Nutrition Guide for Your First Ultra

Pre-Ride Nutrition

Because glycogen stores are limited, be sure that you start with a full tank. The night before a long training ride and for breakfast that morning, eat mostly carbohydrates. Eat some protein and fat, which will slow down how fast you digest the carbohydrates and give you more sustained energy.

Experiment with different foods for dinner and then breakfast before your long training rides to learn what works for you. Once you know what you like, what provides plenty of energy and isn't hard to digest, then stick with it for your last training rides and the big event—nothing new!

The last few days before the big event, increase the carbs to about 70 percent of your daily calories. This will ensure that your glycogen stores are full. Glycogen is stored with water so you may gain a bit of weight the last few days. Don't worry about this; you'll use the water as you burn the glycogen. When increasing the amount of carbohydrate in your diet, beware of hidden fat in sauces, salad dressing, etc.

More: Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of an Athlete's Day

What should you consume during training rides and an ultra event?

Eat Carbs

For rides of more than an hour, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends consuming every hour 0.3 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight (0.7 g per kg). For example, if you weigh...

  • 100 pounds, eat 120 calories per hour of carbohydrate
  • 135 pounds, eat 160 calories per hour
  • 170 pounds, eat 200 calories per hour

This is sufficient for shorter training rides; however, on your longer weekend rides and during the event, a different amount should be consumed every hour. If you weigh...

  • 100 pounds, eat 180 calories per hour of carbohydrate
  • 135 pounds, eat 240 calories per hour
  • 170 pounds, eat 300 calories per hour

The recommendation is to each this much carbohydrate, since it provides the glycogen.

You may eat more than the recommended amount if this doesn't upset your stomach. Research has shown that you can digest more carbohydrates per hour, 60 to 90 grams (240 to 360 calories), if they come from a variety of sources: glucose, fructose (fruit), sucrose (table sugar), lactose (milk) or maltodextrin. Consuming a mix of carbohydrates, for example, a banana and a bagel, reduces fatigue and increases endurance.

You may choose to eat food that also contains protein and fat; however, read the food label to be sure you are getting enough carbohydrates. Also, because protein and fat are harder to digest, they'll slow the digestion of the carbs, which you need for energy, and may cause bloating.

More: Carbohydrates: Fuel for Your Cycling

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