Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Eating on Longer Rides

from Fitness Q&A
answered by Scott Saifer
I am a 44-year-old male cyclist and I weigh 200lbs. I'm 6'2" tall. I've been a road cyclist for six years. I am hoping you can help me with a problem that I've been having over the past few years when it comes to rides that go over 90 miles and are especially challenging such as ones that include large amounts of climbing.
What happens is that as I approach, on average, the 85-mile mark, I begin to get almost nauseated and lose my energy and barely feel like keeping my head up, it seems. Once at this point, I don't feel that I can get any food down and water doesn't seem to help. An example would be this weekend on a 90 mile ride through some of the bigger climbs in my area of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As if on cue, at around 84 miles, I suddenly had nothing left in my legs and the weakness just continued right up my body and into my neck and shoulders.

Throughout the ride I drank plenty of water, all in all, four full bottles. Then at the first store stop I had a chocolate milk and a pack of salty pretzels with some cheese (Combos) as a quick snack. After ascending a couple of other mountains we had a second store stop to load up our water bottles which I did and also drank a small Gatorade G2 and a Lifewater with electrolytes drink. Here I also had a Snickers peanut butter candy bar.

Granted I know these aren't the greatest of nutritional items, but I only ever have these on a ride and only because they are easy to get at convenience stores and provide a lot of carbs and some protein. Further, about an hour into the ride, I also had an Accel gel pack. I feel that this sudden nausea and rapid loss of energy (bonking) is likely due to me not getting enough calories. However, as mentioned, I did eat a gel pack in the first hour, more food at about 2.5 hours, more at about 4.5 hours and at these store stops I felt that eating much more would be too hard for me to process and digest and I would get sick from "too much" food.

The average speed that day was a little over 17mph. Finding out if it's the lack of food that is causing this to happen almost always at the 85-90 mile mark, and how to correct this problem is very important to me. Besides helping me be better on normal rides, I have a strenuous ride coming up, the Assault on Mount Mitchell, in a couple of months and this happened to me on that ride last year.
I was feeling well, my ride was going according to plan and my time was looking good. I had hoped to come in under seven hours. However, about 87 miles into the ride, I bonked. And what's worse, I got nauseated, just to the point of thinking I would vomit, but never did. I tried to force some food down, but couldn't make it happen. Needless to say, I missed my goal of going under seven hours.

During that ride I drank probably six bottles of water, an FRS energy drink, had two flasks of Hammer's Sustained energy supplement, ate a banana, a few cookies at one of the brief rest stops, two Accel gel packs, and possibly another energy bar. Again, not huge amounts of calories for someone of my size, but I don't know how I can get down many more calories during a ride without getting sick from "trying" to get a lot of calories down, or if this is even my problem.

But again, to re-iterate, the two biggest problems are the nauseated feeling and my legs just dying and not bouncing back after a tough climb. Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Scott S
Spartanburg, SC USA

Scott Saifer says:


You are not eating enough. You are not eating often enough and you are making bad food choices. It's no surprise you'd be bonking. I can't promise that eating better will prevent the bonk, but pretty much anyone who ate the way you have been eating would bonk, so at least you've got a good chance.

Here's your new eating prescription: from the beginning to the end of the ride: have a few big bites of something high in carbohydrate, with a small amount or protein or no protein at all and minimal fat every 15-20 minutes. Someone your size should be able to absorb about 300 Calories per hour. In 15-20 minute chunks, that's 75-100 Calories per chunk. Do not go more than 20 minutes without a bite. Forget the cheese.
You can use athletic energy foods, or choose from among these long-time cyclist favorites: pretzels, fig bars, bananas, potatoes, PB&J, crackers, bagels, rolls. Eating every 15 minutes is going to require carrying several hours worth of food. Recharge your pockets at your store stops, but don't do your eating there. Eat on the bike to save time.

Drink enough that you need to urinate a few times during one of your long rides and that when you urinate, the color is pale, in the lemonade rather than the apple juice range.

Scott Saifer, M.S.
Head Coach, CEO


  1. i had a similar problem in past years and am near your age and weight, the changing point for me has been paying closer attention to my base training early in the season. properly training my muscles to burn fat aerobically for the majority of long efforts and only entering the anaerobic burn on later efforts in the ride. it takes a lot of patience and self control,etc. If you're not already familiar with base training, read up, it's worth it. Another thing that has helped me push past those distance threshholds is a product call SportLegs, that usually pushes your lactate threshhold back about 20 percent if taken properly, but as Scott made clear all of that is moot if you don't take in enough calories to sustain the effort.

  2. hi hi

    Drink enough that you need to urinate a few times during one of your long rides and that when you urinate, the color is pale, in the lemonade rather than the apple juice range.
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