Just recently I was on the other side of this fence...
I was reading articles on how to fuel properly for long endurance events / races. I’d read some interesting stuff about how Tour de France riders were fueling or how Olympic Marathon runners were planning their fueling strategy. To be honest, I did not relate to any of that. The people who were at the center of these articles were out of reach, followed by dieticians, had all the resources they wanted and I just couldn’t identify myself with them. But what I did know was that I had to eat a lot more than what I was currently doing.
Earlier this summer I had been tackling some of the Belgian Waffle Rides and I could never dial in the perfect nutrition strategy. I was either bonking because I was not eating enough or had a stomach issue because I was eating too much.. Historically, I was also using sugar-coated products in order to get in enough calories and (what I thought) all the sugar to fuel my rides. It turns out I was doing a few things wrong.
Last year I had the idea of crossing the Gaspésie peninsula in a single push. Something that has never been done before and very little information was available on the route. Those are the kind of challenges I’ve always strived for. The region is well known for skiing and snowmobiling in the winter, but not so much for gravel cycling. In fact, people that embark on adventures in this region usually do it using mountain bikes and carry a bunch of gear to camp in those remote areas. I designed the fastest route to ride from the Matane ferry to the City of Gaspé using mainly gravel roads. The route had something like 350km and 5000m of vertical gain… in terrain that was truly unknown to me. I knew that in order to complete this journey I had to dial in my equipment, navigation and most importantly: fueling strategy.
In the weeks leading up to my journey I was doing long (4-5 hr) tempo rides using the new Flow Formulas gels. My strategy was to get in a portion of gel during the first 30 min of the hour and a solid oatmeal bar the other 30 min of the hour. Every time I was putting either a gel or a bar in my belly I made sure to drink plain water. Drinking water as opposed to drink mix made the bar or gel easier for the stomach to process. 15 min after the solid food intake I was taking a big sip of Flow Formulas endurance drink mix. Again, no big stomach stress and easy to digest. That is exactly the strategy I stuck with throughout the entire 330 km ride.
If you do the math, it would look something like:
Most fueling related articles that I studied talked about 90-110g of carbs per hour and I had never been able to do that before using the Flow Formulas gels. I have to say that this ride has been one of the most eye-opening rides for me in terms of fueling. I was close to that previously, but I was instead trying to get all the calories in at once and using very sugary products. I was taking a gel or eating candies and getting a big sip of drink mix at the same time. This strategy didn’t work since it was upsetting my stomach and it got to the point that I just couldn’t eat anymore.
These are the little subtleties that are not necessarily underlined in articles about World Tour riders. The only metric is the amount of carbs ingested, but the way they are ingested and digested are a game changer and maybe what makes the difference between following a move or not. Keep in mind: a steady carb intake, drinking water with solid foods or gels, and using the drink mix in between the solid intake is key to a happy stomach and long-term fueling success!
Photos by Laurence Gaudy