When tackling a 100-mile (161km) sportive most people can expect to spend at least six or seven hours in the saddle, which means a well-thought approach to your nutrition is a must if you don’t want the last couple of hours to become a living hell. With the Prudential RideLondon 100 coming up fast, we spoke to Ted Munson, performance nutritionist for SiS (opens in new tab), for some advice on what riders should eat to ensure they have a great race. Make your plan, then give it a trial run on one of your longer training rides.
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What types of food do you need to eat before, during and after a big race?
For any ride over 90 minutes carbohydrates are the main fuel source. The body is always using a combination of carbs and fats, but carbohydrates are the dominant source of energy. They burn faster to be an immediate supply of energy. It’s what the muscles like to use – it’s going give you the power to climb the hills and for the final sprint.
What should you eat in the days leading up to the race?
For a 100-miler you should start carb-loading 48 hours before the race. Someone who weighs 50kg needs less than someone who weighs 90kg, so you should take on around 8-10g of carbohydrate per kilogram of your bodyweight per day.
What kind of carbohydrates are best?
High glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates like bread are digested fast and get the blood sugar up really quickly. Within that 48-hour period you should stick to high-GI carbohydrates, such as white rice and pasta, or potatoes. They're going to load the muscles up with fuel, so when you start that 100-mile ride you’ll have 90 minutes’ worth of high-intensity fuel in the tank.
What should you have for breakfast on race day?
Stick with what you've done for the past 48 hours and eat a carbohydrate-based breakfast. Try to take on 1-4g of carbohydrate per kg of body mass on the morning of the race, depending on the intensity of the event you’re doing. For a 100-mile race I’d lean towards the higher end of that – so 140g+ for a 70kg male.
There is really no special food to have. A lot of people will change their pre-race breakfast and start having rice and things they aren’t used to, but really breakfast cereals are ideal high-GI carbohydrates. Cereals, rice pudding, toast, even croissants and jam – just regular breakfast foods.
What should you eat during the race?
The key is to remember that the body will always use more fuel than you can possibly absorb during intense activities. It’s about off-setting that deficit as much as possible. The body can take in around 60-90g of carbohydrate per hour during exercise. That is what you should aim to have on the bike during the 100-miler.
You should have 90 minutes’ worth of fuel stored in your muscles and liver from carb-loading.Start fuelling early, ideally within the first 20 minutes of the race. A common mistake riders make is waiting until they’re tired before they start fuelling with carbohydrate. The issue with that is you use up all the stores you’ve built up beforehand. The body is using more than it can possibly take in, so you’ll end up bonking or hitting the wall, when your body runs out of available carbohydrate stores.
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You should be looking to have 60g of carbs an hour, ideally 20g every 20 minutes. That’s a great rule and a lot of sports nutrition products are designed to provide that.
What should you be drinking in the race?
Water is great for transporting things around the body but you need to include electrolytes, especially sodium – aim for around 300mg of sodium in your bottle. That helps your body retain and use the fluid rather than just passing it through, which is what happens when you just drink pure water.
Some sports drinks combine your energy and your hydration in one product, which saves you having to carry as much on the bike. I’d always recommend that. Make things as easy as possible for yourself.
What should you eat after the race to aid recovery?
In an ideal situation you should eat within 30 minutes of finishing, but I know it’s easier said than done when you’ve been riding for 100 miles over seven or eight hours. You might not always have much of an appetite, but that’s the training window, where your blood’s still pumping around the body and your muscles are acting like a sponge trying to absorb as many nutrients as possible.
Aim for 20g of protein and 20-30g of carbohydrate within that post-workout window. It doesn’t need to be a full meal, just something to kick-start muscle protein synthesis and replenish the glycogen stores. I’m a big fan of a recovery drink for those who don’t want to eat solid food within 30 minutes.
Then it’s important to have a full meal within an hour. It’s tempting to go for pizza, or burger and chips, which is not always a bad option to be honest. Ideally have 20-30g or protein, and the meal should be about 50% carbs, keeping it high-GI – similar to what you had in the final 48 hours before the race, because they will be absorbed really quickly.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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