be able to assimilate the benefits of that session. However if you fuel badly and run out of energy, or do not refuel after the ride you could potentially only reap half the benefit, or less, of that workout. That means, if you're not fuelling correctly - you may as well have just done half the ride!
There's also something to be said for the beneift that fuelling yourself well has on your immune system. Get it wrong and you might blow out on your ride and put it under unnecessary strain.
WHAT TO EAT, AND WHEN
On longer rides I used to fuel on solid food such as flapjack, or bananas as opposed to quick fixes like gels or energy drink (usually eaten because you've left it too late to start eating). The rationale for me was with solid food it takes longer to digest and extract the calories, so you need to think about eating earlier in a ride.
If you use a power meter for training you will be able to see a drop off in performance before you feel like you have blown, and most will have experienced suddenly feeling light headed or having slightly blurry vision - these are key signs you are low on energy. Luckily this is an easy problem to solve. By starting the day with foods with a low glycemic index like an oat porridge or muesli, and then fuelling throughout the ride, you are giving your body a head start. Also make sure you include a bit of protein in your breakfast for a optimal balance.
For those of you who race it is a good idea to discipline yourself to practice eating whilst riding, so that it becomes second nature and you know how your body will react to these foods.
EAT ACCORDING TO YOUR TRAINING SESSION
Fasted rides are often included into training as a great way to lose weight, improve your efficiency or utilise fat as an energy source. However these type of rides should be treated with caution. One of the main things you must remember on faster rides is to keep the intensity and duration low, if you don’t, you will deplete your limited glycogen stores and you will struggle to process fat as an energy source fast enough for what is required. This method shouldn't be used for anything other than a short spin, and only completed no more than twice a week but can be extremely successful if implemented properly.
GETTING IT WRONG
Having said all that, I have run out of energy and food many times on rides, mostly when I was younger, but it happened right into the back end of my career as well.
When I was a junior I used to go out on our Mid Devon club run with some really strong Elites and Pros, we had a good strong group. The only problem was I used to ride 30mins to meet them and then have to ride that same 30mins home after we finished, and it was almost always a tail wind to meet the guys and a head wind home on my own. I must have ‘blown’ almost every week for a whole winter of training and had to struggle back home. I'd always be wishing that I had taken more food with me, or more money to stop at a café or service station, but I was poor back then and rarely carried money, or a tube, or pump, or rain cape and it was before mobiles. In real emergencies I'd have to reverse the call charges to my mum!
Lastly on this, do not underestimate the importance of hydration on cold rides, just because you are not sweating does not mean you are not getting dehydrated. In the winter losing fluid is often linked to breathing, in the cold when you can see your breath, that is the moisture leaving your body with every breath. If you’re working out intensely you are losing significant amounts of moisture from the body each hour without sweating at all and this will effect performance and recovery.