Five Tips for Better Fueling from our friends at Skratch Labs
Fueling your endurance endeavors is a personal practice, and one that requires dedication and some
experimentation. But, nailing down a strategy that works for you doesn’t need to be a shot in the dark;
the folks from Skratch Labs share their top tips for where to start finding a fuel + hydration strategy that
works best for your body.
1. Eat & Drink Early & Consistently — One of the biggest mistakes riders make is forgetting to
eat and drink early and consistently throughout the day. While this is plain common sense, it‘s
often disregarded on ride day—a mistake that can spell disaster no matter how well trained or
prepared you are.
As a general rule, you need to replace at least half the calories you burn each hour, and you
need to begin replacing those calories in the first hour if you’re going to be out for more than
three hours. On a flat road without drafting, the average cyclist will burn about 200-300
Calories at 10-15 mph, 300-600 Calories at 15 to 20 mph, and 600 to 1,000 Calories at 20 to 25
Regarding hydration, on a hot day your fluid needs may be as high as 1 to 2 liters an hour. The
best way to get an appreciation of how much fluid you might need is to weigh yourself before
and after a workout. The weight you lose is primarily water weight, where a 1-pound loss is
equal to about 16 ounces of fluid. As a general rule, try not to lose more than 3 percent of your
body weight over the course of a long ride.
2. Try Eating Real Food — While there are plenty of pre-packaged sports bars and gels touting
their ability to improve one’s performance, it’s important to realize that real food can work just
as well if not better than expensive, engineered nutrition. A regular sandwich, a boiled potato
with salt, a banana and a ball of sushi rice mixed with chocolate or some scrambled eggs can all
give you the calories you need without upsetting your stomach the way a lot of sugary gels or
sports bars can. In fact, while coaching teams at the Tour de France, the riders I worked with
used real food as their primary solid fuel source, because it just worked better. Most of the
recipes for these foods can be found in “The Feed Zone Cookbook” that I wrote with Chef Biju
Thomas to promote healthful, real-food eating.
3. Don’t Just Drink Water — When we sweat we lose both water and valuable electrolytes.
Those electrolytes include sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Of these
electrolytes, the vast majority (about 90%) of that loss is sodium chloride. But it’s sodium that
plays a critical role in almost every bodily function. Thus, when sodium is lost through sweat,
drinking only water can further dilute the concentration of sodium in the blood, leading to a
condition called hyponatremia, which can lead to a host of problems ranging from a drop in
performance to seizures and even death. The amount of sodium that we lose in sweat is highly,
variable ranging anywhere from 250 to 1100 mg per half liter (16.9 ounces). Because of this
large range, it’s always better to err on the side of more salt than less salt, especially if you tend
to see more white streaks of salt caked on your workout clothing compared to others or if you
crave salt after a sweat filled workout. Unfortunately, most sports drinks contain too much
sugar, not enough sodium, and an excess of artificial ingredients, which caused many of the
riders I worked with to become sick during long days on the bike. For that reason, we
developed our Exercise Hydration Mix, an all-natural sports drink using less sugar, more sodium
and flavored only with real fruit. Outside of using a sports drink with more sodium, also
consider eating salty or savory foods on your ride rather than just sweet foods.
4. Learn What you Need in Training — Competition day is not the day that you want to be
experimenting with yourself. So try different hydration and feeding strategies during training
well before the big day. As an example, simply weighing yourself on a long training ride before
your big event can give you valuable information to optimize your hydration for that event.
Likewise, taking the time to prepare your own foods or trying different products beforehand
and then writing out a specific game plan for your drinking and feeding needs can go a long way
to making sure you don’t make any mistakes on competition day.
5. Come in Well-Fed and Well-Rested — While proper training is obviously important, making
sure you are well rested coming into an event is sometimes even more critical. You can’t cram
training, so as you approach the big day, make sure you are getting plenty of sleep and aren’t
killing yourself in training the week leading into your event. Just sleeping an extra hour each
night the week before your event can significantly improve your performance. Finally, adding
extra carbohydrate to your diet, and making sure you get plenty of calories the week before
your event, will assure that your legs are fueled and ready to go.