Wondering what best foods to eat while endurance cycling. i.e. what to eat on a long bike ride or cyclosport event?
Ok, let’s start from the basics of how your body fuels itself when cycling. When you understand the basic underpinning principles, it will make it easy to see how all of this works together for you.
To make this easy for you, I’ve used an analogy instead of tiring scientific jargon. Let’s begin!
Here’s a quick crash-course in understanding energy supply when endurance cycling:
CheatSheet Energy Supply Tutorial:
Imagine! …cycling along, your body can access two energy tanks:
1. The first energy tank is your fat tank with a tap. This tap has a tiny tap from which fat can be accessed as a fuel. To access this fat for energy, you have to cycle really rather slowly because fat trickles out only slowly.
However, the fat tank is massive, so potentially it could fuel you for a few sportives back to back without you eating anything else if you went slow enough! (In reality, though it’s not quite like this as you still need carbohydrates, but for arguments sake, let’s say it is).
2. The second tank is your carbohydrate tank. This tank has a much bigger tap from which you can readily access carbohydrate as a fuel. As you cycle faster, your fat tap quickly phases to a trickle and you now access predominantly carbohydrate as a fuel.
You can very easily access this tank of energy because the tap is so big – but the drawback is that the carbohydrate tank itself is very small.
Because it’s so small and the tank tap big, you can only access about a 2 hour energy supply of carbohydrate fuel before you run out of energy!
Therefore, carbohydrates are the body’s “preferred” energy source for bike riding.
How to Use More Fat For Fuel WHILE Preserving Your Carbs…
Your goal then is to train the body to use more fat for fuel AND preserve the amount of carbs being depleted.
We can do this two ways…
- Riding longer endurance rides + 2 hrs long…(training yourself to access more fat for fuel; build your aerobic metabolism)
- Eat carbs often during your bike ride. (To ward off a depleted carb tank).
You can train yourself to access more fat from your fat tank, preserving your carb stores in your limited carbohydrate tank.
The key is in trying to make the fat tank’s tap bigger. When it gets bigger you can go that bit faster and use more fat for fuel, hence preserving precious carbohydrate from the carb tank.
In other words, you can delay the length of time it takes to run out of energy by burning more fat for fuel…
Did You Know? Teaching the body to burn more fat for fuel is in essence what fundamental endurance training is all about. Not only are you training your muscles to cope with longer distances, but you are also training your body to use more fat for fuel, preserving valuable carbohydrates and going faster for longer.
To go faster for longer: train to tap into more fat for fuel to preserve precious carb stores
Now, professional cyclists are a great example of having extremely well trained fat taps (in scientific terms this is what’s called the aerobic metabolism). They’ve cycled for so many years and built layer upon layer of fundamental endurance that they can go fast for a good number of hours on little food intake. They do need carbs, but run out of energy much later than we sportive amateurs would.
On the contrary, obese/highly unfit subjects have such poorly trained fat taps that they access their carb tank readily with hardly any exercise. They deplete their energies quickly many times a day.
You can now probably see why obese/highly unfit subjects crave sugary food so often…which in turn leads to diseases like diabetes. This yo-yo-ing repeats itself and they sadly get fatter and fatter.
The solution here for unfit subjects is to exercise – like riding a bike! Then they can train their fat tank to release more fat to curb sugar cravings and restore better energy balance during the day.
Anyway, – back to riding our bikes and what to eat to go faster for longer…