Words by Kirrily Tutt | Accredited Sports Dietitian | Racing Club Brisbane Elite Women Cyclist | 5 minute read

Given the popularity of “how not to do recovery!” we thought a few more personal accounts of how us sports dietitians ought to take their own advice more seriously, would not go astray!

When it comes to how to eat on the bike, I have tried endless foods, products, gels and electrolyte drinks, but learning from my mistakes over the years has helped me with perfecting WHAT to eat and WHEN. Here is one of my personal shockers, and what I SHOULD have done!

Picture me on the start line for an 80km hilly road race near Warwick in winter. Lined up with Queensland’s best female cyclists, and I am not only freezing, but starving, like stomach rumbling hungry. Commentator calls us to the start line and we are off, here I am thinking, there is no way I am going to get through this race with the food I have packed when I’m already this hungry. No time to grab any more food, I suck it up and settle in, taking sips of water and wait until I would usually take in my first lot of nutrition. 30mins into the 2+hour race I am starting to feel completely empty, so I crack open my gel packet and slam it down with a few sips of water. Didn’t taste that great, so I try to get the awful ‘fake banana’ taste out of my mouth with a few huge swigs of my carb/electrolyte mix. For the remainder of the race I was busting myself to keep up over the hills and the nutrition I took on was still sitting half way up my throat, with a few acid-like repeats of banana flavouring in my mouth – gross! I couldn’t consume the rest of my planned nutrition because I felt so sick, and I pushed through the fatigue and nausea with the occasional sip of water. I managed to place 3rd that day, but felt incredibly awful throughout, and wonder if I had nailed my nutrition, would I have performed better?

Let's look at where I went wrong...

Ate my pre-ride meal too early

I would normally consume the majority of my pre race meal 2 hours before race start, to enable the bulk of my food to digest and then I’d top up a little closer with some easily digestible carbs like a banana. That day my team were eating their breakfast 3 hours before race start, so I just went with the flow. Problem is, I get really nervous before these road races, so my nervous energy managed to burn up my pre race meal, and by the time I got to the start line, I was nearing empty.

Tried a new nutrition product on race day

The gel that tasted awful, and was a new product I’d NEVER tried before. Even though I drill this into my endurance athlete clients that they need to “practice their race nutrition before race day”, I thought I would be fine as I had tried other flavours in this brand, not the case! The flavour was terrible, and it repeated on me the entire race. If I had trialled this particular product in training, I would NOT have chosen it as my preferred race nutrition that day (or ever!).

Took on too little carb

This was a 2hr race! When I looked back on how much nutrition I actually consumed, I ate around 75% less than what I would normally get in. No wonder I felt terrible! Not enough fuel in = not enough energy for muscles.

What I should have done...

1. Stuck with my usual timing of eating my pre-race breaky, (2 hours before) and topped up as I normally would closer to race start, about 45mins to an hour before.

When it comes to eating before training, aim to trial some carbohydrate rich foods such as bananas, cereal and milk, oats, dates, or toast with spread to top up energy stores before you ride. Practice and refine this on as many occasions as you can before the event day!

2. Stuck with my tried and tested, favoured gel flavours at the times I would normally need for a race of that intensity.

To estimate how much food you need to take with you, first decide on how long you will be out for. An easy way to ensure you’re getting a regular flow of energy to your muscles while riding is to consume at least 1 carbohydrate-rich food every hour, plus some water and electrolyte and that should keep you out of trouble!

Some carb foods to have on the bike...

  • Bananas
  • Gels
  • Muesli bars
  • Sandwiches with jam/vegemite/honey
  • Pikelets with jam
  • Sports drink

I am a big fan of preparing my own food to take on long rides with me, and this is one of my favourite recipes: Kirrily’s Buckwheat Banana Pancakes – give them a try!    What’s your favourite food to take on a long bike ride? Comment on Facebook!