First, and foremost, before you even consider an ‘energy’ product, make sure your daily diet is as good as it can be; a good balance of carbs, protein and fat with lots of fresh fruit and veg and water, water, water. If you are unsure, consider a review with a clinical consulting nutritionist.
With the day to day basics covered we can then start to balance the energy requirements needed for training for any multi-stage event. There are two issues to be addressed:
The body has a limited capacity to process carbohydrate during exercise and it is advised to feed from the start and to feed equally throughout the ride. A rough calculation for Zone 3 ‘quality endurance’ rides is that we need to ingest between 60 to 80g of fuel per hour (in essence 1g of fuel per hour per 1kg of body weight).
A wide variety of products can be used to satisfy these energy needs and a combination of drinks, gels and bars should help alleviate the repetitiveness of the same taste and textures.
A favourite combination of the Ride Captains is:
Totalling around 72g-82g of carbohydrate & protein.
This is what you need to consume per hour, every hour!
It may seem easy, but to take on this amount of fuel an hour, EVERY hour, takes a lot of practice. Start working on it now and really focus on hitting the targets. Lighter athletes will need slightly less than 60g per hour, guys weighing in at 80 kg plus will probably need more, tweak the totals and find out what works for you.
Having mastered the hour-to-hour on the road fuelling, the next step is to reflect on the additional considerations required for a 3-day endurance event.
It is possible to recover a substantial energy debt if the body is left to replenish stocks the next day, but on a multi-stage event this luxury is not an option; riders must “eat today to ride again tomorrow”. Given that it is already a pretty big task to consume the required 60-80g, not just for one hour, but every hour of the ride, it is highly likely there will be a big hole to be filled in the immediate aftermath of the ride.
A rough, back-of-an envelope calculation, illustrates just how large this deficit could be; a G1/G2 rider pushing out 3.75w/kg and taking 5 ½ hours to complete a 170K stage will burn around 5,600 kcal over the day. In that period, if sticking religiously to the feeding plan they will consume around 1800 kcal. Result: ‘overdrawn’ by 3800 kcals.
Even a G5/G6 rider, who will be pushing less power but taking longer to cover the stage, will end the day with around 3000 calories to make up as realistically even the most committed ‘feeder’ will find it nigh-on impossible to fuel properly for upwards of 7 hours. Obviously, breakfast, lunch and dinner will go a long way to repaying the ‘energy debt’ and it should be remembered that a healthy balanced diet is the first building block of any nutrition strategy. Nevertheless, it is prudent to assume that an additional 1000 kcals need to be consumed post ride.
Sports recovery products are formulated specifically to fulfil this need. Not only do they have the correct balance of carbs and protein but they are also immediately available in the crucial 30-minute window post exercise when the muscles are at their most receptive to replenishing glycogen. It is important to have protein as this acts as a doorman allowing carbohydrate to enter and produces a more stable insulin response. Protein also provides the amino acids necessary to rebuild and repair muscle damage, an essential element of the recovery process. However, too much protein can be counter-productive and can restrict both rehydration and glycogen storage. Rather than playing hit-and-miss, get it right with the following ‘Recover and Rebuild strategy’
and for particularly arduous events such as London to Paris, you should also consume
Totting this up, the recovery amounts to around 900 kcals, just enough to ensure the wheels don’t come off tomorrow. The recovery products may appear quite daunting at first, but when supplemented with normal foods it will become more manageable and a better balance can be reached.
“When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” – Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1746
Water is needed to maintain blood volume, to allow the efficient transportation of nutrients and oxygen to tissues, and to regulate core body temperature by perspiration. Dehydration will lead to a reduction in blood volume, causing decreased skin blood flow, decreased sweat rate, decreased heat dissipation, increased core temperature and an increased rate of muscle glycogen use. This will leave you feeling nauseous, irritable, overly fatigued, with headaches and possible muscle cramps.
Exercise performance becomes impaired with just a 2% loss of body weight. Past 3% there is a significant drop off, and losses in excess of 5% of body weight can decrease the capacity for work by about 30%.
For a 75 kg athlete, 2% loss of body weight equates to 1.5 litres. Given that sweat loss can measure over 1 litre in a one-hour training session, it’s easy to see the importance of hydration, before, during and after exercise, for endurance athletes. A simple sweat test of weighing yourself before and after a one-hour workout (without drinking during) will give an approximation of your fluid loss – each 1 g of weight loss equates to 1 ml of fluid.
Not all the lost fluid needs to be replaced, however, and there is as much danger from over-hydrating (hyponatremia) as there is from dehydration – both have serious, potentially fatal consequences at the extreme. Thirst will indicate whether more or less fluid is required. Work on a principle of 75% replacement and you should get it right.
Weather conditions will clearly play a part, but assuming a loss of fluid equating to 1% of body weight, a 60 kg athlete will need to drink 450ml per hour, while heavier athletes nudging 80-90 kg will need 600ml plus. This will increase significantly in hotter climates but a bottle an hour is a good general guideline.
Having established the need for hydration, the most obvious fluid replacement is water. A rough rule of thumb of 8 glasses (equivalent to 2 litres) of water a day is a good starting point although highly trained athletes should look to consume around 3 litres of water a day, plus whatever is required during training. This should be taken little and often throughout the day. Start the day with a cup of boiled water and a slice of lemon. Drink thereafter from a water bottle to measure daily intake and get a feel for the volumes required. Make sure that at least 500 ml is sipped in the hour or two before your workout, this should ensure that you are well hydrated before you start exercise and your body has time to get rid of the fluid it doesn’t need.
Whilst water may be an adequate choice for hydration, rarely will it be enough. A whole host of electrolytes are lost during the sweating process, sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium being the main four. Of these, sodium is the key as it is essential in moving water around and maintaining fluid levels in the body. To maintain a healthy balance of sodium, and other essential nutrients, a hypotonic drink mix should ensure maximum absorption of electrolytes.
Ride Captains will mostly start with 2 bottles of a hypertonic electrolyte mix, switching thereafter to 1 bottle of hypertonic electrolyte mix and 1 bottle of pure water. Remember that this combination is low calorie and the standard nutrition plan outlined above must still be adhered to.
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