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RideLondon Nutrition: What Should You Be Eating On The Ride

Cycling nutrition RideLondon

Sweets for my sweet

In this post I’m going to be looking at my nutrition plan for RideLondon.

By ‘nutrition plan’, I mean what (and when) I plan to eat and drink during the ride in order to provide the energy to propel me to victory on the Mall.

I wouldn’t normally produce anything resembling a formal nutrition plan for a ride. I’m a ‘Snickers and a bag of Haribos’ kind of rider. In sportives I rely on whatever is provided at the organised feed stops (with the aforementioned confectionary as emergency back up).

But RideLondon is bit different from what I’m used to.

At 100 miles, it’s longer than I’ve ridden before. There are time cut-offs to beat. I want to leave less to chance (having raised in excess of £1,000, I definitely want to finish).

Hence, ‘the plan’.

Why Should You Consider a Nutrition Plan for RideLondon?

Here are my arguments for at least considering your nutrition:

  • It’s a long ride. Whether you’re planning to complete ride in 4 hours (the info pack suggests the first rider will appear at the Mall at 10am) or 9 hours, you’ll need to take on board some food
  • There are time cut-offs. If you run out of energy, the option to nurse yourself slowly round the remainder of the course simply isn’t there. The marshals will pull you out (or send you on one of the shorter detours) to make sure you’re not in the path of the pro race.
  • You can’t rely on the food provided by the organisers. This is a new event with a lot of riders. I expect a high likelihood of food running short at some of the feed stops, particularly if you have a later start time like me (in fact I have the latest start time: 8am).
  • The food may not be what you’re used to. Even if there is ample supply of food at the stops, if it’s not what you’re used to, it may cause you digestive problems later in the event. If you’ve been having a particular type of gel (or colour of Jelly Baby) in training, it seems sensible to use it in the event itself.

For me, it comes down to the fact that I’ve fudged these things in the past. My tendency is to not eat or drink enough – I can get away with this over a 3–4 hour ride, but not over 7–8. If I have a plan, even if I don’t stick to it to the letter, I’ll be better off than simply relying on luck and the largesse of the event organisers.

What Do You Need to Eat Whilst Riding?

[Note: the following assumes you’ve had a good breakfast and are ‘fully fuelled’ prior to the event]

I am not a nutritionist, so take what I say with a pinch of electrolytes, but for a one-day event, all you need whilst riding is energy (plus water and maybe some replacement salts).

That energy needs to come from carbohydrates. From my research (i.e. using Google), I understand that most people undertaking endurance events need between 45g and 60g of carbohydrates an hour, with 60g being the upper limit of what most people can process over that period.

Despite having highly-qualified sports nutritionists and Instagramming team chefs, professional cycling teams keep things simple for their riders whilst they are on the bike. They provide the riders with food in standardised amounts (for instance. in volumes that provide 20g of carbohydrates per portion), allowing the cyclist to calculate easily the amount they need to be eating.

My aim is to do something similar.

The Building Blocks of My Nutrition Plan

My intention is to consume approximately 60g of carbohydrates for each hour of my RideLondon ride.

Depending on how quickly I finish, that is somewhere between 420g (7 hours) and 480g (8 hours).

That total will be built using the following components:

Bananas (20–25g of carbohydrates per banana)

Jelly Babies (5 Jelly Babies provide 23g carbs)

Gels (20g per gel)

Sports drink (36g per 500ml bottle)

Mars Bars (42g per bar)

In any given hour, we’re looking at combinations like:

1 banana + 500ml of sports drink

1 Mars Bar + 5 Jelly Babies

1 gel + 1 banana + 5 Jelly Babies

You probably get the idea…

The main downside of this approach is that all of these things are incredibly sweet (carbohydrates that provide energy quickly do tend to be) and could therefore be quite difficult to consume as time goes on. I’m debating whether to take something like a bag of salted peanuts just in case I really can’t stomach another gel.

