Gel, GU or?
October 23, 2006 6:28 AM   Subscribe

What sort of fuel should I use for long-distance cycling events? Yes, there is

I'm getting started riding brevets. No major problems on the two 200K rides I did this year, but I'd like to try some longer distances next spring.

I came from a running background and have sucessfully compleetd three marathons, but three and half hours is not the same as ten or prehaps much, much longer on the bike. I just drank fluids on long runs and races, but long endurance cycling needs way more calories.

I'm interested in liquid/gel type calorie sources. Eating enough solid food is difficult, though a banana or fresh baked scone from a bakery is great for variety. What products have worked for you? What didn't work? From what I've read, simple sugars are pretty bad in terms of absorbtion rates and insulin spikes.

Ultrarunners can chime in here, too. No support cars or drop bags on the shorter events, so anything has to be carried on the bike with the exception of more water picked up a c-stores, etc.
posted by fixedgear to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've never done a ride nearly that long, but I have found raisins and other dried fruits to be a good choice: lightweight, tasty, sugary. (Not sure if they contain the kind of sugar you're looking for, though.)
posted by Dr. Wu at 6:44 AM on October 23, 2006

I haven't done much riding at that distance, but on the few occasions when I did, I used a combination of gu, clif bars, bananas, and snickers bars. A friend loaded me up with some kind of high-calorie "beverage" (scare-quotes because it was almost gelatinous) that I don't recommend, because it was a diuretic, and can't remember the name of anyhow. I wasn't anywhere near replacement level on my caloric intake, but since I wasn't doing the ride again the next day, I figured that was OK.

If I had to do it again, I'd probably pack a real sandwich with meat and cheese on it and eat it some time well before the "wishing I was dead" point (which was around mile 130 for me).

In terms of calories and absorption, gu is probably near-ideal, but it's also really boring.

So are you riding these brevets in a fixed gear?
posted by adamrice at 6:56 AM on October 23, 2006

posted by ecrivain at 7:02 AM on October 23, 2006

The main difference between long distance running and cycling is that while cycling you will be able to get some energy from digesting food. So yes, pastry is a good source, as are bananas, and even bread with honey or marmelade.

Much depends on the weather though. When it's hot anything too bulky can become impossible to eat.

Apart from that, I always took something tasting completely different along. Like gurkins, or pieces of cucumber, because having only the same sweet kinds of food can make it mentally difficult to stomach more. Even when it continues to be necessary to eat.
posted by ijsbrand at 7:23 AM on October 23, 2006

No, adamrice, I came to my senses on that score. The ride I did last Saturday had like 9,000 ft of climbing so coasting was needed. I limit the fixie to 100 flat miles. I love PopTarts but I'm trying to avoid the transfats and all that other good stuff.
posted by fixedgear at 7:25 AM on October 23, 2006

You're not going to want to use just gels or beverages for such long rides, if only for the sake of variety, but calories in either liquid or gel form are definitely easier to absorb than solids.

I do more traditional bike races (so, usually not 200k) and used to swear by Hammer Gel for longer events. Recently I started using Hammer's Sustained Energy, which is a drink, and it's pretty much become my exclusive calorie source in long races. It has some protein in it, which you need to sustain efforts for several hours, and it also has a very plain taste, which my stomach needs after three hours of racing. It took me a while to get used to the taste, but now I can't stand to have anything as sweet as, say, Gatorade in my bottles during a race.

They also make something called Perpetuem, which is supposed to be for ultra-distance events like Brevets or 24-hour races, but my races are rarely longer than three or four hours, so I've never tried it.

Full Disclosure: I'm sponsored by Hammer Nutrition. (But I asked them to sponsor me because I was using their stuff liked it beforehand.)
posted by dseaton at 7:33 AM on October 23, 2006

My boyfriend does Ironmans. He's using Gu2O in combination with Gu gels this year (plus miscellaneous food like bananas and powerbars on the course). He likes it because it's not as sweet as a lot of the other nutrition sources out there, which is good for your taste buds and your stomach. He's tried Cytomax and Accelerade for racing and prefers Gu to both.

