How I Fuel For Endurance Events
Those of you that have been reading my blog at all this year know that I have a 200 km hilly cycling ride this coming weekend and that I just signed up for a sub-5 hour century ride in another 5 weeks time. With those long distances comes not just the added stress on my body in terms of endurance but the additional needs for fuel and hydration.
Average cyclist burn anywhere from 700 – 1000 calories per hour, depending on the person and the course. During my first century ride I burned 9,393 calories in 6:47:35 which is an average of 1,384 calories per hour in 60° F temps. For the HHH last year I burned 3,423 calories in 4:55:59 which is an average of 696 calories per hour in 80° F temps. Finally, for my Ironman Steelhead last year I burned 2,325 calories in 2:41:57 which is an average of 861 calories per hour in 70° F temps. As you can see even I have pretty huge caloric range requirements, from 696 – 1,384 calories per hour.
With my first century ride there was an absolute ton of wind so most of those miles, while flat, were into the wind which meant slow speeds and huge energy requirements. I also feel like my form and overall training was in it’s infancy so my body wasn’t as accustomed to riding that far for that long.
In the HHH last year I was more prepared and properly trained combined with the fact that the course was hilly, which yes means climbing, but everything that goes up comes down. Riding down the other side means the calorie burn is darn near zero once my heart rate comes down from the climb. I also took my time at all of the rest stations to give my body the opportunity to come down to normal levels.
Finally, for the HIM it was a steady and consistent power output where I really focused on staying hydrated and eating often. The course was fairly flat but there were a few rolling hills along the route. Nothing like the HHH for sure but not nearly as flat as the century ride. I knew I needed energy for the run but still wanted to leave my stamp on the ride so I pushed it a bit.
So what should an athlete do to really optimize fueling and hydration during the ride or race?
First and foremost you need to train with different foods and drinks to see what does and doesn’t work for your body. Don’t change up your food the day of the race and don’t try new foods out at the rest stop that you’ve never eaten before. The last thing you want to be doing is running to the porta potty or dealing with stomach pains because of that yummy danish or sports drink.
I’m fortunate that my body has thus far reacted well to a huge variety of food but that doesn’t mean I’m adventurous during the ride, far from it. I head to every event with enough of my own food and drink to fuel the entire length. I may eat a few things along the way that I didn’t bring but only if my body is doing well or I’m certain it’ll react fine.
Don’t tempt fate, eat while training and take note of what works and what doesn’t.
Once you know what fuels work for your body the second thing to do is to fuel often. Remember my post on hydration from a few weeks ago? Hydration is so fundamental to any endurance event lasting more than an hour, especially in the heat. Without water and electrolytes your body will begin to decline in performance and eventually seize up. I’m sure you’ve seen the videos of athletes falling over during an event. If it wasn’t due to fatigue I’m willing to bet it was due to poor hydration.
We all get caught in the moment and when the adrenalin kicks in we’re not always thinking about fuel. That’s why it’s so important to go into autopilot and fuel frequently, more often than you might think.
As I mentioned earlier, for me that meant setting a bike alarm and eating every 5 miles which equated to every 15 minutes. I might only eat 1-2 shot bloks or maybe a Gu & water one time and some energy drink the next time. Either way I was consuming something every 15 minutes when I heard the beep. I was on autopilot and didn’t have to think, I just had to focus on pushing myself.
Not every athlete is gifted with the ability to perform in top form in every situation regardless of preparation. Whether it’s a triathlon or a long bike ride, most of us need to do some simple planning to ensure our performance and safety. To ensure you perform well and have fun you need to practice fueling often and then go into autopilot at the event.
Don’t challenge fate fueling your body with poor planning and execution, give yourself every opportunity to reach your potential and enjoy your big day to the fullest.