Are you taking part in the RideLondon 100 sportive? Or planning an upcoming cycling mission of similar proportions? The ride will no doubt be a fantastic experience, but for most people it will also be a challenge.
Such an event will place a fair amount of stress on your body - both physiologically and psychologically. However, you can reduce the impact by getting your nutrition right.
We asked Charlotte Kennedy from Etixx Nutrition to describe exactly what happens to your body over a 100 mile ride and how nutrition can help you to cope...
You'll use up energy
Sounds obvious, right?! But it's this energy expenditure that kicks off a chain of physical events that you need to cater for with adequate nutrition.
Charlotte told us: "Simply put, riding 100 miles is going to require a lot of energy and over the course of the ride energy stores will start to deplete. This main source of energy for intense exercise is carbohydrates and therefore this is the nutrient you need to pay close attention to.
"If you’ve eaten enough carbohydrate in the build up to event day, you will have enough stored energy to last around 90 minutes of exercise and after this point fatigue will start to set in. The only way to cope with this is to continue to take on fuel for the duration of your ride. This fuel should come in the form of carbohydrates to give your body more fuel to burn. Hopefully by now you’ll have a plan on some foods you’re going to take with you and this should include real food and energy products- both have their advantages!"
Providing suggestions from the Etixx range, she added: "Energy gels such as the Etixx Triple Action Energy Gel contain easily digestible carbohydrates that give you a quick boost when you need it so keep some in your jersey pocket. There will also be food stops along the way, but don’t rely solely on these to fuel your ride. Feed stations at mass participation events can get very crowded and they might run out of the option you want."
You could Bonk (in the bad way)
To make the age old (slightly tired) joke, it's not as fun as it sounds. Bonking is what happens when you don't feed your energy stores.
- Signs of bonking:
- Feelings of extreme fatigue or weakness,
- Blurred vision
Charlotte told us: "If you fail to replace carbohydrate stores and the body begins to run on empty, you will be at a high risk of bonking. This is very dangerous as with no energy whatsoever the ride will be a very painful and uncomfortable one!
"The signs of bonking include dizziness, shaking, feelings of extreme fatigue or weakness, nausea and blurred vision. Therefore if you notice any of these, be sure to take on some fast digesting carbohydrates as soon as you can - for example via an energy gel. To avoid bonking you should be eating something small every 20-30 minutes from about 60-75 minutes into the event."
You'll loose fluid (sweat like a P.I.G.)
Charlotte explains: "Fluid loss from the body is dramatically increased during exercise mainly due to an increase in sweat rate and these fluids must be replaced. Very small levels of dehydration can have a negative impact on performance and therefore even if you don’t feel thirsty, drinking enough is a must."
How much is enough? "In general, you should be drinking 500ml-1 litre of fluid per hour. Fill up your bottles at every feed station to avoid running out. Remember if the weather is hot, sweat rate will be even higher and therefore you will need to drink lots more than you are used to. That may mean you need to set a timer to remind yourself!"
You sweat out useful Electrolytes
We're often told to avoid including too much salt in our diets - but actually when you're exercising sometimes you need more.
Charlotte tells us: "When you sweat you not only lose fluid, but you also lose key electrolytes. One that you need to pay particular attention to is sodium- especially if you know you are a salty sweater."
So - how do you stay on top of your sodium intake? "Consider replacing electrolyte losses using an electrolyte tab or isotonic drink. Isotonic drinks also contain carbohydrate so are great for providing fuel as well. You could also include a little bit of salty food into your fuelling strategy to help replace sodium losses. Spreads like marmite and peanut butter are great options and these can also be a very welcomed alternative to lots of sweet and sugary carbohydrate based foods."
You might get Cramp
No, not the kind of cramps that used to get you out of netball games at school (cycling is actually quite good at relieving those!) - but involuntary muscle spasms that can make pedalling momentarily impossible.
Cramp can be a real ride wrecker for some cyclists, and it often rears its head on long or more intense riders.
Charlotte explains what it is and how we can keep cramp at bay: "Another thing that you may experience during your ride is muscle cramps. These are strong involuntary contractions causing pain and discomfort and can be a real problem for lots of athletes. Unfortunately, the exact cause of muscle cramps is unknown, but there are some things you can do to limit the risk."
Here's your check list: "Firstly, make sure you stay properly hydrated and replace lost electrolytes. Secondly, consider taking a magnesium supplement before your event. Magnesium has been found to regulate muscle contraction and a supplement such as the Etixx Magnesium Absorption+ can be easily consumed the night before. If you do experience cramp, stretching will bring immediate relief."
Tummy Upsets May Strike
An event port-a-loo is not a venue that you want to host you for longer than need be - ever. However, they're prone to becoming pretty funky because a lot of riders find long miles can cause upset. Turns out, the cause isn't always nerves and jitters either - a change in blood distribution could be the culprit. Thankfully, equipped with the right knowledge issues can be avoided.
Charlotte explains the causes: "When you exercise, your body relies on a quick supply of blood and oxygen to the muscles to continue to exercise without fatigue. Therefore, blood is redistributed away from other areas of the body and directed towards the muscles. One area it is directed away from is the gut and this may be a reason as to why some athletes experience GI problems."
It's likely you'll want to avoid this, and you can: "To try to minimise this risk there are a few things you can do. Firstly, eat a breakfast high in carbohydrate at least 2-3 hours before you ride to give your food a chance to properly digest."
"Secondly, when eating during exercise think about when and what to eat. Use real food options nearer the start to give them time to digest and provide energy and save the energy products for times when you’re going to have to work a bit harder - like a hill climb. Be careful what you pick up at feed stations and look for high carbohydrate foods - things like small sandwiches are great. Finally, avoid overindulging in fat, protein and fibre during your ride - although a little bit here and there isn’t bad - and don’t overeat… especially at food stations! If you have too much food in your stomach, your body may struggle to digest it"
Hopefully that's shed a little light on some of the issues you can expect, and how to nip them in the bud before they affect your ride.
If you're looking for more info on how to plan your nutrition on the day, check out our ready made 100 mile nutrition strategy.