We've all done it, gone out for a long ride, usually early on in our cycling career, or a ride that ended up being longer than first planned. You get a few hours in, you've got no food, you get hungry... you get really hungry and then it happens, your legs go weak, you can hardly push the pedals, your vision is blurry and you feel like you're in a dream not to mention this is a dream of burgers and coke, litres of it.
This my friends is called: "Bonking", "Hunger Flat" or sometimes "Hitting the Wall".
If this hasn't happened to you, you're one of the lucky few, or perhaps you just haven't gone on a long enough ride yet! Either way you've avoided one of the worst and most unusual feeling one can have on a bike.
The following information will not only ensure that you avoid the dreaded "Bonk", but keep your energy levels high and your legs pushing hard.
Some of you may be thinking, "Surely it's not that hard, just eat when your hungry or eat some food here and there and as long as you don't bonk you'll be fine". We wish it was that simple, there is a little more to it and it does become simple when you know a little bit of the science behind it and learn what your body needs, how much of it and when.
Before we get started we'd just like to mention that Skratch Labs did not sponsor this post, it just so happens that they make the best fuelling products.
1. Use an Electrolyte & Carbohydrate Drink
If your ride is longer than an hour or it's a seriously hot day, taking an electrolyte drink with added carbohydrates allows you to maintain fluid and salt levels with the added bonus of carbohydrates to help out with energy replacement. The amount of carbohydrates in this type of drink however, won't be enough to fuel your energy expenditure (unless your ride is a very slow one) so eating food on your rides that are over an hour is still on the cards.
The amount of fluid that you need to drink will vary greatly from person to person (people sweat different amounts and concentrations of salt) as well as the weather conditions. An easy way to determine whether you're drinking enough on the bike is to weigh yourself before and after you ride. You'll want to keep your weight as close as possible before and after your ride, trying not to loose more than 3% of your body weight.
Our favourite electrolyte carbohydrate drink that we've tried is by far Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix, which is all natural and contains "...simple sugars, electrolytes, and only real fruit for flavour."
2. Eat Natural Foods Over Energy Gels
While energy gels give you that burst of energy and are easy to consume, they lift and crash your energy levels and regularly cause gastro-intestinal distress, (caused by highly concentrated carbohydrate sources that empty from the stomach at a faster rate than they can be absorbed by the small intestine and a lack of fluid intake among other things).
The solution is to eat something more real, ideally something made from scratch by you or someone else, that contains more than just one type of carbohydrate (glucose and fructose) as well as some fibre. Rice Cakes, jam sandwiches, Clif Bars and Skratch Labs Fruit Drops are all better alternatives.
Over time you'll be able to get a good gauge of how much you need to eat on the bike at different intensities. Between 40 to 100 grams of carbohydrates will be your range depending on whether you are going easy or flat out.
3. Ride Long & Slow To Train Your Body To Become Efficient
Doing a large percentage of your riding in Zone 2 (55% to 75% of FTP or 60% to 70% of Max HR) is the best way to make your body more efficient. By riding in Z2 your building your endurance base which in turn will cause your muscles to become more efficient, demanding less and less energy from external sources of food through better utilisation of energy.
The simple way to look at it is, the fitter you get the less food you'll have to eat on the bike. That being said, it depends on the type of fitness you are acquiring. You might be thinking "Will doing efforts and hard rides make me efficient?". To some extent yes, however you always want to start with a good base of training at lower intensities that will provide you with the foundation to get into the harder efforts later. Just as you build a house on a slab you want to build your top end power on a good Zone 2 base.
4. Fuel Up Before Your Ride
You want to make sure you start each ride with your muscles' glycogen stores topped up and even some food digesting (unless it's a race) that will become useful during the early stages of the ride. Make sure that you include plenty of rice, potatoes, pasta etc. in your diet and get a good meal in before your ride.Our favourite pre ride meal is oatmeal/porridge made with water and soy milk, nuts, fruit and some sneaky maple syrup.
This pre-ride meal is a perfect mix of simple and complex carbohydrates (maple syrup and oatmeal/porridge), fats (nuts) and protein.
Hopefully the tips above will keep you out of bonking territory and smashing those pedals for longer.
If you're after strength and speed gains, check out our training plans.
- Velo Goals 🤙🏼