Preparation is everything if you want to nail a long day in the saddle.
Your nutrition preparation is as important as pumping up your tyres and packing spare tubes. For any ride or race that lasts longer than 90 minutes, starting your ride hydrated and with optimally fuelled muscles is the simplest thing you can do to perform at your best. Not sure what to prepare exactly? Let’s take a ride…
First things first…
Before you start even thinking about your pre-ride nutrition, it’s important to make sure you are eating a nutrient-rich diet every day. Choose a variety of foods from the five food groups (fruit, veg, wholegrains, lean meats/proteins and dairy) and try to minimise the “extras” (alcohol, sweets and savoury snacks like chips or pastries). Think about making every mouthful count so you are getting the nutrients your body needs every day, in particular the carbs and protein you need to support your training and racing.
Carbohydrate is your body’s main source of fuel for training, so make sure you are eating foods containing carbs throughout the day. Eating enough carbohydrate is especially important around training sessions or if you are ramping up the volume of your training. If you’re a weekend warrior, your requirements are likely to be around 4-7g/kg/day; if you’re a day in, day out rider you’re looking at more than 8g/kg/day. Foods that contain carbs include rice, bread, pasta, fruit, starchy vegies, or cereals.
Your body can’t utilise large amounts of protein at once, so eating your weight in chicken in one meal won’t do you any favours. Instead, have smaller amounts of protein with every meal and snack throughout the day to maximise your recovery and adaptation to training. Protein foods include meat, beans and lentils, dairy and eggs.
Daily hydration is also really important as fluid acts as a lubricant for your body, helping it to function properly. Aim to drink at least 1.5-2L of fluid per day plus extra in training, especially during the warmer months.
Travelling for a ride?
If you are travelling for a ride, plan your meals for the day before - don’t rely on service station food. Instead, pack a sandwich and some fruit. Check the menus of restaurants in the area to make sure you can find something to suit you, and check that the hotel can do early breakfast, otherwise pack your own brekkie, too.
2-3 days before a big race
If you are taking off for a ride or race on the weekend that is likely to take more than two to three hours, you should start thinking about your nutrition two to three days beforehand. The traditional carb-loading regime where you deplete your stores of carbohydrate (glycogen) and then eat large amounts of carbohydrate has been debunked. However, it is important to make sure you are sticking with your regular eating patterns, ensuring you are including carbohydrates and tapering your training for the two to three days beforehand. The combination of taper and eating carbs in your meals will mean your muscle glycogen stores are full.
Note that if you’re just going for your weekly long ride, for most people, focusing on carbohydrate-rich meals for the day before should be enough to fill up your muscle fuel stores so you can pedal hard.
Good options include milk and cereal or eggs on toast for breakkie, a meat and salad sandwich for lunch and some meat or fish and vegies for dinner. Simple snack choices include low fat fruit smoothies, raisin toast, fruit salad and yoghurt or a small sandwich.
The night before
Make sure you have a meal that includes carbohydrates to top up your muscle fuel stores the night before your big ride. Choose lightly protein options like chicken or fish and reduce the fibre (go easy on the veg and the wholegrains here). Remember though, that you don’t need to overload – it’s best to stick with what you know. Good options could be simple chicken pasta, fish and mash or a stir fry with rice or noodles.
Keep sipping tonight, too. You want to be optimally hydrated in the 24 hours leading up to a ride, rather than trying to catch up the morning of (you’ll spend too much time in the loo!). A glass of wine or a beer won’t negatively affect your ride too much, and may even help you to sleep a little better, but a cup of hot chocolate will work just as well for most people, too.
On the day
Now, just because you’ve eaten well for the few days leading up to your big ride, doesn’t mean you stop there! The time since you ate dinner will mean that your liver stores of fuel will have been depleted so breakfast is crucial to top them up before you start. No matter how early it is, make sure you get up and eat something around one-and-a-half to two hours before you start. You want to choose something that is easily digested and contains both carbs and protein. Including protein will lead to a slower release of energy, rather than a spike and a crash which can see you hitting the wall during your ride. Have another drink this morning after breakfast – aim to drink around 500ml of water, electrolytes or sports drink while you’re filling your bottles and packing your gear.
Good options that have a balance of proteins and carbohydrates include cereal and milk, toast with peanut butter, liquid meal drinks or even a toasted sandwich if you can stomach it.
Words: Zoe Wilson Photos: Matt Staggs