What to eat during a 16 hours cycling challenge?

In my previous post I described my strategy to complete the 330km Tour du Mont Blanc successfully (Blog post here).

But what to eat during such a long endurance challenge?

Riding for over 15 hours food choices and timing are crucial for me to keep my energy level up for such a tough event.

(Just a disclaimer: This fuel strategy works for me and does not mean it works for someone else. I am still sharing my food plan as this might be helpful for others.)

Photo credit: Tour du Mont Blanc

My “fuel strategy” starts two days before the event. The reason is that I want to give my body time to digest and store energy. If I would wait until during the event, I knew it would be too late.

Two days before

I eat still “real food” focused on carbohydrates: rice, pasta, potatoes, etc and I tend to eat more than I usually eat. This day is a “real food” carb loading.

The day before

I eat easier digestible food which most likely comes in form of my favorite foods and might not be that healthy: Strawberry cake or any kind of cake for that matter. I try to eat the majority of the day’s food before 4pm so my body has enough time to digest. The pre-race pasta dinners don’t work for me as it is too late to digest. There are two reasons I eat my favorite food: It relaxes me calming my nerves and I don’t eat all the race food the day before the event. 😊

Race day

In the morning, I have coffee and something easy digestible. Since I ate a lot the last two days, I don’t need much today – at least for the beginning of today. I found if I eat a lot over breakfast, I just get tired – not exactly a state I want to be in before riding 330km. Thus, my breakfast is quite small, bread with marmalade is something I would eat.

Depending on how many food stations are along the route, I pack accordingly. As the Tour du Mont Blanc had plenty of food stops, I took one gel with me. I am able to ride the first few hours without any food if that is what I had to do. Maybe not recommended but it works for me. I filled my bottles with water only.

I just listen to my body when it comes to eating and drinking during the ride. I know there are several camps of thoughts out there when to eat and drink and what quantities and carb/protein ratios. I just eat when I am hungry and drink when I am thirsty. It works for me!

I got hungry 100km into the ride and I actually stopped at a gas station to buy a sandwich. I was craving bread with ham. And that’s what I got. I refilled my bottles with waters and kept going. At the bottom of the first “major” climb Grand St Bernard, I stopped at a café to get a diet coke (yes, I know it is hypocritical but I still want a diet coke instead of normal coke. Sometimes my blood sugar plays funny if I drink sugar and caffeine in combination) and a croissant. That stop took less than 5 minutes. I keep my stops as short as possible.

For me, stops are a fine line of refueling and my body deciding to get into recovery mode. The more I eat (especially when I don’t need it, even during such a tough ride) and the longer I am at the food station, the sluggisher and tired I feel. Thus, my motto is to keep it short and eat enough (Enough doesn’t mean to keep the portions super small but to listen how much my body really wants).

I stopped at every food station which were about 50km apart (most stops max 2 minutes). That doesn’t sound that far apart but if there is a 1000m climb between the two stops, the 50km could become quite long. Depending on where the food stop was located, I also chose my food. When it was at the bottom of the climb, I would tend to eat more easy digestible foods like salt sticks. If it was on top of the climbs with plenty of time to digest while descending, I ate sandwiches.

I never ate any gels as I prefer going with real food. I know it does not lead to any stomach or digestion problems for me.

Especially towards the end of the challenge when I start “smelling” the finish line and don’t focus fully on my body anymore, I keep eating a bite of something and not trying to tell myself that I don’t need anything anymore because I am almost there. I have learned this lesson the hard way once and I was completely out of energy 10 km from the finish line.

Post-ride

After Tour du Mont Blanc I wasn’t too hungry which means for me that I ate well during the ride. However, I didn’t say no to the post-race meal at the finish line. Although food is important, I focus more on rehydration. For the next two days, I had to stay close to a kitchen because I was constantly hungry.

This “fuel strategy” works for me, especially during the tough long endurance challenges. The days leading up to the challenge are the most crucial for me. I know I am not able to “make it up” during the ride if I don’t fuel properly the days prior.

I hope this post was helpful! Stay up to date to adventures, endurance challenges and tips by signing up to my newsletter (see box to the right)

This post was written on readers’ request. If you have any questions about long endurance challenges or adventure cycling feel free to comment below or send an email to: sattlermonika@gmail.com

Happy riding!

Living it Real. Ambitious. Daring. #RADlife

1 Comment

  • First of all, thank you very much for replying with this post.
    I have to admit that it left me out of my mind. You do things that any nutritionist would cry when he read them. Unless basic rules but you work, you make me think a lot. It is very interesting. You certainly know your body very well. I take some of your good advice, thank you!
    If a nutritionist disagrees with you, you can say: my name is Monika, RAD Monika and I am third in the Tour Du Mont Blanc, I eat and drink what I want and when I want. 😂😂😂
    🙌🙌🙌

    Regards Monika!

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