What you eat and drink is essential to surviving a sportive, but you needn’t have a sports science degree to understand how best to stay fuelled for hours on the bike.
Above: Feed stations like this one at the 2011 Endura Lionheart are always welcome oases of plenty but the key to performing well is a steady intake of nutrients and fluids throughout the ride.
A general rule is to take on one gram of carbohydrate per kilo of bodyweight, per hour. This would equate to approximately 75 grams of carbohydrate per hour for a 75 kilo rider. Carbohydrate is the preferred source of energy for the body and should you run out, fat can be converted into a long term sustainable energy source. This chemical conversion process is however slower and you should therefore avoid this where possible and plan to fuel your body correctly for the duration of your event.
Taking on the right amount of carbohydrate by eating little and often is advised by Nigel Mitchell - Head of Nutrition at British Cycling and Team Sky – who says there are simple, nice foods people can eat to ensure they are maximising performance.
“An easy mistake some people make is to over eat on the bike, I've seen this with club riders who will have so much energy drink they'll actually end up consuming a lot more than they really need. Your body can deal with about 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour which equates to something like a bottle of race drink, or Gatorade; a regular banana or, half a CNP energy bar and half a flapjack. Bananas are great on the bike, the problem with them though for when you're doing a long ride is that they can go a bit mushy in your pocket. One of the things that pros often do is make small sandwiches with high energy foods as the filler. Panini’s with bananas in, or for longer rides, peanut butter sandwiches are ideal.”
The second and equally important element to feeding during a sportive is hydration, something Nigel describes as core to any nutrition strategy:
“If you're in good condition and you're heading out on a four hour ride, the best combination is to take a mixture of drinks, like a bottle of water and Gatorade. At Team Sky, the procedure we have for riders usually involves a bottle of electrolyte drink and a bottle of water every hour. Electrolytes, which are included in most good quality energy drink products, are essential for muscle function and are lost when an individual sweats. It is therefore important to replenish both the fluids and electrolytes during prolonged and post exercise and as it gets warmer we encourage the riders to maintain a bottle of electrolyte drink but take on two bottles of water per hour.
“The basic principle behind this hydration theory is that there's no harm in drinking more, but you will do yourself harm if you are not drinking enough. You're more susceptible to suffering in the heat when dehydrated and if you don't drink enough it can take you a long time to recover and make you feel unwell.”
Want more information on nutrition? Take a look at the British Cycling Insight Zone for advice from the same experts that work for the Great Britain Cycling Team.