A cyclosportive can be daunting: the distance, riding in groups, the climbs, the descends, perhaps the weather: it could be very hot, or it could rain or it could be windy. Most feared by most riders, novice or experienced, is running out of energy. “What if my legs can’t take me over the last hill, what if they fail halfway through?” This is why fueling is so important. No engine will run without fuel and no engine will perform if you don’t use the right fuel.
Two main fuels
We use two main fuels, carbohydrate and fat. Carbohydrate is the performance fuel, fat is the diesel. “Diesel” is great for long distance but when it gets really steep and/or we really have to step on the gas, we need carbohydrate: the performance fuel. Although you often read things like “and then you switch to fat metabolism”… this is not how the body works, there is no “switch” and we always use a mix of the two fuels. Sometime we use more of one than the other. How much we use of each fuel, depends on how much of carbohydrate is stored, when we have eaten, how trained we are (well trained cyclists will use more fat) and so on.
Unlike the average car, we have two fuel tanks: one for carbohydrate (which is relatively small) and one for fat (large, even in lean athletes). Because the carbohydrate storage capacity (read the carbohydrate tank) is only small it is important to start any hard event with a full tank. One way to achieve this is through carbohydrate loading. The term carb loading was introduced in the 1960s and is still being used by athletes today. Carbohydrate loading techniques have changed over time. Methods were very extreme in the early years and nowadays it is thought that such extremes are not necessary. For a sportive it is wise to start carb loading 2 days before the event. This means paying more attention to carbohydrate intake and assuming you will be resting (or at least not training hard those 2 days) an intake of about 7 grams per kilogram bodyweight should be enough to really fill your carbohydrate stores. Carbohydrate loading is sometimes confused with eating as much as you can but overeating and carb loading are definitely different concepts!! There is no benefit of overeating!
In the morning of the sportive, wake up early so that you can have a breakfast 2-3 hours before the ride. Your carbohydrate stores in the muscle will be full from the carb loading the two days before. Your carbohydrate stores in the liver, however, will be very low when you wake up in the morning. Liver carbohydrate stores are important to maintain your blood glucose. When blood glucose drops during your ride you will start to feel weak, dizzy, nauseous and performance will drop! Running out of energy is usually because your blood glucose has dropped and your muscle carbohydrate stores are running low. This is when you hit the wall! In cycling it is more often referred to as bonking (and yes, I do realise that this has a different meaning in German).
In order to fill your liver glycogen stores you need a breakfast that contains carbohydrate, 100 grams of carbohydrate at least. This is the equivalent of 2 bagels or a large bowl of porridge or a large bowl or cereal, or 4 pancakes or 6 slices of toast with jam.
What to take on the ride
Of course you also need to prepare the food on the ride. Make sure you have two bottle, one with a sports drink (typically these drinks contain 30-40 grams of carbohydrate per bottle when prepared according to instructions and not diluted) and one with plain water.
Then calculate your carbohydrate needs and as a very general rule use 30-60 grams per hour. In reality your needs will vary depending on the level of cyclist you are, the distance you are riding and the time it will take you but 30-60 grams as a guide is a good start. For more detailed and advanced advice read bit.ly/carbguide.
You will have to pick some foods that you know you can tolerate well on the bike and like to eat even after several hours of riding. Some people like gels because it is easy and convenient, some people will hate them and will prefer solid food. Many will mix and match. The end goal is to have a regular intake every 20-30 min that gives you a total of 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. Stuff the food in your pockets and prepare the packaging as much as possible: cut bars into bite size units, open a wrapper so it is easier to access whilst riding and so on.
Cyclosportives will have feed stations set up, although the supply at those feed stations may vary tremendously depending on the sportive and also depending on how early or late you get to these feed stations. It is therefore best to assume that you won’t get much at the feed stations and be completely self-sufficient. Make sure you always fill up your bottles at feed stations, so you never get stranded without fluids. If you follow these simple guidelines you will not run out of energy on your way to the finish line!
unless you have another sportive planned the day after, celebrate, have some pizza and a cold pint of beer. You just burned 1500-4000 kcal and if you apply the principle of moderation a little celebration will do no harm.
What to eat before a race? http://bit.ly/1vK6elc
Carbohydrate recommendations during exercise bit.ly/carbguide
Is more carbohydrate better? And how much is too much? http://bit.ly/1EI73PN
Carbohydrate mouth rinse http://bit.ly/1AmhKe4
Carb mixes and benefits http://bit.ly/1EI73PN
Not all carbs are equal http://bit.ly/carbtype