Weight A Minute

RideLondon nutrition before during and after

Before, during and after

Even using such carb-intensive fuel, the amount of food that needs to be carried around is going to be substantial, if I don’t want to rely on the organised feed stops at all.

To provide 420g of carbohydrates (the lower end of my envisaged requirement), we’re talking about carrying something like the following:

2 bananas

1 Mars Bar

30 Jelly Babies

3 gels

4 sachets of powder (for the energy drink)

Of course, half of that should have been consumed by the time the road starts to tilt upwards, but it may still put a strain on carrying space along with whatever else I bring along (I will be following the rules that forbid hydration packs (#32) and frame-mounted pumps (#30); I will ignore the one about under-saddle bags(#31)).

It probably makes sense to carry a proportion of my food requirement (maybe the gels and the sports drink sachets that I’m used to*, and the Jelly Babies), and hope that the feed stops provide the rest (bananas always seem to be provided at sportives).

(*Er, that I intend to get used to over the next week and a half!)

Unless I plan to bring a camel and a codpiece along with me, I’ll need to stop for water and ‘comfort breaks’ anyway.

Now, if you thought this post was already at the anal end of the organisation spectrum (if you’ll excuse the expression), be prepared for the next section.

What To Eat and When on RideLondon

In my defence, the following table sprang initially out of my fear of missing some of the cut-offs outlined in the ‘Final Countdown’ information pack. I wanted to know, based on my start time and estimated speed, how far ahead I’d be of the enforced diversions and the broom wagon (I think I’ll be ok).

Then I thought I’d create a hypothetical eating plan, setting out what I might eat each hour, where I expected to be at the end of each period and when I would be hitting each hub/drinks station (note: there are a lot of drinks stations, which is probably a good thing).

The likelihood of me following the plan fastidiously is very low indeed. But even if I only manage to follow it approximately, that’ll be considerably better than simply leaving it to chance.

Finally (finally, finally…), feel free to ignore the table if it’s of no use to you. If nothing else, perhaps it’ll help you arrange with your supporters when to be in a specific place to cheer you on (clearly you’ll need to recalculate for your own anticipated speed), or maybe make you think about timing a mouthful of Jelly Babies to kick in just as you reach the foot of Leith Hill.

The RideLondon Nutrition Plan (In All Its Glory…)

TimeDistance From Start (km)Location / LandmarkHub/Drinks [Distance From Start]Food TypeCarbohydrates (g)Cumulative Carbs Consumed (g)
08:000StartGO Electrolyte Drink3636
5 Jelly Babies2359
09:0022HarrodsMars Bar42101
Drinks [27km]5 Jelly Babies23124
10:0044Kingston-Upon-ThamesGO Electrolyte Drink36160
Hub [46km]Banana25185
11:0066PyrfordDrinks [66km]5 Jelly Babies23208
GO Isotonic Gel*20228
Hub [79km]Banana25253
12:0088Leith Hill approachDrinks [88km]GO Isotonic Gel**20273
Drinks [100km]Mars Bar ***42315
13:00110Box Hill topDrinks [112km]GO Electrolyte Drink36351
Hub [123km]5 Jelly Babies23374
14:00132CobhamGO Isotonic Gel20394
Drinks [138km]10 Jelly Babies46440
15:00154WimbledonDrinks [154km]5 Jelly Babies23463
Drinks [160km]
15:30168Finish

Notes:

* To consume at West Horsley – for Newlands Corner climb

** To consume at Leith Hill approach drinks stop – for Leith Hill climb

*** To consume on road to Dorking – for Box Hill climb

Conclusion

Nutrition on a long ride is important. I’ve put effort into making my legs as strong as possible (sort of). I don’t want to find that I’ve run out of petrol in the depths of Surrey with a peleton of pros bearing down on me. I don’t want to have to give back £1,000 of sponsorship money because the Broom Wagon had to pick me up from a (£50,000) hedge in Wimbledon (as I sob gently to myself).

