Fueling for Long Rides Means More Than Lots of Gummy Bears

October 13, 2021
Fueling for long rides means staying on top of your carbohydrates with gels, gummies, and solid food that are easy on your gut.

Three Things to Know About Fueling For Long Rides

  1. Research suggests that a mix of glucose and fructose sources of carbohydrates work well to get in the maximum amount of fuel. 
  2. Practice with different fuels on your training rides prior to your target event. Don’t wait to find out you can’t tolerate x brand of gels and spend the race in the woods…
  3. Top off your glycogen stores gradually over a couple of days prior to the event. Eat a variety of quality carbohydrates.

Fueling for long rides means you need to stay on top of your carbohydrate intake.

Adding carbohydrates to your fuel will keep your body’s glycogen stores from depleting. 

Since you use glycogen as fuel for anaerobic and aerobic exercise, you need to replenish it to avoid bonking. 

However, it’s easy to overload your gut, leading to, well, unpleasantness.

And there are only so many grams of carbohydrates your body can absorb, so it’s critical you get in what you can with the right mix. 

Fueling for Long Rides Means Good Nutrition

First of all, when you pedal a bicycle for any amount of time, you’re going to burn a mix of primarily fat and carbohydrates. 

The mix is determined by how far, how fast, and how long you ride.

If your goal is burning fat, there’s an ideal pace, which is slower than you might imagine. 

(Let me know if you’re interested in the test that will measure that pace.)  

Plus, if your goal is to train your body to burn more fat, doing a short ride first thing in the morning when you haven’t eaten can be a good way to start.

However, I am NOT, in any way, recommending a keto or fasted training regimen!

Riding fasted sometimes in the morning to train your fat-burning process is different from purposefully riding without fuel to lose weight. 

For long rides, you need to properly fuel. 

Intensity and Duration Dictate How You Fuel for Long Rides

Once you get above that endurance pace or start to lengthen the ride, you’ll start burning your carbohydrate stores (glycogen).

The very general rule of thumb is that for rides under about 90 to 120 minutes, you don’t need to worry much about fueling. 

Getting up to 60g/hour is more than plenty. 

Try a gel and some gummy bears and drink plain water. 

For rides over two hours, it’s time to think more about your fueling. 

This is where you can start to practice training your gut to handle higher amounts of carbohydrates. 

Start Your Long Rides with Good Fuel

Before starting off on a long and hard ride, make sure you fuel properly before getting on the bike. 

This means a good source of carbs, like eating oatmeal or toast with nut butter or food that will sustain you. 

Here’s a good explanation of good nutrition for exercise. 

It’s far better to fuel with real food the day/night before and the morning of your ride.

Try some of the foods here to fuel for your long ride.

You can also build up your glycogen stores by consuming more carbohydrates over several days prior to the event. 

Again, since your body can only process a certain number of grams of carbs, the usual pre-event pasta gorging is not helpful!

Mix of Glucose and Fructose is Key

The key is a mix of glucose and fructose. 

Many gels are made of maltodextrin, which breaks down to glucose. 

Maltodextrin is not an ideal mix, but it works reasonably well.

That means I shouldn’t just eat my Haribo Gummies on rides longer than two hours, since they are just glucose. 

With just glucose, athletes can burn up to about 60g/hour. 

But with added fructose, you can get up to 90g/hour, maybe more. 

New research seems to indicate that upwards of 140g/hr can be absorbed using a 2:1 ratio.

Work to Keep Your Gut Happy

Dr. Stacy Sims has suggested keeping drinks in your bottle and food in your pocket. 

The key is the quality of the fuel. 

But sometimes you need to mix food and fluid to get the correct amount of tolerable carbohydrates. 

When you’re training your gut, though, work with one product change at a time. 

For instance, you can try several high-carb gel an hour to get at least 60g (usually three packets). 

If that works, you can try adding an energy gummy. 

Experiment to find what works and what keeps your stomach happy. 

Fuel for Long Rides with Food In Your Jersey

You can also make nutrient-dense protein balls with rice. 

There are a million different rice ball recipes online.

Rice is easily digestible yet still provides the carbs you need. 

However, you may find that on long rides, it’s difficult to consume solid food when you’re tired. 

Top off your tank with solid food in the beginning and save your liquid or gel fuel for later in the ride if this is an issue for you.

Avoid gels and chews made with just fructose. 

Mama D’s Fuels My Rides

Sometimes you need to eat when you don’t feel hungry or when you don’t feel like eating solid fuel. 

At gas station stops, Rice Krispie bars and Nature Valley granola bars are my go-tos for carb fuel. 

At Mama D’s in Wales, WI, I always get a chocolate-peanut butter bar because they’re delicious beyond belief. 

However, I’m noticing lately that I don’t tolerate either the extra coffee or the bar about 30 minutes later. 

I get light-headed, probably from the extra sugar. 

Wait, if I’m going to train my gut, I’ll just need to eat one of those bars every day to practice, right? 

Red Granite Race

On Saturday, I’m doing the Red Granite Grinder, an 80-mile gravel race near Wausau, WI.

This summer, I did a 90-some mile gravel race up in Cable, WI.

I bonked pretty hard at the end, probably because I relied mostly on gummy bears!

This time, I am a little more prepared with some high-carbohydrate gels and bars, along with my gummies. 

Let’s Talk!

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