May-June 2001 Newsletter
Eating for 200 Miles
by Susan I. Barr, PhD, RDN
Whether youíre going for a P.R. (personal record) or prefer to smell the
roses, nutritional factors will be major determinants of how successfully
you meet your goals for a double century.
Susan Barr, is on the faculty of University of British Columbia in
nutrition. A veteran of PAC Tour and Pacific Crest Tour, she is training
with a team of women for the Furnace Creek 508 in 2000.
Optimizing your performance from the nutrition perspective involves a
three-pronged approach: 1) glycogen super-compensation (carbohydrate
loading) the week before the event; 2) eating a meal the morning of the
event; and 3) consuming foods and fluids during the event itself. Hereís
a countdown to help your preparation.
Months in advance
Contact the event organizers and find out what foods and beverages (if
any) will be provided at checkpoints. If you havenít used the sports drink
thatís being provided, start using it in your training rides. Eating and
drinking while riding moderately hard are learned behaviors and need to be
practiced. You also need to learn what you tolerate best on long rides.
Determine the rates of fluid and carbohydrate intake youíll need to
maintain during the ride (see below), and aim for these intakes during
training rides. If you have trouble remembering to eat and drink at regular
intervals, set your watch to go off every 15-20 minutes. Although it may
infuriate your training partners, it will help you learn to take in fluids
and energy regularly.
The week before
Glycogen supercompensation, or carbohydrate loading, helps prolong endurance
in events lasting over two hours. Estimates are that it can move the wall
about 20% farther down the road. Clearly, it wonít see you through a double,
but it provides a good foundation for the two other strategies. To
effectively carbo-load, taper your training during the week before the event,
ending with either a rest day or an easy spin. This will allow dietary
carbohydrate to be stored as muscle glycogen rather than being used as a
fuel for cycling. In conjunction with backing off the mileage, you need to
increase carbohydrate intake for the last 3-4 days of the week ó aim for
8-10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight. Youíll know things are
working if you gain some weight. Each gram of glycogen is stored with 3
grams of water, so filling glycogen stores with an additional 300-500 grams
should lead to a weight gain of up to 2 kg. Donít worry ó most of this
additional weight is water, and will actually be helpful during the ride.
A few days before
Optimal hydration is critical to endurance performance and canít be
accomplished by drinking large amounts of fluid the morning of the event.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends increasing fluid above
usual levels for at least 24 hours before an event. Aim for 2-3 water
bottles of fluid on top of your normal intake. If you use caffeinated
beverages, drink at least an equal volume of a non-caffeinated beverage
for each cup of caffeine.
The morning of the ride
During an overnight fast, liver glycogen is used to maintain blood glucose
levels. If liver glycogen isnít restored (by eating) before starting to
ride, hypoglycemia can develop and will contribute to premature exhaustion.
General guidelines for pre-event meals include the following:
- Use foods that are familiar and that you know youíll tolerate. Liquid
meal replacement beverages may be useful for those who donít tolerate solid
- The meal should be relatively low in fat so that stomach emptying isnít
- It should provide carbohydrate (about 50 grams for each hour before the
ride that the meal is eaten ó so 100 grams for a meal 2 hours before, or 150
grams for a meal 3 hours before). As an example, eating a banana and a large
bagel with jam will provide close to 100 grams of carbohydrate. Having a meal
will mean getting up early... but itís worth it in terms of helping
performance. Also, note that this guideline is intended to allow enough time
for the food to leave the stomach, so you wonít start the ride feeling overly
full. If youíre not planning to ride hard, meals can be eaten in closer
proximity to the start.
- It should provide fluid. The American College of Sports Medicine
recommends drinking 500 ml (about a water bottle) two hours before starting.
This will allow enough time to excrete any excess fluid. If you canít survive
without coffee, by all means have some ó but be sure to include a
non-caffeinated source of fluid as well.
During the ride
Begin to take in fluid and energy immediately. If you allow a deficit to
develop, itís almost impossible to recover. You know the drill... ďEat before
youíre hungry; drink before youíre thirsty.Ē How much fluid? Ideally, fluid
intake should match sweat losses. (This should be assessed before the ride
by weighing yourself nude before and after a 2-3 hour training ride. The
difference, to which you add the weight of any fluids consumed, represents
your total sweat loss. Divide by the length of your training ride to obtain
an hourly rate.) How much energy? You need a minimum of 0.6 grams of
carbohydrate per kilogram body weight per hour, or 0.3 grams per pound of
body weight (30-60 grams per hour for most people). This wonít meet your
energy needs completely, but thatís not a serious issue for a 1-day event.
It will help sustain performance. What form of energy? Solids (real food or
energy bars), liquids and gels all work, so itís your choice. If it tastes
good to you, chances are that youíll use it on a more regular basis. Some
cyclists find solids are difficult to eat while riding moderately hard, and
sport drinks containing 6-8% carbohydrate have the advantage of meeting
fluid and energy needs at the same time. A standard water bottle of sport
drink provides about 37-50 grams and a large bottle about 45-60 grams. But
after 8-10 hours, sports drinks may no longer be appealing, so getting some
variety throughout the ride is advisable. Checkpoints are a good time to
take in some solid food, if you plan to stop at them. Have fun! (and donít
Copyright ©1998 UltraMarathon Cycling Association. Reprinted with
permission from UltraCycling magazine. For more information visit
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