You’ve put in the training to cover 100 miles on the bike, figured out how to layer for a long day, notified your loved ones of your upcoming adventure, but there is one final crucial component to iron out: what to eat for the next 5-9 hours?
Fueling for a century can be confusing, and while nutrition requirements are incredibly personal, the following tips will help guide you to create the perfect menu for your long day in the saddle.
Don’t Wait Until The Big Day To Test Out New Foods
Make sure you have tried out everything you plan to consume during your century on shorter training rides. Even if it is a food you eat often off the bike, sometimes foods just do not go down as easy during hard efforts. Use your training rides for more than just mileage – use them to see how your body responds to different foods and drinks.
Eat, Eat, Eat – Then Eat Some More
It is generally recommended that riders consume half the calories they burn per hour on the bike. Fit cyclists (and if you are attempting a century ride, yes, you too are fit) will burn around 500-600 calories per hour during a century ride. That means you need to consume about 300 calories per hour to stay on top of glycogen stores.
Your body has plenty of fat to survive a century sans calories, but your body does not have enough glycogen stored up to ride for more than 3-4 hours.
While it may seem easy to eat the recommended/required amount of calories during a ride, it gets harder to choke down heavy bars towards the end of the ride when you arguably need those calories most.
Setting an alarm for every 30 minutes can help remind you to stay on top of eating, and keep the gas tank full to avoid the dreaded bonk.
Drink Your Calories
For those who have trouble eating solid foods, reach for a calorie-dense drink like Hammer Nutrition’s Perpetuem. This mix is designed for endurance and has options for mixing depending on your nutritional needs. These high-calorie drinks (up to 1,000 calories per bottle) are designed to sip slowly throughout the ride, so be sure to supplement with plain water.
If You Bonk, Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Simple sugars are your best friend in these trying times. Fruits, sugary drinks, and gels are easy to digest, and will help bring you back to life from your depleted state.
While it is easy to plan for a century fueled by healthy foods, sometimes you have to do what you have to do to make it through a bonk. If you do reach for a high sugar option like a Coke, balance out the inevitable blood sugar spike with a low glycemic index food such as nuts or nut butter.
Keeping a high reward “treat” in your jersey pocket will also give you something to look forward to during those hard, home-stretch miles. A cookie, pastry, or some candy at mile 80 will not derail all your healthy efforts, and may be just what you need to get you through the last few miles of a long day in the saddle.
Try Both Sports Nutrition And Homemade Goodness
While sports nutrition is a fast, easy way to be sure you are getting what you need throughout the day, your tenth gel in one ride can get old.
There are tons of recipes out there for portable snacks that include the ideal breakdown of carbohydrates, fat and protein. A key component to consider when planning your ride fuel is the portability of the foods. While a nice warm bowl of chili sure would be nice on a cold, wet ride, it is not feasible to shove into your pocket.
That does not mean you can’t have some fun with your ride snacks – throughout my cycling career, I have seen everything from a Chick-fil-a chicken biscuit, to a tinfoil wrapped baked potato, to pocket pizza.
The popular hydration company, Skratch labs, came up with a cookbook called Feed Zone Portables with the help of Dr. Allen Lim and professional chef Biju Thomas. This cookbook is full of jersey pocket-friendly recipes to keep you full and focused throughout the ride.
Prepare Early – What to Eat BEFORE a Century Ride
While physical preparation for this ride starts well before the main event, nutritional preparation should start about three days before as well.
This is when the fun starts…carb loading! Each meal during those three days leading up to your century should contain mostly carbs.
Proper hydration is also important, although not as fun as scarfing down a plate of pasta. While it is always important to remain hydrated, it is even more so on the days leading up to your century. Shoot for eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.
If you live in a hot, humid climate, supplementing one of those glasses with hydration mix isn’t a bad idea. I prefer the milder tasting options like Nuun and Skratch Labs Anytime Hydration Drink Mix, but there are a lot of great options out there to replenish electrolytes.
Increase Your Food Storage Capacity…Or Find Places to Restock
We’ve figured out how many calories to consume per hour, but what does that haul look like for the entire ride?
Let’s say we are planning to complete this century in six hours. That is about 1800-2000 calories, or an entire frozen pizza.
That’s a lot of food to stuff into your jersey pockets that might already be full with extra layers, phone, keys, etc. There are several storage options to consider, like top tube frame packs, handlebar bags, or even fanny packs. Despite the initial jokes from my ride partners, I have grown to love the fanny pack on road rides. Being primarily a mountain biker, I am used to wearing the pack for long rides, and find nothing fits my Pop-Tarts and Bobo Bars better than my fanny pack.
For those that prefer a more minimalist approach, and have a less picky stomach, store stops are a great option. Check the route ahead of time so you hit these gas stations and convenience stores when you will need to refuel. If you are riding in a more rural area, these can be few and far between, and not all of these smaller shops will take credit cards, so bring some cash just in case.
Finally, most organized century rides have great aid stations and these can be a good place to refuel. If you can, find out ahead of time where the aid stations will be and what they plan to offer.
Enjoy the ride!
Your legs and lungs are ready, your friends and family know when to expect you back before they start to worry, and your pockets are packed with your favorite snacks. It’s time to grab your ride buddies and crush that century!
Get Even More Help Prepping For Your Century
Kira Maicke has been an avid cyclist since 2010. She started racing road bikes in college for the University of Georgia and switched over to mountain biking after graduating and moving out west. When she’s not on one of her bikes, she’s out playing in the mountains with her husky, Semenuk.