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24-10-2022 | Fiets Magazine

What do you eat before, during and after a tough race?

A gran fondo is not only tough for your legs, but also for your energy levels. How do you make sure you always have enough energy to reach the finish line or, who knows, even the podium? No, you don't just do a long tour or gran fondo. During such a long ride you burn a lot of calories, which have to be replenished. How you replenish that energy can make all the difference. The right nutrition is essential for optimal performance on the bike. In this article, we give you helpful tips for completing a gran fondo in the best possible way.

Fats and carbohydrates

Most cyclists will have experienced hunger knocks at one time or another. Suddenly, you're parked. The cause? You ate or drank too little or too late enough carbohydrates. This depletes the glycogen stores in your muscles and liver, draining the energy from your body. Our body's carbohydrate/glycogen storage capacity is limited: there is only room for an intense ride of about an hour and a half. The more trained you are, the better you are able to store glycogen. Fortunately, while cycling, your body also draws energy from body fats. And that fat supply is almost unlimited. The ratio of fat to carbohydrates as an energy source varies. If you ride slowly, fats are the dominant energy source. As the intensity increases, the proportion of carbohydrates grows. So, the moment you plan to ride hard for more than two hours, you will have to eat extra carbohydrates to maintain that supply in the body. If you start doing that too late, or you take too little, you will run into the man with the hammer. The only thing you can do then is to continue riding at low intensity, because at that intensity you burn mostly fats.

Planning and performing

Not every cyclist will be eager to plan and track their daily diet. But if you're training for a gran fondo, or want to ride races, it's definitely worth it. A nutrition app might make things a little easier for you. It gives you quick insights that you can use to optimize your own performance. With the app EatMyRide, for example, you enter your distance or route and indicate what you like to eat and drink.

Read also: EatMyride review

The app then calculates for you the most optimal nutrition plan during your ride. To make it even more efficient, you can also send this plan to your Garmin.

What do you eat for a gran fondo?

It's a classic image: cyclists eating an overflowing plate of spaghetti the night before an important ride. Because without pasta, the engine can't run! True, but it's okay to start a little earlier. If you know a long effort is on the menu, it's smart to be intentional about carbohydrate intake the days before. That way you'll replenish your glycogen stores to the maximum, and you'll reduce the chances of not having enough energy available during your ride later on. Consciously increasing carbohydrate intake is also known as "carb loading": a well-known phenomenon in pro cycling. While it can be a very effective strategy, it is not entirely without risks. That large amount of carbohydrates can lead to nausea and bloating. A simple trick to avoid this is to spread the carbs throughout the day. So don't just go consume that double plate of pasta the night before. In addition, lots of fiber in the diet increases the risk of gastrointestinal distress. Therefore, the night before your important race or granfondo, have white pasta, rice or bread, instead of whole grain products.

Take your breakfast well before the event, preferably about three hours before the start. This will give your body enough time to absorb the carbohydrates, and lower your risk of gastrointestinal distress. Does the gran fondo start early in the morning and you don't want to get up in the middle of the night? Then carbohydrate intake becomes all the more important the days prior. If you loaded your carbs, cut down on breakfast and make sure you get enough carbohydrates every hour from the start of the event. For a long ordeal, aim for a breakfast of at least 1 to 1.5 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight.

What do you eat during a gran fondo?

In the case of a gran fondo, where you are on the road for many hours, you will need to aim for maximum carbohydrate intake. For this, it helps to consume simple carbohydrates that our body can easily absorb: glucose and fructose. Roughly speaking, our body can digest 60 grams of glucose and 30 grams of fructose per hour. So by combining these two sugars, you can consume a maximum of 90 grams per hour. Nowadays, many energy gels, bars and sports drinks have been developed with a 2:1 glucose/fructose ratio. So they consist of two-thirds glucose and one-third fructose: the optimal composition. Most sports bars and gels contain between 20 and 40 grams of carbohydrates. So that means a desired intake of three bars per hour. For most cyclists, that's not realistic. Besides a lot of space in your back pockets, it also requires a lot of training. Especially when you consider that the number of carbohydrates burned per hour during an intensive gran fondo like the Marmotte can go towards 150 grams per hour at times.


We just stated that the maximum intake per hour is around 90 grams, so you will never be able to fully replenish that. With an average usable supply of about 300 grams of glycogen - depending on factors like training intensity and muscle mass - it becomes extra important to consume enough carbohydrates right from the start, in order not to deplete that glycogen supply too much. Want to know how many carbs you burn on average during your rides? The EatMyRide Carbohydrate Burn/Intake Balancer app can show you that in real time on your Garmin. Besides sports nutrition, of course, there are plenty of "regular" foods that are high in carbohydrates and fine to consume. Think banana, buns, bread with sweet toppings, granola bar, gingerbread or wine gums. Nice for a change, but remember that on their own they cannot keep up with your burn rate during a tough gran fondo. So preferably combine it with sports nutrition.

Recovering after a gran fondo

After hours of suffering you have reached the magical finish line. There is not much attention to nutrition anymore. That beer is well deserved, just like those tasty snacks. Logical, but not optimal for recovery. The gran fondo has been an attack on your body. Your glycogen stores will no longer be optimal, there will be muscle damage from the long effort, and you may also be dehydrated from all the sweating in that heat. To recover optimally, it is important to replenish your carbohydrates in time, drink plenty of fluids, and consume protein for optimal muscle recovery. Aim for an intake of about 20 to 30 grams of protein.

Directly after exercise, your glycogen stores are on the low side. So to improve recovery, it is important to replenish it quickly. This is especially important if you're doing a stage race, for example, or two gran fondos in quick succession. For quickly replenishing glycogen stores, a handful of winegums is ideal. Eat some pasta, bread, oatmeal or fruit with it. Urine color is, in most cases, a good indication of your hydration status. Dark yellow means you need to drink quite a bit more. Ideally, the color of your urine should be light yellow. Keep in mind that certain foods, such as red beets or multivitamins, can change the color of urine. So in that case, it is not a good indicator.

This article is created in collaboration with Fiets Magazine.

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