Fueling to Endure

I’m writing whilst recovering from an extremely grim and nasty chest infection. I’ve dealt with pain before, but never above-category awful. The drugs I’m taking would get me investigated by USADA if I used them in competition…steroidal stuff, mostly. Anyway, after losing 10 days of training, I’m reflecting on two things. First, better days will come: they simply must. Second, it’s been a while since I’ve done a nutrition issue. So, without any further delay – with tissues close at hand – Fueling to Endure.

During the 36th annual Wright Stuff century ride back in September I came across a drama that I see regularly. A guy was standing, knees buckling, draped over his bike. I passed him, but he looked so sick I pulled a u-turn and headed back. Cramps, nausea and dizziness: poor hydration, low electrolytes, and not eating on the bike between rest stops. It was an 86 degree day with bright sun and higher than normal humidity, and the guy was flattened. I gave him some electrolyte supplements, made him drink his water, and told what to grab at the next rest station. I heard later he was able to finish the ride.

eatingonabikeLet’s start with the basics because, well, they’re basic.  Like the law of gravity which has been in force for quite awhile, the basics are just how things are. No one is exempt. I’ve had my share hard lessons here.

HYDRATION. Think of your body as it is…an energy processing machine. Because we’re carbon-based life forms like they say on Star Trek, we need water to function. Without it fuel can’t be processed and used to sustain exercise. Dehydration causes system shut down. Before exercise pre-hydrate with a high quality sports drink or just plain water – not coffee, which is a diuretic that will dry you out. Plan on 20-24 oz of water or sports drink per hour. I use the Camelbak Podium insulated sports bottles that hold 25 oz.

SPORTS DRINKS. In speaking to the cramping guy, I asked him what electrolytes he’d consumed. “Gatorade” he replied. Yes, the veritable kiss of death. Gatorade is mass marketed artificially colored junk. Don’t listen to the latest G2 ads that say it’s approved by the NFL, instead read the label: 250 mg of sodium and 38 grams of sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. That much sodium is a source of stomach upset and too much salt for a long day on the bike. In a pinch you can pick up some Powerade at a convenience store mid-ride. It has less sugar and salt, and adds some essential B vitamins that help with exercise stress.

ELECTROLYTE SUPPLEMENTS. Electrolytes are necessary for two big reasons. They prevent the build up of lactic acid and other waste in muscle tissue that cause cramps. They also play a role in supporting energy production at the cellular level – which is how your fuel becomes available to keep you going. In my fueling program I use Hammer Endurolytes which I carry in a clear flip-top bottle that fits in my jersey pocket. They have a flavored tablet version you can drop into your water bottle, if you prefer the taste of lemon or mango [my two favorites] in your water.

eatingonthebikeGRABBING CALORIES. Quality research has demonstrated that a 4:1 carb to protein ratio is best for endurance athletes. By introducing that small bit of protein you stimulate your body to burn fat as fuel, instead of only burning glycogen and using up your store of blood sugar – hence to become hypoglycemic. We call this the BONK. No energy, you’re done, and time to crash land just short of the runway.

The one rule we must never transgress when eating on the bike is that it MUST BE EASILY DIGESTIBLE AND FREQUENT. Brothers and sisters I have sinned, oh how I have sinned…but I’ve repented, and learned something, too. No matter how appealing a thick gooey piece of pepperoni pizza may seem in the middle of a hard ride, don’t do it. [We should probably also examine why we would want to eat pizza from a convenience store…there’s help for this, and it’s not the malted recovery beverage in the cooler] It will make you miserable, and likely return to the light of day at a time not of your choosing. Consume 100-150 easily digestible calories every 20 minutes. Live this simple truth, and all will be well.

hammerIt’s a little daunting to figure out caloric intake and fueling ratios, but fortunately Hammer Nutrition has products that give you everything you need: as you fuel three times an hour. [Yup, there’s that rule] Perpetuem is one such product that I always use on rides longer than three hours. It is however the consistency of pancake batter, and easy to grow tired of…er, quickly. I choose to look at it as a means to an end, and fantasize instead about my post-ride recovery smoothie and meal. Once you find out how this fuel works for you, you can experiment with more variety. For example, I substitute a ‘slurp of perp’ with a favorite energy bar like Kit’s Organic Cherry Pumpkin Seed. Bananas are great if your legs start to tighten up. I enjoy peanut butter and banana sandwiches on whole grain bread with honey drizzled on top. You can cut em into quarters and package them so they don’t ooze into your jersey. I also use Hammer Gel which comes in a rainbow of flavors, and now includes peanut butter with the protein.

I confess to my obvious bias toward Hammer. Their knowledge base is deep and definitive, and they helped me learn how to fuel effectively and, as a result, occasionally dish out some hurt on other riders. I’m also a Hammer VIP athlete. So, for the sake of balance I’ll wrap up by introducing you to my favorite endurance food superstore, The Feed. They have gels, chews, bars, shots, shakes, supplements, and home baked organic goodies all available in single servings. You can also sign up for a monthly shipment at a discount so you don’t run out of your secret weapon energy stash.

I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed the writing. Better yet, fuel well and go grab a new personal best.

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