In the limited research I did before training for a century ride, one piece of advice stood out: Eat before you are hungry, drink before you are thirsty. That is such a good tip, I thought, and then promptly forgot about it.
This is why my longest ride to date ended with such an epic feed (if you missed it, check out Part II). I started that day with a 250-calorie protein smoothie and then ate only three apples and half a bran muffin during a hilly 6-hour, 60 mile ride.
To understand how much I should have eaten, let's look at the numbers. On a 60-mile of ride at around 12-14 miles per hour, my 5-foot-four, 128-pound body likely burned about 2,600 calories. So, in short...
Half of a muffin (200 calories) + 3 apples (210 calories) = not enough fuel.
The situation was not helped by my failure to consume more than a liter of water on the ride. In retrospect, this could have been just as much to blame for my headache and slight delirium.
So the two tips today come from hard lessons learned.
Eat while you go: This will help you feel good during your ride and avoid binge sessions afterward. When riding, stop and eat every hour. On a recent 40-miler, I had one protein energy bar every 10 miles and finished feeling great. Fast carbs, such as energy gels, will work, but research shows that you don’t have to stick to processed products. For our century, Jacob and I are planning to make trail mix out of potassium-rich dates and plantain chips, as well as nuts and chocolate. To figure out how many calories you burn (and hence how you should fuel), check out this handy calculator from WebMD.
Buy a CamelBack or Learn to Love your Water Breaks: A good rule of thumb is to consume about one liter per hour when you ride. However, make sure to follow your thirst and to watch the color of your urine. If it’s clear, you’re drinking enough water. If it’s yellow, you’re dehydrated and you need to drink more.
Most importantly, you need to have water easily available. If you've set a good pace, it's tempting to continue rather than stop for a drink. CamelBack may be the best tool for staying hydrated during your ride. The easy access to your water means you’re more likely to drink as you go. Otherwise, carry two water bottles in cages on your bike. Several different contraptions will let you keep your bottles near your handlebars, which means you won’t have to stop for a drink.