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Nutrition for a Double Century
Related: cycling, Death Valley, double century, gear, glycogen, nutrition, road biking, training
A double century (~200 miles) is a 10-20 hour effort, depending on fitness, elevation gain and environmental conditions (heat, humidity, wind, etc).
See also Preparing for a Double Century.
Assuming fitness, the following items are key:
- Staying hydrated, but not over-hydrating.
- Maintaining electrolyte balance, e.g., supplementing with Endurolytes or similar.
- Steady caloric intake of 200-300 calories per hour, depending on hydration (less if poorly hydrated, more for well hydrated and larger riders). Ideally, fuel 3-4 times per hour in equal amounts, for steady drip-fueling. This is one reason why liquid fueling is ideal.
- Don’t stop for more than 5 minutes. It is not just a psychological issue, but the body starts to shut down its metabolic systems, and it is just not pleasant to start riding when the body has closed the store for the day (10 minutes is fine, but 15+ becomes an issue for me). However, if there is a timing break (for timed events/races), take the full hour or whatever the set-aside is, and eat wisely, hydrate, stretch and rest.
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Sagging-in for avoidable reasons and/or burdening others with your own planning failures is poor sportsmanship. Mistakes can be made (I have done so, and one can’t plan for everything), but in a double century one should be solidly prepared:
- Carry a pump (test it for good operation), and if you want fast turnaround for a flat, carry CO2 and inflater..
- For clincher riders, carry at least two spare tubes and a patch kit and a spare tire (tires can be damaged too).
- For tubular riders, carry at least one spare (preferably two), with a light layer of glue on the spare(s) for better adhesion.
- For tubular riders, use only tires with a removable valve core so that Stan’s NoTubes tire sealant can be added to fix most leaks in under 5 minutes. Skip the other tire sealant products, they have a low success rate. Consider adding 1/3 bottle of Stans to tires before the double century; this will kill off all pinhole leaks and even some larger punctures.
- Carry at least $20 cash and a credit card. You might need to stop and buy something, like a tire or tube!
- Carry ID in case you end up in an ambulance.
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A cardiac surgeon warns me that for ultra-endurance events, breakdown of muscle tissue leads to excess iron in the kidneys. Failure to hydrate can lead to permanent kidney damage and even life-threatening kidney failure (this happened to a ultra-endurance runner friend of this surgeon, the friend was hospitalized, but survived).
Why is there muscle breakdown? Because the body will use muscle tissue for fuel, at ~10% of caloric needs. The breakdown leaves iron-bearing compounds that must be excreted. When dehydrated, this iron destroys the kidney tubules, permanently.
Even forgetting the kidney risks, why damage your own muscle tissue by eating it? More muscle damaged does not make you stronger.
It seems to me that these are compelling reasons to use products like Hammer Perpetuem (I recommend Strawberry flavor). Perpetuem provides a soy protein component to reduce (not eliminate) muscle tissue cannibalization. It is still critical to stay hydrated either way.
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Nutrition — tentative conclusions
- I over-hydrated for the Death Valley Double, forcing pee-stops 8 or 9 times in the first 6 hours, a big waste of time. And I suspect that over-hydrating screwed up my electrolyte balance by hour 8 or so, even though I took Endurolytes.
- Hydration of 24-28 ounces per hour is about right. When very hot, I have found that I can consume about 1 liter per hour (34 ounces), but the stomach can’t take in more than that, so it’s a race against time when very hot. That said, I will occassionally consume at a somewhat higher rate when I know a long descent is coming (e.g. gulp 1/2 liter, then descend).
- My self-supported ride of the Death Valley Double made regular caloric intake more challenging to monitor and carry out (e.g. forced stop at caches, carrying food in overloaded pockets, etc). A supported makes this much easier.
- Electrolytes are essential. After the first two hours, I generally take about 2 capsules of Endurolytes per hour unless its very hot and dry, in which case I might take 4-6.
- Hammer Perpetuem powder was highly effective for me during the Solvang Spring Double, but it can only be had on supported rides (way too messy), and not all rides offer it.
Perpetuem powder is effective because it goes right into the water bottle, and one can make a choice of 1-2 scoops as hydration and caloric pacing dictate. Drinking thus hydrates and fuels— greatly simplifying things.
- Carrying one bottle of plain water to be used as-is, or with GU energy gel, Hammer gel or Hammer Perpetuem solids to supplement, as appropriate.
