Alongside the many months of hard training that prepares you for a Gran Fondo such as the Prudential Ride London, nutrition plays a crucial role in making your ride successful and enjoyable.
Firstly, don’t just roll up to the start line of a 100-mile ride. From a nutritional perspective, you must start preparing about 3 days in advance to ensure that you consume enough carbohydrates (‘carb-loading’) to fuel your ride and drink enough to stay well hydrated.
Carbohydrates (sugars) are the main fuel source that provide energy for your ride. We can store enough carbohydrates (in the form of glycogen) in our muscles and liver to fuel us for about 2-3 hours. In preparation for the ride, you want to ensure that your glycogen stores are full. There are many strategies for this, but the simplest is to consume carbohydrate-rich foods (such as pasta, potato, rice, oats and porridge) and reduce the amount fat in your diet.
Next to carb loading, hydration is absolutely key. Get to the start fully hydrated by drinking 2-3 litres of water per day. If the weather is very hot (which is likely looking at the current temperatures), consider adding some electrolytes to your fluids 24 hours before the start. You can get electrolyte tabs (e.g. High5 or SIS) in any cycle shop, sport store and most grocery stores and one tablet in a water bottle guarantees you don’t lose precious body salts.
On the day
In the morning of the race have your breakfast two hours before the start. This meal should contain a carbohydrate (toast, porridge, muesli, dried fruits) but do not eat something you don’t normally eat for breakfast. There is nothing wrong with scrambled eggs and a rasher of bacon at this point, but do not have a full fry-up or eat as much as possible as this will only weigh you down and could cause gastrointestinal problems. With your breakfast, drink about 0.5 litres of water containing electrolytes.
When you get to the start of the race eat something small such as an energy bar; this will digest gradually and give you sustained extra energy after the start.
You’re underway! Managing your energy
During your ride, carbohydrates will be your primary source of energy. You can get these from many different sources such as energy bars, carbohydrate energy drinks, gels, bread rolls, flapjacks or rice bars. Many of these are available ready-made from sport nutrition brands, but you can make similar recipes yourself for a lot less money.
Our bodies are designed to burn carbohydrates for energy, but there is a limit to how many carbohydrates we can digest. As a rule, you should consume 60g of carbohydrates per hour from the 2nd race hour onwards until you finish. Try to eat something every 15-20 minutes and eat more solid foods in the first half of the ride as intensities are lower; in the second half of the race consume more energy from gels as these are easier to digest. It is better to eat little and often than to focus on a few large meals, thus ensuring a steady rate of energy and decreasing your risk of gastrointestinal problems. And, if you stick to pre-planned eating patterns, you are less likely to forget to eat and then run out of energy.
Finally, do not start eating an energy bar or flapjack at the bottom of one of the three hills that feature on the course. Instead, make sure to eat 10-15 minutes before you get to a hill, or wait until you get to the top.
Drink like a pro
The importance of hydration cannot be overstated. We already talked about getting to the start well hydrated, but during your ride keep drinking to replenish the fluids you lose through sweat and evaporation. You should start your ride with two full bottles (500-750 ml).
As with eating, you want to drink little and often (about one bottle per hour) to ensure good hydration and avoid having large amounts of liquids in your stomach. If you drink often you shouldn’t get thirsty — but if you do, drink! Listen to your body.
Through sweat we don’t just lose water but also the electrolytes (body salts) that our body needs for its most basic functions; a common mistake is focusing on water intake alone to the exclusion of electrolytes. If you drink too much without adding these salts you can further dilute the remaining electrolytes in your body, which can have serious consequences for your health ranging from cramp to heat stroke or even death by ‘hyponatremia’ (when there aren’t enough electrolytes in your body to pass vital information through your system, which can lead to a heart attack).
If the weather is hot, you will have to increase your fluid intake depending on the temperature and how much you sweat. Just remember to drink little and often, drink to thirst and remember your electrolytes.
Be especially aware of some common signs of dehydration; it could mean the difference between life and death:
- High heart rate
If you notice any of these symptoms make sure to drink extra fluid. With increasing temperatures, staying hydrated is a good way to help control your body temperature. If you do feel that you are overheating, do not decide you can push through it! Stop and find a place in the shade to sit, cool down and rehydrate.
Congratulations – you made it!
After you have crossed the finish line and crushed your best Wiggo victory impersonation, drink another bottle of water to rehydrate. Then, it’s time to celebrate and you can eat and drink whatever you like!
- Carb load and make sure you are well hydrated 3 days before the event
- On the day make sure you eat and drink 60g of carbohydrates per hour
- Eat little and often (1 food item or gel + 1 bottle of water each hour)
- Add electrolytes to your drink bottle to replace the salts lost via sweating
- Plan your ride and know when you can eat, when you can’t (going uphill) and where the food and drink hubs are
- Enjoy the ride!