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Race Energy — Calories
The human body can take in about 200 calories an hour of carbohydrates, and about 1 liter of fluid per hour. Absorption of fluid is faster with some carbohydrate and electrolyte content, so don’t drink plain water, and don’t drink anything too saturated with sugars.
Do the math on calories: if you ride for 8 hours, your body is going to be able to take in about 1600 calories. But an 175-pound rider (me) will expend about 7000 calories. That’s a 5400 calorie deficit, and my body doesn’t let me forget that.
The body makes up the calorie deficit with fat and protein. If you take in no protein, your body will take it out of your muscle tissue— 3-5% or so of the energy it needs, and perhaps 10% if glycogen runs low. That is why I like Accelerade— it contains enough protein to minimize the tissue damage. Or maybe not, but it has worked well for me. I dilute it with twice as much water as suggested, which works best for me, and carries lower risk of stomach upset from too strong a solution.
In essence, you have to be able to generate most of your energy needs from FAT, even at 80-85% of max heart rate, which means it’s critical to build a deep reservoir of aerobic capacity. If you can’t ride aerobically at ~80% of your max heart rate, you’re not likely to finish (there are time cut-offs). There is no other energy source than body fat to supply the calories to ride a race pace for 8 hours— body stores of glycogen are sufficient for two hours at most.
Under no circumstances should you try any new food for an endurance race. At least two 100+ mile events should have already proven out your choice of caloric intake. Remember, if you get dehydrated (you will), food you thought was fine could ruin your race.
It’s critical that the fluid you consume contain calories and electrolytes, both for more rapid absorption, and also to replace lost glycogen and electrolytes.
I take most of my calories using the one drink that has never let me down or bothered me: Accelerade, fruit punch flavor, along with Endurolyte capsules. I might even stash some spare bottles at mid-way points, pre-mixed and ready to use; this avoids wasting time at stops.
My secret weapon for the heat is simple and race legal: Mountain Dew, ice cold. Slug one of those 16 oz bottles down mid-day, and you have a hit of sugar and caffeine, and a perceptible sense of being slightly cooler in 90° heat. I stash this in an ice chest at a convenient point at the 1/2 to 2/3 point of the race. It costs me 30 seconds to stop and gulp. But it tastes damn good after 10,000 feet of climbing. Chase it down with some water, to dilute the sugary solution for better absorption.
Scarfing a few plain energy gel packets here and there is OK too, but don’t overdo it.