There are 3 main things to be concerned about during the ride (any ride that’s moderate to high intensity and >90 minutes):
1) Fluids: Aim for 16-24 oz. per hour (up to 32 oz. in summer heat). Or for an individualized fluid goal, weigh yourself immediately before and after training to estimate fluid losses (take into consideration the amount of fluid consumed during the ride). My preference is to use a sports drink (or my homebrew that can be found here that provides fluid, carbs, and lytes. You can get more specific with types of carbs when buying or making a drink…look for maltodextrin as your first carb ingredient, then glucose and fructose. If you’re an athlete that prefers to drink water, at least some of the time, you’ll have to add more carbs and lytes through foods and supplements as described below.
2) Carbs: Your body can use 60+ grams of carbs per hour. Again, I like to use a fluid that provides some of these carbohydrates. The specific carbs can come down to personal preference – maltodextrin, sucrose, some fructose, dextrose, glucose all work. I like a combination, but what’s most important is that you like the taste. You will bonk time and time again if you try to force yourself to drink something you don’t actually like. If drinking 20 oz. per hour of a fluid that contains ~12-15 grams carbs per 8 oz., you’ll get ~30 grams per hour just from the fluids. Then, to get the rest of the carbs you need, add 1 small carb option such as 1 gel, 3 Shot Bloks, ½ most sports bars (or a Clif Bar Mini), 1 Honey Stinger Waffle, etc (look for ~20-30 grams carbs on the label) each hour.
3) Electrolytes: Most athletes need 400-700 mg sodium, 100-300 mg potassium, 80-120 mg calcium, and 40-60 mg magnesium PER HOUR of training. Usually, you can get some of the sodium and potassium in your sports drink and in your foods. So, begin by calculating the amount you’ll get per hour based on your fliud and food plan. Then, make up the difference with supplements such as Endurolytes, SCaps!, or another supplement. You’ll find a breakdown of many commercial electrolyte options here.
In summary, each hour of riding:
- Drink 16-24 oz. sports drink with electrolytes and carbohydrates
- Eat 1 carb option (20-30 grams carbs)
- Added electrolytes with supplements as needed
If riding >5 hours: Stick with the same nutrient goals as above every hour. Then, every 3rd hour, you can add a small portion of “real food” if you’d like. A half peanut butter and jelly sandwich, ½ rice burrito, ½ deli meat sandwich, ½ Snickers bar, etc. – these foods are used to add some fat, protein, and extra calories for long rides. They can also serve to add a salty food option to what often becomes an overload in sweet-tasting sports foods and drinks. What’s more, if you choose foods you’ll look forward to, they are a big morale booster!
Schedule: I’m a big believer in eating/drinking to a schedule rather than to thirst/hunger when riding – in fact, if I’m hungry or thirsty on a long ride, I know I’m in trouble. There’s too many variables and things to distract me to let anything other than my plan and schedule determine my fuel intake. So, determine what you need per hour based on the information above, pack it, and drink/eat it!
Recovery: Your recovery snack needs to contain 30-60 grams carbohydrates, 10-30 grams protein, and fluid. I also strongly recommend adding Medium Chain Triglycerides, from organic extra-virgin coconut oil, as they are an efficient energy source that’s used directly by the mitochondria (energy powerhouses) of the cells. As a bonus, antioxidants and probiotics are helpful in recovery – the probiotics increase the absorption of the antioxidants which fight the extra free radicals created by exercise. For a recipe, try my Almond Butter Smoothie and use plain yogurt in place of milk. In my opinion, it’s a perfect recovery. Or, use a bar or another snack that meets these criteria. Try to consume your recovery snack within 30 minutes of finishing your ride.