- I like Hammer Perpetuem solids, but I find that by hour 8 they are much less “interesting” and they have to be chewed, which is not viable under hard effort, and it’s possible to inhale the crumbs if breathing hard. And then one has to drink, separately. Perpetuem powder in the water bottle is drinkable with no fuss.
- Solid food such as a sandwich or oatmeal/nuts) is at best a non-negative. If not well hydrated, it could be a disaster. So my advice is to avoid all but the most basic solid food: white bread, small bite-size candy bars, a *few* potato chips, 1/2 banana, etc. And not very much in total of any of that. Eat even a moderate size lunch, and you’ll be in slow mode for 90 minutes. The most solid food I ate during the Solvang Spring Double was 1/2 of a turkey sandwich. I think it slowed me down for the next hour, but might have been slightly beneficial later— hard to say.
Solid food like my home-made oatmeal concoction might work, but this would have to be for low intensity efforts when well hydrated. And oatmeal does have some fiber, which can be problematic when exercising and hydration drops.
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- Glycogen supercompensation, or carbohydrate loading, helps prolong endurance in events lasting over two hours. Estimates are that it can move the wall about 20% farther down the road.
- Taper your training during the week before the event, ending with either a rest day or an easy spin. This will allow dietary carbohydrate to be stored as muscle glycogen rather than being used as a fuel for cycling.
- In conjunction with backing off the mileage, you need to increase carbohydrate intake for the last 3-4 days of the week—aim for 8-10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight.
- Each gram of glycogen is stored with 3 grams of water, so filling glycogen stores with an additional 300-500 grams should lead to a weight gain of up to 2 kg. Don't worry—most of this additional weight is water, and will actually be helpful during the ride.
The last point is particularly interesting, and might help explain those 2-3 pounds weight spikes the next day that I’ve seen after hard rides and a good feeding (also might be increased plasma volume). I hadn’t realized that glycogen might be one reason. It also explains the very large weight loss (up to 10 pounds) that I’ve seen on 4 hour rides and why I’m not nearly as dehydrated as the weight loss would suggest— a lot of that weight is water scavenged along with glycogen consumption.
What Hammer Nutrition has to say
I like Hammer Nutrition products a lot, especially Perpetuem and Perpetuem Solids. I also like Hammer Gel because it comes in a 26-serving bottle that I can use to fill a HydraPak SoftFlask with 5 or 8 servings.
For single servings, I still prefer the GU energy gel packets— the Hammer Gel single-serving packets cut my mouth and gag me (too large size of the packet). Single servings are great way to supplement, and/or to stash a few emergency ones into a saddlebag or wherever.
I spoke with Steve Born of Hammer Nutrition on what to use for a double century, in particular the Death Valley Double.
Ah, got it. Now I know why you're doing this self-supported.
Yes, Anti-Fatigue Caps will be an ideal supplement to take with Perpetuem. It is a "standard issue" supplement for any workout I do that's over 2-3 hours. Super effective little product.
As far as using Endurance Amino along with Perpetuem, here's my rationale, courtesy of an article I wrote:
ENDURANCE AMINO - By taking this product hourly during prolonged bouts of exercise you provide the primary “used–in–the–energy–cycle” amino acids (the BCAAs). The BCAAs in Endurance Amino, along with the BCAAs that naturally occur in the soy protein component in Sustained Energy and Perpetuem, helps prevent the muscle tissue from being broken down to satisfy the 5% – 15% of the body’s energy requirements. The result is less fatigue–causing ammonia to accumulate and less muscle tissue that will be broken down and needing to be repaired during the recovery process.
You also supply the body with l–alanine. The liver can convert l–alanine into glucose as needed (I like to think of it as an “emergency” energy supply), which the bloodstream transports to the muscles for energy. L–alanine also aids in the synthesis of pantothenic acid (vitamin B–5), which is needed for protein, fat, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Lastly, you provide the body with glutathione, which is one of the most potent antioxidants there is, with an Oxygen Radical Absorbency Capacity (ORAC) rating of 12,000+. Dr. Misner writes, “Decline in endurance performance may parallel decline in glutathione concentrations imposed by the aging process.” That alone makes taking glutathione during exercise sound like a very rational idea to me. Glutathione also facilitates the transport of amino acids which, hypothetically, will assist in directing the amino acids in Sustained Energy and Perpetuem to wherever they’re needed (one athlete reported that taking Endurance Amino is like “supercharging” Perpetuem).