You might think about salt/electrolyte tablets in addition, especially if you're a heavy sweater.
posted by robinpME at 7:38 AM on October 23, 2006

I really like Clif ShotBloks, and I've heard good things about Accelerade.
posted by The Michael The at 7:41 AM on October 23, 2006

I'll second the use of Hammer Nutrition products for longer events (or, in fact, for most any exercise)

For longer events (upwards of 12 hours for myself personally) I use a combination of Sustained Energy and Hammer Gel mixed together. I calculate how many calories I think I'll need during the duration, and mix bottles with the needed amount of calories between the two products. I've been able to mix enough Sustanined Energy and Hammer Gel into a bottle to give me 3 hours in one bottle. It's almost a paste, but I take a shot out of the bottle, and follow with water. It works great, and is easy on the digestive system.
posted by dirt at 7:49 AM on October 23, 2006

On my last long distance ride I tried using e4b's fruit purees. They come in squeezable bags, so you can eat them while riding. The consistency is similar to applesauce, so it feels substantial and satisfying without giving you too much to digest.

I had always heard that distance cyclists were supposed to eat protien as well as carbs, but when I just Googled to check that, I found an article (mid-way down the page) that says otherwise.
posted by chickletworks at 7:53 AM on October 23, 2006

There are the Hammer products and also the Succeed products (which I tend to use) that are popular in Ultrarunning. I'm sure you know all about them, and the various flavors and how they work. I pretty much hate them all, and I've started to be unable to use gels etc because of the taste.

You can roll your own by getting bulk maltodextrin off the web, and just mixing it as you would sports drink. It isn't very sweet, and is a step up from a completely simple sugar. You can flavor it with kool-aide, and the advice I've seen suggests that citrus flavors require more acid to make them taste right, which can then lead to an acid stomach.

Many ultrarunners use Ensure or a knockoff to get a quick hit of calories and a broad spectrum of nutrients. I've used it and it gets old, and is sometimes hard to digest, but if you can do it it can take care of a lot of calories pretty quickly. Those Starbucks Latte drinks are another option. I know it's hard to carry solid fuel, but I think it's a good way to go, especially on a bike.

Four general points:
1) In general, as I'm sure you know, eating strategies absorb a lot of time and attention for endurance athletes. People losing their stomach (ie, their ability to eat and process food) is a recurrent theme in DNF reports for ultras. Everyone is different, and while some folks can only process liquid calories, others do best on solid food. In my experience, which is limited, but I do have some, eating abilities can also change: I used to be able to use Ensure through a hundred, now I can't touch the stuff.

2) Getting all of your calories from carbs is a bad idea over the long haul. Basically what happens is that your stomach gets more and more acidic and more and more upset. You need some protein and some fat in your mix, so pay attention to that as you make your plans. (That said, I've finished a hundred on nothing but cold coke, after my stomach went south on "better" foods.)

3) Beware sports drinks and gels that contain extras, like vitamins. If you're using them all day you may get much more than you bargained for, and that might not be a good thing.

4) Endurance events that take a long time invite hyponatremia. Pay attention to electolyte intake, especially if you drink a lot. I'm not sure how it is in riding, but in ultrarunning there are a couple of people hospitalized (usually they go into comas) with hyponatremia every year. It's just a function of a long time on the trail and a lot of liquids consumed, combined with loss of salt during sweating. E-caps from Hammer are ok for electrolytes, but are actually pretty low on salt, and I think that Succeed tabs are a better product. (No FI)

Good luck. Long distance is best!
posted by OmieWise at 8:00 AM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

I can't stand the bitterness of ShotBloks, but I do have to put a vote in for raisins/dried fruit and Cytomax.. the latter definitely lacks the overly-sugary aftertaste a lot of drinks have. As far as you buy any of the marketing, it's designed for endurance sports like biking and running.

I think your goal here is to eat something on a regular basis rather than consume mass amounts of calories, so I'd stick with easily portionable food. Dried cherries fit in plastic baggies and taste like cherry juice if you swish water around in your mouth while you eat. :)
posted by kcm at 8:01 AM on October 23, 2006

If you decide to try Accelerade, skip the orange. Drinking it is like getting punched in the gut.
posted by djb at 8:14 AM on October 23, 2006

I'm sorta leaning towards the Hammer products as I've had good luck with the Endurolyte capsules, and not just in hot weather. The Hammer Gel worked great too, but the bulk jug and flask(s) seems to be the way to go there.

