Four Things to Discover How to Improve Your Performance by Eating a Ton During Long Rides and Runs
- Consumer 60 to 120g of carbohydrates during sessions lasting more than an hour.
- Practice fueling to train your gut. Eat more than you think you need!
- Try different fuels (gels, bars, real food) during training.
- Drink your hydration, eat your fuel.
If you do a ride or any exercise over an hour, improve your performance by eating more than you think you need to prevent bonking and maintain your energy levels.
That is, you need to replenish your glycogen stores by eating carbohydrates in the form of “food,” gels, bars, etc., and drinking water.
And while there are recommendations for eating, getting in enough calories can be a challenge, especially in preventing your gut from either derailing your exercise or causing some “issues” later on.
Fortunately, for us as everyday endurance athletes, there are plenty of options for fueling.
And, unfortunately for us, there are plenty of options, often obscured by marketing claims.
Eat more than you think
First of all, we’re talking about fueling during exercise.
This is different than eating and drinking before and after exercise (which we’ll get to later).
The proces is actually pretty simple: the goal for long exercise is to consumer between 60 and 120 grams of carbohydrate per hour.
The longer the exercise or event, the more important fueling is.
Improve your performance by eating more than you think you need to, given that a typical gel packet is 20g of carbohydrate!
If you leave it to race day without practicing how to eat, you’re likely going to be miserable during and/or after.
Your body can absorb roughly 60g of glucose and about an additional 30 to 60g of fructose when mixed together.
So you can improve your performance by eating a mix of glucose and fructose. Read the labels!
Practice fueling to train your gut
Second, you need to practice eating.
You heard me correctly: Practice eating.
Improve your performance by eating more than you think you need to because a typical gel is just 20g.
I coached a woman training for a marathon, and we set up a course where she would stop by her house every half hour to eat a peanut butter ball with about 30g of carb.
I’m coaching a woman now who’s training for a half-Ironman. Her gut is a little sensitive, which has been preventing her from eating enough.
So we’ve been trying different fuels, including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Embark maple syrup.
Real food, like sandwiches, can be great fuel, but it’s often harder to eat and digest.
And when your stomach is digesting the food, it requires blood that then is no longer available for your muscles.
So you want to keep the fuels simple. That’s why so many people use gels, but consuming a lot of gels during a long session can also be tough on your gut.
Try different fuels before your event
Third, try different fuels while you eat more than you think you need!
Try different gels and fuels. Try some bars and snacks. Try fruit.
If you’re training for a specific event, find out what will be at the aid stations and try eating and drinking that fuel.
Again, the time to practice is before a big event.
Usually at races there are tables of food at aid stations.
However, if you try eating things that you’re not used to, you may face gastrointestinal issues later!
Many people who can’t finish marathons or centuries drop out because of stomach issues.
So you will improve your performance by eating a lot of different items during practice, not the big event.
Hydration in bottles, food in your pocket. Usually.
Fourth, water is a drink, not usually food.
Avoid putting carbohydrates in your water, unless you simply aren’t tolerating other fuels.
Use your water for hydration and electrolytes.
However, sometimes, liquid carbohydrates are just what is needed. Pro cyclists have often been seen drinking Coke that has been allowed to go flat so there’s no carbonation.
Plus Sprecher adds Wisconsin honey, which aids in the mix of glucose and fructose AND provides valuable antioxidants.
Most sodas are made of high-fructose corn syrup. Sprecher’s, though, is made of glucose syrup.
But I wouldn’t advise guzzling bottles of any soda during a race or long exercise!
If you are doing a long ride or a long event like a triathlon, flat soda like Sprecher’s is a great source of pure sugar.
If I’m out on a long ride of many hours and I feel like I haven’t eaten enough, a Sprecher’s soda will get enough sugar in me to restart the glycogen replenishment.
Same with finishing long exercise sessions: a Sprecher’s soda is pretty close to perfect refueling drinks if you add a source of protein.
You will improve your performance by eating more than you expect and using fuels that work for you.
Keep your fueling simple
Nutrition is a complicated issue, though, and I’ve done little except start the process of helping you think about what you’re consuming during long workouts.
Fueling for long exercise isn’t complicated.
First of all, figure out fuel you can tolerate that will give you 60 to 120g of carbohydrate per hour.
And second, practice eating that much during exercise.
I did a hard six-hour ride Saturday with five packets of Embark Coffee Maple Syrup.
I added several bottles of water with Nuun electrolyte tablets and a hydration pack full of water.
Practice during training rides and exercise to see what works for you.
Consuming food during running is a bit more complicated, given the jostling your stomach gets.
That’s why in a triathlon, many competitors use the bike leg to consume their fuel.
Want to know more about what you can achieve?
My purpose with Simple Endurance Coaching is to help everyday endurance athletes achieve their goals with more strength, endurance, and mobility.
If you liked this article, please share it with others.
Sign up on the website to get a free copy of my e-booklet, “The Simple and Mostly Complete Guide to Strength Training for Everyday Endurance Athletes.”
You can also opt in to receive my weekly blog posts about what works in endurance sports.
Contact me or sign up for Virtual Coffee so we can discuss your goals, ask questions, and talk about making your endurance training more effective, fun, and Simple.
Paul Warloski is a:
- USA Cycling Level 3 Coach
- RRCA Running Coach
- Training Peaks Level 2 Coach
- RYT-200 Yoga Instructor
- Certified Personal Trainer