Nutrition: Fuelling For Endurance Riding

Doing serious miles, and spending hours on end in the saddle, requires a unique kind of nutritional plan. When I say 'Endurance Riding', I don't mean 3 or 4 hours; I'm talking 8-24 hours in one shot, a real masochistic assault.

Putting your body through long arduous rides like this, brings about the need for a new approach to nutrition. No longer can you get away with pumping yourself full of simple sugars; suddenly you need to consider nutritional options that will keep you fuelled for longer, keep your stomach settled, and help repair and rejuvenate your muscles as you ride.

With the above in mind, I thought I'd share the kind of things that I chose to eat on my endurance rides in 2014: from the Dragon Devil, to the New Forest 200 and the Trafalgar Way 24hr ride.


Hydration

The first and most important part of any nutritional plan, is to ensure you stay hydrated. Without sufficient body fluid, you'll quickly start to feel limp and lifeless, and eventually electrolyte depletion will lead to painful and perhaps ride-finishing muscle cramps. 

My strategy with endurance riding hydration, is to mix water and energy drink intake. Having one bottle of each on the bike, allows you to keep your palate cleaner, and is also kinder on the stomach. 

If it's really hot, I would add an electrolyte tab (like the High5 Zero) to the water bottle, but otherwise plain water helps to provide a refreshing drink in one of your bottles. In the energy drink bottle, I normally opt for carbohydrate-protein mix drink, like the High5 4:1. This has a great gentle flavour, but crucially, the addition of protein means that it not only helps to fuel your muscles, it also helps to repair them (to find out more about this, read my post on Multi-Day Event Nutrition). 


Carbohydrate Boost

Your energy drink will provide you with one source of simple carbohydrates; these sugars are essential to keep your blood sugar high, and to give you a boost when you need it most.

In the hours when you're feeling a bit low on energy, I also supplement energy drink with occasional energy gels. Something like the High5 EnergyGel Plus will give a gentle caffeine kick as well, and provides a strong boost of 23 grams of carbohydrate. Energy gels and caffeine gels especially, are a good pick-me-up, particularly in the middle of the night when you're running low.

Simple sugars will help to 'pep you up', but they should be used fairly sparingly for endurance riding, in my opinion. You really need to concentrate on solid complex carbohydrates as your main fuel source. Lower-GI complex carbohydrate energy sources will help your diesel engine to keep running for hour after hour.

For my complex carbohydrate option, I tend to go for cereal based energy bars. To avoid things getting boring, and to encourage you to keep eating, I also think that variety is key.

A mixture of the High5 Yoghurt and Caramel Sports Bars, and the High5 4:1 Energy bars, were my primary choice for events last year. The mixture ensures you are provided with a good, varied choice of flavours. The Yoghurt and Caramel bars just taste great, which makes them easy to eat. The 4:1 Endurance Bar, has the additional benefit of containing whey protein, to help repair damaged muscle tissue as you ride.


'Real Food'

In addition to the above energy products, I also put a lot of emphasis on eating 'real food' when I'm spending prolonged hours in the saddle. The sweet energy bars and gels need to be balanced out with some more gentle flavours.

If your support vehicle/base has access to a simple stove, then a basic bowl of porridge or a plate of beans on toast, is incredibly satisfying. Having a bowl of porridge and honey in Salisbury, at midnight on the Trafalgar Way ride, was so welcomed.

Also consider peanut butter sandwiches, nuts and fresh fruit; all of which are easy to eat, and  provide a good balance of carbohydrate, fat and protein, to keep you going for longer.

Taking on real food will help to keep your stomach settled, as you put your body through particularly physical challenges. It is also a welcome break for the palate.


Endurance riding is great fun; it's hard work, but it's great fun. That said, it will only be enjoyable if you eat correctly. Get it wrong, and you'll get stomach trouble, run out of energy and potentially have to cut your ride short. Get it right, and you'll be able to keep on churning out the miles hour after hour, and that's a great feeling.


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