It looks like Sustained Energy or Perpetum would be the ticket (one has a little fat, they both have some protien). Citrus flavored drinks - I was drinking Clif green apple flavored stuff last weekend- are too acidic for me after a while and eventually it sort of irritated the roof of my mouth. Thanks for all the input so far, keep it coming.
posted by fixedgear at 8:18 AM on October 23, 2006

Oh, I disagree djb. If you get Accelerade, I would recommend only orange or fruit punch. Pretty much everyone I know who drinks it agrees.
posted by dame at 8:19 AM on October 23, 2006

What Tour riders eat
posted by caddis at 8:57 AM on October 23, 2006

Yeah, caddis, but I don't have a team car or feed zone to get a musette bag. Another big difference is that tour stages start in late morning/early afternoon so there is time to digest a good sized breakfast. I'm riding events that start at sunrise. I'm already getting up crazy early just to get there so getting up even earlier so that I can eat and digest for three hours is not really an option. Also, tour riders are (much) faster than me and so spend a lot less time in the saddle. There hasn't been a tour stage that lasted ten hours in a long, long time.
posted by fixedgear at 10:07 AM on October 23, 2006

When I used to ride centuries, I would fill my 2nd bottle with Gatorade in case I got bonky. The only thing that I could ever tolerate during the race were cashews, and not very many of them. Fibrous things like bread and bananas that so many folks seem to think are great only made me feel ill.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:34 PM on October 23, 2006

I did my first brevet series this year and tried a lot of different methods for calibrating my on-bike diet. The general deal is that different people have different preferences based on the state of their body and their current level of stress. What works for you might not work for your friend. Also, what works for you at 200K might not work 500km into a 600k. I leaned heavily on a diluted Hammer Gel mix to see me through the first half of a 600k, but my mouth got tired of maltodextrine later in the second day, and I reverted to eating Fig Newtons, peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate milk.

So try a lot of different foods on your training runs, and see what agrees with you. Then bring your second best option as a backup. As handy and effective as the 'tech' foods might be; it's also good to train with real food as well, in case you need to "forage" during the brevet. You can't buy Perpeteum at a 7-11, but a V-8 is an awesome electrolyte replenisher. It is also advisable to ride with at least two water bottles, and keep one water bottle solely dedicated to water. That way, if you need to dump the synthetic stuff, you don't have to worry about thoroughly flushing your water storage. There's was a story circulating around randoneers about an Ohio 600K with some ridiculously high DNF rate (something like 12 DNFs out of a field of 16) that largely occurred because of record heat temperatures that lead to mass liquid diet spoilage.

also, living in New England, a lot of our brevets run through some bucolic farm country in Vermont and New Hampshire, and it's a damn shame to ride past all of these stands and not stop once or twice to grab a bag of blueberries or a nice, juicy cantaloupe.

The UMCA has just recently published a pretty comprehensive article about eating for endurance events; which is worth also reading.

if you want specifics, here's what I ate on my various rides and reflections on the rides themselves.

200 -- two bananas, three slices of watermelon at various checkpoints, one peanut butter sandwich, two Clif bars, one small bowl of cookies'n'cream ice cream, 2 liters of water, .75 liters of Gatorade (made from powder to avoid HFCS)

the 200, to me, was a standard century with some really challenging climbing (I wasn't used to the 3000ft. / 100km climbing requirement) but my diet at the time was pretty much my standard regimen for a century ride. I realized, after that, that I needed stuff that would metabolize more quickly, and started training with energy gels.

300 -- four bananas, 4 clif shots, three Clif bars, one bag of potato chips, one peanut butter sandwich, one ziploc of granola, 4 ounces of monterey jack cheese, one bag of tortilla chips, 3 liters of water, 1 liter of Gatorade.

