RAGBRAI Training: Tips for Eating and Drinking on a Training Ride
by Coach David Ertl
I get quite a few questions about how one should eat and drink while riding. As I mentioned in my previous blog, you should be gradually increasing your miles on the bike as you get out and start preparing for RAGBRAI. This means you will be burning more energy and becoming dehydrated if you don’t refuel and rehydrate properly. Here are some tips on how to keep your body full of energy and fluids.
When riding we are constantly losing water from our bodies through perspiration and breathing. This needs to be replaced to keep your body functionally well. If you run low on fluid, your engine starts to shut down and it will feel like you are getting tired when in fact you may just be dehydrated. A good rule of thumb is to drink 1-2 water bottles of fluid per hour of riding. As it gets hotter, you will want to increase your intake.
For rides less than a half hour, you probably don’t need to bring a water bottle as long as you are hydrated at the start of the ride. For rides lasting from 30-90 minutes, I typically just drink water or throw in an electrolyte tablet such as Nuun to flavor the water and to add a few electrolytes like sodium and magnesium, which need to be replaced as you sweat. For rides lasting more than 90 minutes, you should consider adding some energy drink mix powder to your water bottles to give you some extra energy. There are a lot of options on the market. The trick is to find one that tastes good to you, so that you will want to drink it. Make sure you try it when your bottle gets hot as well as when it is cool. Riding on hot days will heat up your water bottle and its contents. This can make some flavors less appealing.
When you are on long rides, make sure you have two large water bottles with you. If you are going for more than two hours, you will want to identify somewhere along the ride where you can stop and refill your bottles. I also like to bring along some extra drink mix and dump into the bottles when I refill. Or find a gas station or convenience store and grab something like Gatorade or Powerade. Experiment and find what works best for you before you get to RAGBRAI so that you will have a plan going into your longer training rides and for RAGBRAI itself.
On rides lasting less than 90 minutes, you probably don’t need to do much to fuel your body for a ride of this duration, assuming you eat a normal meal prior to the ride. A normal diet will provide plenty of reserves for this length of rides. As rides start lasting beyond 90 minutes you need to be thinking about eating a little more prior to rides or bringing something along to eat on the ride. So if you are heading out for a longer ride, make sure to eat a larger meal than usual prior to the ride. It is suggested you finish eating at least two hours before you start riding to let the meal digest and be available as energy to burn. Plus, it’s no fun riding on a full stomach. I would recommend getting your extra calories from carbohydrates (breads, pasta, beans, fruit) as this is the most readily available form of energy to use on your ride. While fat has a lot of energy, it isn’t quick energy. Plus most of us have some extra fat laying around our bodies just waiting to be burned off.
If you can’t get a good meal prior to a long ride, then the other alternative is to bring food with you and eat along the way. Again I recommend carbohydrates and this time you want easily digestible food. Energy bars are always a good option as these are designed to be eaten during exercise. But good old fig bars and bananas work just as well (and actually taste better than many energy bars in my opinion).
Of course, as I said above, for rides lasting longer than 90 minutes you will have energy drink in your bottles. But that doesn’t contribute all that much to your energy needs. A large bottle mixed with energy drink powder will provide 100-150 calories. That is only enough to fuel you for 3-5 miles, so don’t depend on your drink to keep you fueled on long rides. Be sure to have some sort of food along with you. If you are out on a long ride and didn’t bring food with you, there are some decent choices you can make from a convenience store. Look for items that are fairly high in carbohydrates and low in fat. That rules out most of the snacks, but again things like packaged cookies and fig bars are usually available. Grab a banana if you can. More commonly convenience stores are stocking energy bars like Clif and Powerbars so go for those instead of a donut or chips.
If you are doing a long ride with a lunch stop planned, this can refuel you but be careful not to overeat on these stops and again watch out for foods heavy on the fat. So you might opt for pasta or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead of a cheeseburger and fries. If you eat too much you will feel sluggish and perhaps a bit sick when you get back on your bike. Think about eating to fuel your body instead of stuffing it. Getting in this habit will help you when RAGBRAI rolls around. You will be tempted all week with all kinds of foods. Learn how much you can eat and comfortably ride. Once out on RAGBRAI, the problem isn’t enough energy, it’s too much. Now is the time to practice eating and drinking just enough but not too much.
– Coach David Ertl
David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team and is a national head coach for the the JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes and he coaches individual cyclists. He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: http://www.CyclesportCoaching.com . He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.