As the Styrkr team return from their triumphant win in the Pan Celtic race, we thought you’d like to hear what their fuel plan was for long-distance cycling.
The Pan Celtic race is one of many self-supported, ultra-endurance cycle rides in which riders cover insane distances (1,663 miles in this case), over varying terrain and gradients. In this race they toured around Ireland, facing not just hard climbs and rugged tracks, but also the naturally harsh elements that Ireland has to offer.
You need grit in abundance, certainly, but you also need to get your fuel plan right as the daily rides take their toll on your body and mind.
So, let’s check out why the right nutrition fuel plans are so vital to success in long-distance cycling and then look through how the Styrkr team kept themselves fuelled and powering on a daily basis.
What does the body need to keep moving?
As endurance athletes know, the key to getting your best performance is training and nutrition. When taking on a long-distance race of any kind; cycling, running, ultra-distance competitions, you need to give your body the fuel it needs to keep going.
The first place to start when making a fuel plan for long-distance cycling are macronutrients.
Macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates and fat. All three play an essential role in increasing strength, keeping energy levels high, and reducing recovery time.
All fuel plans for long-distance cycling need to include macronutrients.
Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair. If you’re covering 300 miles a day, pushing your muscles to the extremes, there’s bound to be some serious wear and tear. Feeding your body protein before racing or training will build up the muscles and also reduce recovery time when resting, keeping those early-morning aches to a minimum. But don’t worry, they’ll still be there!
Carbohydrates are very literally your primary fuel. Carbs are converted into glucose and this provides your body with the energy required for the undertaking ahead. A lack of carbs is fatal to your racing ambitions.
Some carbs (complex carbs) are difficult to break down and therefore should be avoided while on the road or track, but rather taken on board plenty of time before the race gets going. These are the usual sources you probably know about, such as pasta and chicken. Complex carbs are digested slowly and transformed into glucose over a few hours, and provide your fuel tank with a solid source of energy. However, as endurance cycling pushes and burns off these carbs you need to replenish your energy source on the go.
Simple carbs are essential for your fuel plan for long-distance cycling as they’re going to accompany you on your journey and give you the boost you need when you need it most. When you feel yourself getting weak and tired, which is definitely going to happen, you need to take on some fuel which is not going to cause any GI tract issues. Dried fruits, fruit, energy bars and gels are quick to get into action and replenish energy levels, without feeling bloated or uncomfortable.
Finally, fats are important too. As endurance events burn so much fuel, you need reserves to keep you moving. Like the hump on a camel. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that can be found in avocado, nuts, seeds and fish should be in your fuel plan for long-distance cycling whereas trans and saturated fats should be avoided for the most part.
So that’s what your body needs, let’s take a look at what the Styrkr team’s fuel plan was for the Pan Celtic race.
STYRKR TEAM FUEL PLAN FOR LONG-DISTANCE CYCLING: PAN CELTIC
Christian and Alex entered as a pair in the Pan Celtic race 2022.
This year the race began in southwest wales, crossed the Irish sea to southeast Ireland and followed the south and west coast around and up to the border with Northern Ireland before turning right and reaching the east coast, across the Irish sea again to northwest wales.
1,663 miles over 8 days, averaging 207 miles a day over mixed terrain.
Add to this the infamous Irish ruggedness and harsh elements and you’ve got a delightful recipe for ouch.
“Sorry the dust is still settling. Took an awful lot out of me.” Christian finally replies to my message after two days.
I had asked him to tell me what they had eaten to keep them going. Unsurprisingly, sleep and rest had been more important immediately after the race though.
“It was a mixture of STYRKR products, Mix90, Gel30, Gel30 Caff, Gel30 Nitro and SLT05. Along with R&D energy bars, all sorts of snacks and sandwiches that we picked up from small shops and service stations. We didn’t eat any big sit-down meals as we just didn’t have time. Maybe a quick fish n chips here and there in the evening. But basically, service station living for 8 days with gels.”
Although this is a nice summary, it doesn’t do justice to the planning that was actually involved. Reading the above might make you think that you can just head out the door for a week on your bicycle with a bag full of gels and you’ll be alright. It is not the case. After some friendly but forceful pushing, Christian finally shared with me their fuel and race plan for the Pan Celtic race, and it is impressively detailed.
First, let’s have a look at their fuel plan based on a 16-hour block.
As you can see, they prepared thoroughly. Their fuel plan measured carbs and calories for the day and what they should try to take on board on an hourly basis over 16 hours.
“It changed dramatically depending on the circumstances. If we managed to pick anything up the night before or if we had planned to stay (sleep) near a cafe or shop that would be open in the morning before we set off again.”
Christian adds, tiredly.
“Our general day would be: MIX90 Caff and SLT05 to start the day. Breakfast was a luxury but might have been: biscuits, sandwich and an energy bar. Then if we saw a cafe or petrol station 2 hours into riding we would stop for coffee… then snacks on the road would be sandwiches, rice bars, soreen cake, fig rolls, trail mix, bananas and apples, full fat coke, coffee and crisps…we would never have a big sit-down lunch….and in the evening it was much the same but with maybe a fish n chips if we were lucky.”
“Every 3 hours I’d have a MIX90 in my bottle and then 2-3 SLT05 throughout the day. At some point in the race eating changes from fun to a necessity and actually you can lose your appetite. It becomes hard to eat sometimes due to the heat, or your body just rejects it for whatever reason. It happened to me on DAY 4… just couldn’t eat anything… that’s where the gels and hydration drinks really kept me going.”
Apart from having a fuel plan for the race, they also planned meticulously their route, researching key towns and service stations where they could refuel, weeks ahead of the actual race.
Check out their race plan
From this you can see that they had mapped out their route, noting the key towns and even finding restaurants, b&b’s, stores and supermarkets which would act as both checkpoints and fuelling stations for the rest of the day.
“It is really important to plan out your route before setting off. So much depends on the environment, the distance and the climate. Is it a remote place? Are there shops, watering points? Is it hot or cold or rainy? When we raced Badlands last year, we planned our route but when we arrived at those small towns it was siesta-time and everything was closed! You have to understand the location and have options to pick up food and water.”
He finishes our conversation with: “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”
So, the key takeaway points for you are:
- PLAN YOUR ROUTE
- NOTE KEY TOWNS & SHOPS FOR PROVISIONS
- UNDERSTAND THE LOCATION/ENVIRONMENT
- HAVE A FUEL PLAN, BUT BE ADAPTABLE
- GELS & ENERGY BARS & HYDRATION DRINKS ARE LIGHTWEIGHT AND EASY-TO-USE COMPANIONS
Now that Christian and Alex are back at home resting their tired bodies, they tell me that they have been craving and feasting on proper home-cooked and hearty foods.
“I haven’t stopped eating! It usually takes me a week to get back to normal.”
Well deserved lads, and well done on a great achievement!