So you are out riding for a really bloody long way, and you get hungry. Fair enough, it’d be weird if you didn’t. “What do you eat?” It’s a question I get asked a lot when people ask about an Everesting ride, or something else massive.
Everyone has different thoughts on the specifics of their diet, some with a religious fervor, so this is more a reflection on what I’ve done to get through the huge days.
Words - Dave Edwards Images - Andrew Clifforth and Jeff Curtes
Now this is about as scientific an analysis as someone looking at the moon and saying aloud: “Man, that’s far away.” I am fully aware that there are far more efficient ways to ensure that we can fuel ourselves perfectly by tuning in to our exact, individual nutritional requirements, and take a Team Sky, marginal-gains, style approach.
But I work full time, I am a father of two little ones, I ride my bikes loads and I spend a lot of time writing and working on my blog. My life is fairly full-on, with plenty of stress. So in my riding, planning and nutrition strategies, the simpler, the WAY-MUPHUGGEN-BETTER. To train, I ride my bikes a lot, and try to mix up the intensities. To eat, I pretty much follow the same rules.
It is not perfect, but man does it fit perfectly in my life, and the way I ride. Its low stress and simple to follow. Plenty of blokes I know follow the same principles, and all of those blokes are able to drive coffin nails in with their own fists – they are very hardened riders.
So these are the general principles I follow:
If you think about it, on a really long ride, there are likely to be times when you are riding with more in your gut than you are comfortable with. Other times, you will be riding with the needle on empty, and with a ways to go to be able to get more calories. So prepare for that.
All well and good to ride every time with perfect intake, but you just won’t always have that on a ride. So often I’ll get up early, and go and ride for a few hours before I eat something. Its not for weight loss, it’s so that when that happens on a big ride, I am experienced enough to handle dealing with the feelings of hunger.
The same the other way. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve gone and had a full and hearty dinner, then gone and thrown my leg over the top tube, and smashed out a 90 minute ride up some steep hills. It does not feel pretty. Not even a little bit. But you learn to take a bit more water, to help avoid reflux, and you learn to be able to handle the discomfort of being choc-a-block-full whilst still pedaling hard.
Now having said all of the above, my primary requirement is to eat shitloads. Like heaps. If I’m not eating, I’m thinking about what I’m about to eat. Whilst eating I’m thinking about what I’m going to eat next. Cannot stress quantity enough.
It is way easier to have to back off on your intake than it is to have to ramp it up because you are starting to flag. If you are bonking, it can take a good while to catch back up, but if you are a bit too full, you can just deal with the stress, knowing it’ll go away soon enough.
WHAT TO EAT
I really do not get stressed about exactly what is going in my mouth on a big ride. Its one of the very few times I allow that freedom. I subscribe to the “Get the furnace hot enough, it’ll burn anything” theory, and so I eat what I fancy. Coke, pies, fruit, meat, eggs, bread, muesli bars, juice, coffee, beer, milk, hot chips, crisps, anything. What I don’t go for is gels. I have had loads of them in the past, and the taste or texture is no issue. I’m just ‘thrifty’ and north of $4 for 100-and-a-bit calories just ain’t my flavor.
I like eating actual food, so for portable food I’ll happily mung on a muesli bar, or banana, or a some chocolate instead. Bakeries are a cyclists Nirvana for a reason. Every town (even the shit ones) has a bakery, and it is a festival of calories in there, sweet and savoury.
On the big rides, the multi-day rides, then keep an eye out for 24 hour service stations, or fast food joints. Eating whilst sitting on cold concrete at 1am isn’t pretty, but it can be strangely satisfying, and sometimes your only option.
Worrying about your food shouldn’t become so stressful that it impacts on your riding. Your intake should serve as a tool to allow you to follow that which your mind has conceived. Stopping to eat in different places can also be a highlight of your ride – like knocking back some hot chips at a seaside stop – so in all of this, my advice is to go with the flow.
Prepare for feast and famine, eat as much as you can whilst riding, and enjoy the freedom of eating whatever you feel like. It is very liberating.