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Nutrition During RAGBRAI

  • 10 July, 2009

One topic I get a lot of questions about is how to eat for a cycling event.  A one-day ride is one thing, but a week long tour like RAGBRAI has additional considerations.  I’ll cover a few of them here.

r0725RAGBRAIthur13hmAmount of food:

You will burn about 30 calories per mile while riding your bike, so you can expect to burn around 2100 calories on a 70 mile day in addition to your normal basal metabolism requirements.  That’s quite a bit of food but eating enough usually isn’t a problem on RAGBRAI where a feast awaits you in every town.  Rather the challenge may be avoiding overeating and eating the right amount of the proper types of food.

 It’s best to eat small amounts of food at a time rather than eating large meals, especially for breakfast and lunch.  Riding on a full stomach is not pleasant.  Rather, eat a small meal or snack several times during the ride and save the large meal for when you get into the overnight town.  It’s important to have a good sized meal in the evening to refuel your muscles for the next day’s ride.

m0726ragbraitheme15hbDon’t forget the energy in drinks. If you drink soda, sports drink or beer, those have lots of calories and can add up.  Because you may drink these because you are thirsty you may be getting more calories than you realize or need.  It’s best to drink primarily water during your ride, or a sports drink.

 Types of food:

Make sure to eat plenty of carbohydrates during the week.  Carbohydrates, in case you aren’t aware, come from fruits, veggies, sugars, and starches from grains (rice, wheat, oatmeal) and potatoes.  Carbohydrates turn into blood sugar on which your muscles run, along with fat.   However, your body has enough fat reserves so you don’t need to worry about eating additional fat during RAGBRAI.  You actually want to avoid eating too much fat, especially before and during your ride as it will slow digestion and may cause stomach upset.

Don’t forget the protein as you may burn a small amount of protein during your day-long ride.  If you eat a normal diet you shouldn’t have any concerns here.  For example if eat a pork chop, that will give you plenty! 

The best advice is to try to eat healthfully during RAGBRAI, lots of fruits, veggies and grains, lean protein and light on fat, just as you should the rest of the time.  The main difference is you will be eating more.   Let your hunger be your gauge and listen to your stomach.  Don’t eat too much at a time while on the bike and you should be fine.

By the way, look for me at the Expo on the first Saturday in Council Bluffs.  I’ll be there selling and signing my new book, ‘101 Cycling Workouts’.   Stop by and say hi, and feel free to ask questions about your upcoming ride or anything related to training.

Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Coach. He coaches individual cyclists,  the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team and the JDRF Greater Iowa Chapter for the Ride to Cure Diabetes.  He is also an NSCA certified Personal Trainer.  He can be contacted at Coach@CyclesportCoaching.com .


  1. Matt

    Pie has fruit in it, so that is healthy… right? ;)

  2. Coach Ertl

    Right, just don’t eat the crust!

  3. katie

    darn…the crust is the best part!

  4. creedrago

    Where on earth can we get your book?

  5. Kelsey

    Do we have to bring any food on the ride for breakfast and lunch or will that be provided to?

  6. Donny

    I enjoy what you gugs tend to be up too. This sort of clever work and coverage!

    Keep up the fantastic works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to my personal blogroll.

    Feel free to visit my website – Low Carb Meals – Donny

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