Nutrition for Cyclosportifs such as the Etape Du Tour

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Getting Your Nutrition Right when Riding a Sportive

During a sportive such as the Etape Du Tour, where you spend up to 12 hours riding a
mountain stage of the Tour De France, you will be reliant on not just your fitness but
also your fuel intake. Get it wrong and the best thing you can expect is to underperform.
Get it right, and you could be overtaking people who would normally beat
you. Cyclists have it easier then some other endurance athletes because eating and
drinking on a bike is a relatively simple task. No other sport keeps your stomach so
stable, or allows you to carry all your food and fluids with you so easily. This is just
as well because when you are pedalling up a mountain you will be getting through a
massive 600 to 1000 calories per hour. This could add up to around 6000 calories
during an 8-hour ride, depending on intensity and rider weight. When you consider
that the NHS recommended calorie intake for average women is 2000 and 2500 for
men, you can begin to imagine how much fuel you are getting through; around 3-days
Fluid Losses
Cyclists not only burn a lot of calories but also experience big losses of fluid,
although they may not realise it as their sweat evaporates in the wind. The cooling
wind can also keep you from overheating, which fools you into thinking you are well
hydrated. Once you are dehydrated it is difficult to catch up with your fluid
requirements. To compound your problems, when you are dehydrated, your stomach
is less able to process the food that you eat, diverting oxygen from the working
muscles to the stomach, making those hills feel even steeper.

Pre-event Nutrition
In the 48 hours prior to the event, make sure you consume adequate carbohydrates.
You need to eat three good meals per day and supplement them with carbohydrate
snacks such as fruit or cereals. Sportives usually start early in the morning, and most
cyclists prefer to wake up early enough to eat a good sized breakfast 3 hours before
the start. For the pre-race meal you should aim to consume about one gram of
carbohydrate per pound of body weight. It is easy to look at the grams of
carbohydrates on the packets of most foods such as cereals, bread and energy
products. For example a medium sized bowl of unsweetened muesli with skimmed
milk contains about 45 grams of carbohydrate. For a cyclist weighing 10 stone (140
lbs) this would equate to around 3 bowlfuls as their pre-event meal. Food containing
small amounts of protein and fat can also be included. For example, a medium sized
bowl of muesli also contains 8 grams of protein. If you can’t face eating this much on
the morning of a race, you could eat less, but supplement your breakfast with a
carbohydrate sports drink.
Although you can usually pick up adequate fluids en route, it is important to make
sure you start the event well hydrated. The best way to ensure this is by noticing the
colour of your urine. Aim for the colour to be somewhere between clear and straw

Nutrition during the event
During the ride itself you need to consume between 30 and 60 grams of carbohydrate
per hour depending on your weight and riding intensity. Again, this is equivalent to a
bowl of cereal per hour, but when riding at higher intensities the chances are that you
won’t be able to tolerate much solid food. Hence, it is worth considering sports
drinks and gels, as well as solids like cereal bars and fruit. A typical 750ml bottle of
carbohydrate drink such as Torq energy or Perpetuem by Hammer Nutrition contains
around 50 or 60 grams of carbohydrate from 2 or 3 scoops of powder mixed with
water. Typical energy bars, such as Power Bar Performance contain 25 grams of
carbohydrate, whilst energy gels contain between 15 and 28 grams of carbohydrate,
depending on how watery they are. However, every athlete has their own personal
tolerances and fuel requirements. Some athletes competing in long distance events
may consume up to 100 grams of carbohydrates per hour.

Hydration during the event

A basic hydration rate of around 800 to 1000mls per hour of water or sports drink is
recommended for a sportive. However, this is hugely dependent on a number of
factors such as heat, wind, humidity, intensity, rider size and sweat rate. For example,
if you are riding hard in hot conditions, this may need to be multiplied by 3 or 4 times.

Nutrition Tips for a Sportive
  1. Concentration of drinks. The concentration of your sports drink affects the rate at which you can absorbcarbohydrates from it. Conveniently most sports drinks fall into the gastrically acceptable range of around 6 to 8% carbohydrate. Just don’t mix them too strong,or your stomach will struggle to cope.
  2. Try savoury snacks! After 3 or 4 hours of cycling and consuming sweet drinks, gels and bars, you may crave something savoury. Ham and tomato rolls seem to go down well.
  3.  Check the roadside nutrition. It’s only possible to carry enough food and drink for about 3 hours of cycling. After that you will need to pick up drinks, gels and bars from aid stations along the way. Make sure you try them in training, and work out how many grams of carbohydrate they contain.
  4.  Salt tablets. Salts lost through sweating are difficult to replace through energy drinks and gels alone. To maintain optimum performance during events over 4 hours you may need to supplement your salt intake by using products such as Power Bar Electrolyte sachets or Hammer Nutrition Endurolyte tablets.
  5. Alarm setting. The most efficient way of consuming fluids and fuel is little and often. Set a countdown alarm on your watch to bleep every 7 minutes. Every time it sounds take a mouthful of drink, gel or food.
  6. Altitude. The air at altitude is very dry, meaning that every breath results in fluid loss. Riders need to consume more fluid the higher they are above sea level.
  7.  Melting. Energy bars and gels have a habit of being pretty sticky and unpleasant in hot weather. Take this into consideration when choosing what to take.
Examples based on rider weight (for sportive)
Rider 1.
Weight: 60 kgs (9 st 6 lb)
Hot and humid. 28ºc
Pre-race meal
130 grams of carbohydrate.
Large banana (30 grams carb), bowl of porridge (50 grams carb), 750ml sports drink
(50 grams carb).
Recommended carbohydrate consumption during race
Minimum of 40 grams per hour or 1 energy gel every 30 minutes.
Recommended race hydration
Three 750 ml bottles of water or sports drink per hour. Also, supplementation of salts.

Rider 2
Weight: 76 kgs (12 st)
Windy, 24ºc.
Pre-race meal
168 grams of carbohydrate.
Bowl of fruit yoghurt (40 grams carbs), bagel with jam (60 grams carbs), large apple
(20 grams carbs) 750ml sports drink (50 grams carb).
Recommended carbohydrate consumption during race
Minimum of 50 grams per hour or 1 small energy bar every 30 minutes.
Recommended race hydration
Two or three 750 ml bottles of water or sports drink per hour. Also, supplementation
of salts.

Rider 3.
Weight: 90 kgs (14 st 2 lb)
Cloudy, 20ºc.
Pre-race meal
200 grams of carbohydrate.
Large banana (30 grams carb), big bowl of porridge (60 grams carb), 750ml sports
drink (50 grams carb), 2 slice toast and honey (30 grams carb), energy gel (28 grams
Recommended carbohydrate consumption during race
Minimum of 60 grams per hour or 1 sports drink plus an energy bar every hour.
Recommended race hydration
Two 750 ml bottles of water or sports drink per hour. Also, supplementation of salts.
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