Who knows how closely I will follow ‘the plan’ on the day, but at least having thought about nutrition, I’ll make sure that I carry more than an out-of-date Snickers and a few sweaty haribos.

What about you? What do you take to eat on a long ride? Have I made any glaring errors (it happens)? Have I missed an alternative super food – fig rolls, Jaffa Cakes, Kendal (Bloody) Mint Cake? Let me know in the comments below.

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{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Orome says:

    Despite our slightly earlier start (7:38) my (far to extensive) calculations have us arriving at the finish (if we arrive there all) at the same time, and have you passing us somewhere between Leith Hill and Box Hill summit (if we’re not diverted there). Do wave hello as you pass us!

    • I absolutely will! Do you have any recognisable features (bike jersey, type of bike etc)? You WON’T need to be diverted. Positive Mental Attitude!

      • twitter_Orome says:

        Diversion avoided. We had a mad rush through the empty but still terrifying streets of London to the start, to what we were certain would be disqualification for missing our times (we did indeed arrive well after our “load time”, and just seconds before our start time), but St Botolph must have worked his magic as we passed (without Aldgate), because we ended up starting with our “wave” and completing the ride. At some point you must indeed have passed us, but I’m certain I was too intent on suvival to have noticed a wave. Next year!

  • Colin Horsfall says:

    Don’t forget that your body has stored energy.
    Over a 100 mile race a couple of bananas & maybe an energy bar in case you bonked is the most for me . That’s what I was doing 20yrs ago at age 50 & doing 100 in well under 5 hrs. We did regular 100 weekend rides on 2 bananas & water & a coke at the shop half way round. We would leave at 8 am & arrive home around 1.15 pm. You see you need to train your body to store energy efficiently. It can make you gag a bit trying to poke in to much sweet. Of course you have to train yourself to eat while riding especially if doing a tough tour.
    Try taking 2 bananas & a packt of sultana fruit pasties in your back pocket . One bottle water & one bottle of energy drink. For a 100 rely on no one!

  • Blimey! Super organised! I did the entire Surrey section of the route last weekend (75 miles) and didn’t eat anything! Last 10 miles was tough as a result. In plan to make 3 or 4 stops on the ride and have an energy bar or gel at each stop. I do still have significant “reserves” packed around my muscles and bones though (still over 20% body fat).
    I did take nearly 5 litres of water with me though as it was 30°C and I didn’t know where I would be able to refill. That didn’t make newlands corner or Leith hill any easier! 🙂

  • Some alterations I’d suggest: Banana, (although even Alberto Contador likes to have one racing) are loaded with fructose, which is slower to assimilate than other sugars. Mars bars are loaded with fat, so absorption of the sugar is retarded by that. And finally, those carbs (45g-60g) require water to be absorbed (roughly a bidon) . In requiring water, you’ll need electrolytes. I’d suggest a bidon with energy drink a gel and a bottle water every 60′-90′.

    • I am a massive steak fan, so I’m happy to follow Contador’s lead on the banana front as well 🙂

      The other thing about Mars Bars is that they tend to melt in your pocket (not that that bothered me at the top of my recent ascent of Sa Calobra…)

  • Stu says:

    Lets be honest, on “Race day” you’re not going to keep that that! Also, the chances of a feed station running out, are highly unlikely, these events are generally sponsored by large nutrition company (High5), and supply more than enough.

    On another note – sack of expensive sports drinks, and simply take what they provide; [simple] Carbohydrates. These drinks contain mostly Glucose(Dextrose) and Fructose, which studies show (I have personally been on these studies!) that when combined can be absorbed more efficiently as they are absorbed via different transport mechanisms. I generally used about 7g/100ml (70g/700ml bottle). These are things that are cheaply available at say Holland and Barrett?

    As for the stored energy, that’s all fine. But I can speak from experience here, it doesn’t quite work like that. When your body is operating at a high Heart Rate, you have to break down the proteins and fats into Carbohydrates, which isn’t a quick process. Which is essentially why sports drinks have simple carbohydrates in them.