A 300K is, imho, a nice introduction to randoneering. It gives you opportunities to exercise night-riding/navigation, and also seriously tests your eating strategy; but isn't so long that you will DNF if your choices have been suboptimal. I made a couple of serious mistakes in eating on my 300K (cheese and Clif Shots don't mix well) but still managed to finish with some hours in the bank. I ate the chips to replenish my sodium after I ran out of electrolyte drinks (and couldn't find a convenience store, but did find a Holiday Inn with a vending machine). They're not the best substitutes, but they got me to the next checkpoint.

400 -- two bananas, 4 clif shots, 4 packets of Gu, 4 Clif bars, one turkey sandwich, one apple, one bowl of chicken soup, half of an Italian cold cut sub, one bowl of chili, 4.5 liters of water, 1.5 liter of Gatorade, one pint of tea, one can of V-8

The 400 is a deeper test of night riding, as well as general all-day mental fitness and fortitude. You should also be comfortable with your diet before tackling a 400, as this is where proper nutrition really begins to count. You can't just rely on carboloading from the previous night, and your body is going to undergo so much stress that "little bits of queasiness" can easily metastasize into an hour in a porta-potty if it comes at an inappropriate time. This particular ride was also done in 20 hours of constant rain, hence the desire for hot liquids like chili or soup. I spent a good chunk of the ride in the company of another cyclist who talked up the benefits of the Sustained Energy products, so I went ahead and bought myself a bottle of Hammer Gel, and used that during the month between my 400k and 600k.

600 -- three bananas, 6 clif shots, 4 Clif bars, one cantaloupe, one apple, 4 slices of watermelon, one Italian cold cut sub, one bowl of chili, two helpings of pasta with tomato sauce, plate of eggs and hashbrowns, 2 peanut butter sandwiches, half a box of Fig Newtons, 12 servings of Hammer Gel, 6 liters of water, half pint of tea, one pint of coffee, half pint of chocolate milk.

The 600 is kind of like your final exam. You've trained and honed everything, and now it's all about putting it all together and making sure that it all works before you attempt a 1200. If you've had a good game plan through your 300 and 400, then the 600 is pretty much a lay-up. As I mentioned earlier, though, at about 500km, my mouth was just repelled by the Hammer bottle and by the Clif products. That's how I wound up riding in with half of a box of Fig Newtons in my frame bag and chocolate milk in my water bottle holder.

and, yeah, one eats a lot on these events. 300 calories per hour x 30+ hours is a lot of food.
posted by bl1nk at 2:12 PM on October 23, 2006

Another big difference is that tour stages start in late morning/early afternoon so there is time to digest a good sized breakfast. I'm riding events that start at sunrise.
you guys wait until sunrise? that's luxury ;) everything past a 200k have, like, 4am or 1am starts.

oh yeah, this reminds me. Pre-brevet dinner for me was usually a double serving of pasta with some kind of meat sauce. I'd also make a pot of overnight oatmeal1 before going to bed and begin consuming breakfast after getting up. Then, I'd ride to the start (12 miles from my door) and use the riding time for digestion.

Riding from door to start is also good in doing a shake down \ equipment check while you're still near your home and supplies. The two times that I drove or took a train to a brevet start were the times when I realized that I had forgotten a pump/light/food at home.

1 5:1 ratio of water to oats, bring to a boil and leave boiling for 5 minutes. Stir in dried fruits for flavor. Cover pot and leave on stove. Go to bed. Wake up following morning and heat for 5 minutes until heated through. Stir in brown sugar or honey and cinammon or cardamom. Consume while getting everything ready. This way you get a hot breakfast five minutes after getting up.
posted by bl1nk at 2:27 PM on October 23, 2006

bl1nk: You might not see this but I was intriguied by this statment: (I wasn't used to the 3000ft. / 100km climbing requirement)

That's not a requirement. I checked with my RBA and he said no requirement, anything goes.
posted by fixedgear at 6:35 PM on October 26, 2006

fixedgear -- sorry, didn't mean to type 'requirement'. It's more of a recommendation. Since many brevets are designed to be training/prep/qualifier rides for 1200k's, which aspire to incorporate 30,000 ft. across their length (the elevation profile of PBP) then a lot of RBA's design their routes to incorporate 3000 ft. of climbing per 100k. At least, that's how they roll between the two New England RBA's.
posted by bl1nk at 3:39 PM on October 29, 2006

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