I am asked a lot for nutrition tips and tricks, so I wanted to share a typical day of eating for me! I’ve also included some guidelines on fuelling for a long bike ride – it’s easier than you think!
One of the most common questions I get is about how to fuel for a bike ride. Or, to be more specific, what do I eat before a race, what do I eat before training, and how do I recover properly? Before I get started, it’s important to note that I am no expert on nutrition. In fact, I would consider it my let-down. I have a chocolate addiction, and there are many times that I make the wrong choice with meals. In the past, I often hugely under-fuelled for training. I am learning more about myself as an athlete as I get older, and I am trying to make better choices all the time. But, if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I am hugely partial to coffee and cake, or biscuits and tea! A typical day of food for me will go a bit like this…
For my first meal of the day, I have about 45-60g of porridge, made with water. I don’t use water to cut on calories. Here in Belgium, it’s a bit harder to find fresh milk, and the UHT like tastes awful when heated, so I use water instead. I add some frozen berries and peanut butter when it’s finished. Sometimes I’ll add a big dollop of raspberry jam too, and sometimes a sneaky bit of Nutella!
Then, I’ll ride my bike for a few hours. I might have some intervals in there or just a steady endurance ride. We usually get those individually packaged cakes in the supermarket to bring on a ride. I usually eat a waffle or a frangipane on the ride if I get hungry. I also take 2 x 500ml bottles of water with me, which I would go through if the ride is 3 hours or so. I have started trying to drink more water recently and have found it’s really helping my recovery! When I get home…
It’s nearly always a sandwich for lunch. I am addicted to Belgian broodjes –basically delicious filled crusty deli rolls – and I find it really hard to pass by my local bakery on the way home from a spin without stopping to get one for lunch. If I don’t stop, I will make myself an equivalent sandwich at home which will keep me going for a few hours. I take a Strong Supplies recovery shake with my lunch too.
I’ll let you in on a little secret – I absolutely HATE cooking. I don’t enjoy cooking at all, I don’t enjoy trying new recipes and I really don’t enjoy waiting for it to be ready. If it isn’t ready within 20 mins max, I don’t want it! Usually, our dinner will consist of something really simple. It’s usually rice or pasta or a baked potato, and some really basic meat dish, and then a load of salad. Whatever is quick to make and relatively yummy will do. Before I met Niels, I would just go through phases of eating the same thing for dinner every night for a couple of weeks before changing it up. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Throughout the day, I’ll probably have a few snacks here and there, like some fruit or crackers. Nothing fancy. At the end of the day, I always have a big mug of Barry’s Tea and something sweet. I can’t sit down and relax watching TV in the evening without a warm drink and chocolate in some form!
Race day isn’t too different. I’ll usually have the same breakfast, and about 3 hours before the race, I’ll have a big bowl of pasta, with tuna and some veg all chopped up and mixed about. It’s really easy to eat and totally delicious, and doesn’t feel too heavy on my stomach before racing. About an hour or so before the race, I’ll have something like a waffle or banana to keep my energy levels topped up!
With that in mind, I have some tips for you on preparing for a bike ride and fuelling throughout…
The night before your sportive, you don’t need to go overboard on carb-loading. Usually, once you combine a rest day with your regular diet, you can take in enough carbs to restore muscle glycogen stores. Try to avoid red meat, as it can be hard to digest, and instead opt for chicken or fish in your pre-race dinner. Avoiding spices is recommended, as is too much fibre. The main thing to focus on is eating something that isn’t out of the ordinary for you.
Try to eat your breakfast at least 90 minutes before the race start. Eating something with a low GI value that gives a slow release of carbs, like porridge, is perfect preparation for a long ride. Adding some toppings like dried fruit, banana, honey or jam can add some extra carbs to top up your muscle glycogen storage. However, eat what you are used to – if you usually have eggs and a bagel, don’t change your routine on the day of the event. Having a pre-ride coffee isn’t a bad thing but be sure to take on some water to keep hydrated with it.
It is important to drink and eat at regular intervals throughout a long bike ride. A good rule of thumb is to take a small drink every 20 minutes. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting to drink, and then guzzling all your drink in one go, as the damage (and the dehydration) will already be done by then. Begin eating after 60 minutes on the bike and then make sure to regularly take on something small, again at regular intervals, every 45-60 minutes. Find a routine that works for you and stick to it. If it helps, on some GPS computers you can set a small alarm for every 20 minutes to help remind you.
During a ride of 3 hours or more, it is important to make a good effort to replenish your carbohydrate stores. A good guideline to abide by is taking in at least 30-60g of carbs in an hour – which is generally the amount in a sports gel, or a banana. A banana is a good snack to take on your long ride as it gives a slow release of energy, but a gel can be easier to open if you are at your limit during a race. The carbs in these snacks will help to replenish the glycogen in your muscles, giving you the energy to keep going for longer. Try to drink a 500ml bottle of water mixed with electrolytes every hour. There are some sports drinks tabs or powders that can also help to provide some carbs.