Nutrition Guide for Your First Ultra

Sports Products vs. Real Food

Pro racers burn a huge number of calories and they get their energy from a wide variety of foods including panini (little sandwiches), boiled potatoes, fruit and pastries as well as bars and gels. Bars, gels and electrolyte drinks are more convenient than real food, but provide no performance advantage.

You can ride an ultra event just as successfully on food from the grocery store, which may taste better, than using sports products, which cost more. A calorie is a calorie—the key is eating enough calories of carbohydrates. Eating a variety of foods will help you keep your appetite during hours on the bike.

More: Eating to Win: What We Can Learn From Pro Cyclists

Eat Regularly

Don't just take your food for a ride—eat it. The ACSM recommendation is to eat a certain number of calories every hour depending on your weight. Set a beeper on your computer to remind you to eat. Eat by your watch—at the end of every hour ask yourself if you've eaten enough calories.

Graze, Don't Gorge

When riders complain of bloating, I analyze their eating patterns. Often I find that while they've averaged enough calories per hour, they just eaten a lot at every rest stop and a big lunch, rather than smaller amounts throughout the ride.

Anti-Bonk Extra Food

Carry with you several hundred calories of food that you know you like but don't plan to eat. If it takes longer than anticipated to ride to the next refueling opportunity, you'll be prepared and won't ride in running on fumes. Also, carry some cash so that you can buy food at a mini-mart if necessary.

Drink, But Don't Overdrink

We used to be told, "Eat before you are hungry, and drink before you are thirsty." The first part is good advice, but experts now recommend drinking just enough to satisfy your thirst. The ACSM recommends drinking enough during exercise to prevent both excessive dehydration (loss of more than 2 percent of your body weight) and excessive changes in electrolyte balance. Each pound lost equals about two cups (16 fl. oz.) of fluid.

Weigh yourself before and after your long training rides. If your weight has decreased by more than 2 percent, then you aren't drinking enough. After the ride drink 1.5 times that much, both to make up for the lost fluid and to meet your ongoing hydration needs.

More: Pre-Race Nutrition Guide for Cyclists

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