    Best to keep eating/drinking as once you become hypoglycaemic/bonking (low blood sugars), there isn’t an quick come back!

    I recently did and Ironman Triathlon (First Tri too) and spent the day on no food, and simply lived off energy drink and coke for the day, with a breakfast as a base.

    If you’re interested, I’ll write up a ‘proper’ post(s) on nutrition and how it works!

  • Stu says:

    Also, don’t forget, you actually have to carry all this!

    • True that! What I’ll probably do is take a couple of gels, 1 bottle of energy drink, 1 additional sachet and some jelly babies, then use the feed stops to provide for the rest. Thanks all for the advice!

  • Stu Evans says:

    Aldi flapjack 49p. Survived 3 century rides on it this year. Nevermind what cyclo-foodies say, eat what works best for you. I won’t pontificate but start nibbling and drinking from the start to the finish. See you all next week 😉

  • La Lanterne Rouge says:

    For what its worth, here’s my advice. The feed stops will give you plenty (unless you genuinely are inches from being swept up by the Broom) so fill yr pockets then get back on the bike. Use these stops to get the ‘slow release’ carbs in (bananas, flap jacks, figs etc). Where possible, eat some “normal”/natural foods – taking in all the energy you require as energy bars etc will wreak havoc with the bowels. Just take the quick release stuff (gels etc) in your pockets from the start…use these on the big hills and keep one in reserve. Ditch the saddle bag (the Rules are the rules). Drink plenty of water (+/- electrolytes or carbs) every time you eat anything or its all pointless. Avoid the red wine and cheese…

  • […] on the bike, both on longer training rides and on the ride itself. Monty at Sportive Cyclist has written about this so I don’t have to, but basically you need carbohydrates before and during, and protein […]

  • […] now though, a delve into the Sportive Cyclist archives throws up a post I wrote ahead of my first 100 mile sportive (aka RideLondon […]

  • Orome July 25, 2013, 6:09 pm

    Despite our slightly earlier start (7:38) my (far to extensive) calculations have us arriving at the finish (if we arrive there all) at the same time, and have you passing us somewhere between Leith Hill and Box Hill summit (if we’re not diverted there). Do wave hello as you pass us!

    • Andrew Montgomery July 26, 2013, 7:36 pm

      I absolutely will! Do you have any recognisable features (bike jersey, type of bike etc)? You WON’T need to be diverted. Positive Mental Attitude!

      • twitter_Orome August 15, 2013, 7:52 pm

        Diversion avoided. We had a mad rush through the empty but still terrifying streets of London to the start, to what we were certain would be disqualification for missing our times (we did indeed arrive well after our “load time”, and just seconds before our start time), but St Botolph must have worked his magic as we passed (without Aldgate), because we ended up starting with our “wave” and completing the ride. At some point you must indeed have passed us, but I’m certain I was too intent on suvival to have noticed a wave. Next year!

  • Colin Horsfall July 26, 2013, 7:48 am

    Don’t forget that your body has stored energy.
    Over a 100 mile race a couple of bananas & maybe an energy bar in case you bonked is the most for me . That’s what I was doing 20yrs ago at age 50 & doing 100 in well under 5 hrs. We did regular 100 weekend rides on 2 bananas & water & a coke at the shop half way round. We would leave at 8 am & arrive home around 1.15 pm. You see you need to train your body to store energy efficiently. It can make you gag a bit trying to poke in to much sweet. Of course you have to train yourself to eat while riding especially if doing a tough tour.
    Try taking 2 bananas & a packt of sultana fruit pasties in your back pocket . One bottle water & one bottle of energy drink. For a 100 rely on no one!

