The first time I rode the whole way to work, 39 miles, I probably had a bottle of Michaelade and a bottle of water. About 30 miles in I started to feel bad and knew I needed to find a donut shop quick to get some carbs in me. Since then I always ride with a spare gel. Also, I took along some kind of snack on my 40 mile commutes. As time went on and I got stronger, I kept my nutrition the same: one bottle of Michaelade, one bottle of water, and a snack (gel or rice cakes or a waffle snack). I was always fueled up and recovery was much better than it used to be.
Then this past summer I got to reading The Rules. Rule #91 says no food on rides under four hours. Hmmm. How is that possible? I did some thinking and decided that I needed to experiment a bit. I was much stronger than I was when I started doing these long rides. Perhaps I didn't need as much fuel as I did before?
First up: the snacks. Thanks to the Feed Zone Portables cookbook, my ride snacks had improved quite a bit. Peanut butter and jelly rice cakes. Bacon and egg rice cakes. Chorizo and egg rice cakes (not for the faint-of-heart). I actually looked forward to my ride snacks rather than sometimes dreading yet another gel. However, I tried a ride with just the drinks and no snack...and I was fine! When I finished a ride I would drink a chocolate milk and, not only did I feel fine right after the ride but my recovery was still good.
Next up: the Michaelade. I had ditched the energy drink on bus-assisted rides home (only 26 miles) long ago but now I would try ditching it on a ride to work. Since it was during the winter I wouldn't be sweating as much. I did a 39 mile ride to work with just water...and I was fine! Recovery was fine, too. That may change during the summer when those morning rides find me sweating a lot but, for now, I'm not missing the carbs or electrolytes.
How about long rides? Could I get away with just a lunch break in the middle of an 80 mile ride? Last weekend I tried just that, though I did take along Michaelade mix just in case.
The ride was okay up to through the halfway point, which was lunch at In-n-Out. Felt good. Went through a whole water bottle and I drank two cups of lemonade and another cup of water for lunch, so hydration was not a problem. I got going again but about ten or fifteen miles later, I started feeling not-so-great. Not bad but more tired than I should have felt. Time to put that spare drink mix into action! Long story short: I should have had the energy drink in the first place. This was reinforced by poor recovery over the next few days.
Remember that all experiments are usually successes: if you learn something, even if it's not what you expected to learn, that's a success. I learned that when I'm going to be riding much more than three hours, I need, at the very least, an energy drink along with water. Since I took a lunch break I don't think I need to take additional snacks (I did the same ride several weeks ago and felt that a rice cake, in addition to lunch, was a bit much). I want to eat enough to fuel the ride and recovery but not too much, because I'd also like to lose more weight.
So, what's this post all about? That one's nutrition is one's own nutrition. Using recommendations from a book or magazine is a good start but you need to find out what works for you. Then, once you've figured that out, it can change! As you get stronger, leaner, faster, your needs can change. Then there's the weather. One bottle of water may suffice for a ride in the winter but in the middle of summer? Probably not so much. Experiment (with proper backups) to find what works for you. You will learn what you need in different conditions and that knowledge will keep you fueled up during your activity and recovering properly afterwards (and, just like at the gas pump, not topped off).