Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition! It’s time to super size my rides

Rob Atkins is taking on a 205-mile cycle for the Droxford-based Association for Glycogen Storage Disease charity
Rob Atkins is taking on a 205-mile cycle for the Droxford-based Association for Glycogen Storage Disease charity
Mike Williams on his way to second place in the veteran 50 race last month. Picture: Neil Marshall (171322-123)

Wheelers prepare for Wessex war

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A dozen McDonald’s Big Macs and six portions of regular fries all washed down with a further 12 pints of Coca Cola.

Or if you’d prefer, 15 footlong steak and cheese subs from Subway, dripping in chipotle southwest sauce.

How about 10 Sunday roasts with all the trimmings or a dozen bags of fish and chips?

For the finger-licking chicken fans out there, that’s 72 original wings from KFC.

Don’t get me wrong, I realise the Colonel’s secret recipe was not designed for endurance athletes.

And I’m pretty sure Mo Farah was not banging down the door to the Stratford McDonald’s before his two gold medals at the London 2012 Olympics.

But these are the calorific equivalent of the fuel I will need to power my Tommy Godwin 205-mile cycling challenge.

Masterminded by the Droxford-based Association for Glycogen Storage Disease (AGSD-UK) and backed by Raleigh and High5, the event will see a small band of merry cyclists circumnavigate the South Downs on Sunday, June 8.

And while house hunting may be all about location, location, location, it is becoming increasingly evident to me that nutrition, nutrition, nutrition can make or break the long-distance cyclist.

My training has hit something of a brick wall in the past week or so because of work and rare social outings but I did complete a 125-mile ride at the beginning of the month.

A series of out-and-backs from Portsdown Hill, taking in the north lane ascent of Butser, saw me chalk up more than eight hours in the saddle.

While my first ton left me a shell of a man, I was nowhere near as tired this time around but I still had a nagging feeling I was not taking on enough fuel.

I’ve always struggled to multi-task, like most men I guess, and I am definitely yet to master eating and cycling at the same time.

I can’t even pull a wheelie or execute a half-decent bunny-hop, so taking my hands off the hoods to unwrap food while bombing along is a serious mission and one all-too readily ignored.

It was about time I called in the professionals.

After a bowl of porridge topped with banana for breakfast, I scoffed three 65g energy bars, four 60ml gels and slugged 1.5l of energy drink on that ride.

I consumed approximately 2,180kcal, including 440g of carbs, on the day – and maybe in the region of 800kcal the night before – but my Garmin estimated I burned more than 4,000kcal while riding at a very sedate pace.

Raphael Deinhart, technical and marketing co-ordinator at leading sports nutrition brand High5, was quick to confirm my gut instinct.

He said: ‘Your carb intake isn’t actually that bad – you would have ended your ride significantly carbohydrate depleted but you have about 400g (1,600kcal) stored in your muscles when fresh, so that is roughly the difference between what you consumed and what you burned.

‘However, if you were riding for eight hours, you could have consumed more by fuelling properly!

‘And that would have made a significant difference.’

So how much more?

Deinhart reckons almost double – an extra 45g (180kcal) of easily-digestible carbs every hour would have given my performance a massive boost.

Jamie Wilkins, the deputy editor of Procycling, echoed Deinhart’s observation.

Wilkins was the perfect man to quiz because he has been there and done it.

He completed a 205-mile ride at the beginning of the year – pedalling from Bath to Wembley and the back again.

He did so at an average speed of 20mph, something I could only dream of without a moped!

When I spoke to him this week, he admitted: ‘I really nailed the nutrition on the day and felt like I could have kept going so long as I kept eating.’

His only mistake was failing to refill the tank when he had finished.

Having burned 9,039kcal (similar to that of a professional in a single stage of the Giro d’Italia) and consumed 7,690kcal, he was in debt by 1,349kcal.

This figure is less than is stored in the muscles and liver (Deinhart’s 1,600kcal), which explains why Wilkins felt he could keep going.

However, his failure to refill the tank led to a sleepless night.

And without giving his body the resources to recover, the fatigue remained with him far longer.

So how did Wilkins do it?

Well, for starters, he had a 
double helping of dinner the night before. Sadly, I can’t remember what I ate the previous night but it’s safe to say it was nowhere near the 1,340kcal he put away.

My breakfast amounted to 275kcal, while his topped 950kcal. Oops!

And as for the in-ride nutrition, he took on 5,400kcal compared to my somewhat embarrassing 1,905kcal.

Okay, he was in the saddle for more than two hours and 75 miles longer than me.

But still, that represents a huge void I need to fill.

‘What you eat will make or break your attempt at a double ton,’ said Wilkins.

‘You need to take on fuel at almost the same rate you’re burning it (around 850kcal/hr), which is a challenge in itself.’

Added to the energy bars, gels and drinks – of which he importantly gulped 3.5l more than me – Wilkins made and scoffed nine rice cakes for the ride from recipes in The Feed Zone Cookbook.

Each one gave him a boost of more than 200kcal.

‘Make sure you have a choice of food available as well as enough of it,’ he added.

‘You will get tired of endless sweet food and, at worst, get serious stomach cramps.

‘The rice cakes I took along were brilliant and I really recommend them.’

I reckon it’s time to get my apron on and turn up the heat in the kitchen at Chez Atkins then.

And with my next ride – the 54-mile Coast-to-Coast Cycle Challenge from Watchet in Somerset to West Bay in Dorset – tomorrow, I have the perfect opportunity to test out a new, amplified nutrition plan.

I’ll keep those 72 chicken wings on ice, though!