  • Giles Roadnight July 26, 2013, 9:05 am

    Blimey! Super organised! I did the entire Surrey section of the route last weekend (75 miles) and didn’t eat anything! Last 10 miles was tough as a result. In plan to make 3 or 4 stops on the ride and have an energy bar or gel at each stop. I do still have significant “reserves” packed around my muscles and bones though (still over 20% body fat).
    I did take nearly 5 litres of water with me though as it was 30°C and I didn’t know where I would be able to refill. That didn’t make newlands corner or Leith hill any easier! 🙂

  • Tomás Metcalfe July 26, 2013, 9:13 am

    Some alterations I’d suggest: Banana, (although even Alberto Contador likes to have one racing) are loaded with fructose, which is slower to assimilate than other sugars. Mars bars are loaded with fat, so absorption of the sugar is retarded by that. And finally, those carbs (45g-60g) require water to be absorbed (roughly a bidon) . In requiring water, you’ll need electrolytes. I’d suggest a bidon with energy drink a gel and a bottle water every 60′-90′.

    • Andrew Montgomery July 26, 2013, 7:33 pm

      I am a massive steak fan, so I’m happy to follow Contador’s lead on the banana front as well 🙂

      The other thing about Mars Bars is that they tend to melt in your pocket (not that that bothered me at the top of my recent ascent of Sa Calobra…)

  • Stu July 26, 2013, 3:48 pm

    Lets be honest, on “Race day” you’re not going to keep that that! Also, the chances of a feed station running out, are highly unlikely, these events are generally sponsored by large nutrition company (High5), and supply more than enough.

    On another note – sack of expensive sports drinks, and simply take what they provide; [simple] Carbohydrates. These drinks contain mostly Glucose(Dextrose) and Fructose, which studies show (I have personally been on these studies!) that when combined can be absorbed more efficiently as they are absorbed via different transport mechanisms. I generally used about 7g/100ml (70g/700ml bottle). These are things that are cheaply available at say Holland and Barrett?

    As for the stored energy, that’s all fine. But I can speak from experience here, it doesn’t quite work like that. When your body is operating at a high Heart Rate, you have to break down the proteins and fats into Carbohydrates, which isn’t a quick process. Which is essentially why sports drinks have simple carbohydrates in them.

    Best to keep eating/drinking as once you become hypoglycaemic/bonking (low blood sugars), there isn’t an quick come back!

    I recently did and Ironman Triathlon (First Tri too) and spent the day on no food, and simply lived off energy drink and coke for the day, with a breakfast as a base.

    If you’re interested, I’ll write up a ‘proper’ post(s) on nutrition and how it works!

  • Stu July 26, 2013, 3:50 pm

    Also, don’t forget, you actually have to carry all this!

    • Andrew Montgomery July 26, 2013, 7:29 pm

      True that! What I’ll probably do is take a couple of gels, 1 bottle of energy drink, 1 additional sachet and some jelly babies, then use the feed stops to provide for the rest. Thanks all for the advice!

  • Stu Evans July 26, 2013, 9:23 pm

    Aldi flapjack 49p. Survived 3 century rides on it this year. Nevermind what cyclo-foodies say, eat what works best for you. I won’t pontificate but start nibbling and drinking from the start to the finish. See you all next week 😉

  • La Lanterne Rouge July 26, 2013, 11:19 pm

    For what its worth, here’s my advice. The feed stops will give you plenty (unless you genuinely are inches from being swept up by the Broom) so fill yr pockets then get back on the bike. Use these stops to get the ‘slow release’ carbs in (bananas, flap jacks, figs etc). Where possible, eat some “normal”/natural foods – taking in all the energy you require as energy bars etc will wreak havoc with the bowels. Just take the quick release stuff (gels etc) in your pockets from the start…use these on the big hills and keep one in reserve. Ditch the saddle bag (the Rules are the rules). Drink plenty of water (+/- electrolytes or carbs) every time you eat anything or its all pointless. Avoid the red wine and cheese…

    • Andrew Montgomery July 30, 2013, 12:37 pm

      Thank you Monsieur Rouge. Sensible advice (for once). Can you just confirm that you rode sans saddlebag on the Etape?

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