Fueling an endeavor of ~20 hours of exercise in 8 days can be quite a challenge. Doing it during the festive season adds a few more complications. But we are here to help, welcome to the Ultimate Fueling Guide for the Rapha Festive 500 – a challenge to ride 500km over the 8 days between Christmas and New Years.
Two of the Supersapiens team took on a “Thankful 500” (the Festive 500 a month ahead of time), so we could have data ready for readers before the challenge. Both Xylon (Storyteller) and Jack (Head of Digital) only complained on most work calls about it, before realizing that riding their bikes for work is actually a dream job. Jokes aside – work constraints, family engagements, drinks with friends, limited daylight, and rain (Jack is British afterall), posed as much a challenge as the distance. But that’s the life of amateur athletes.
Of course, the normal caveats exist here, for those regularly riding this amount, things are a little easier and the impact will be less. For those readers who will find this an increase of 25% or more on top of normal weekly riding, it is worth acknowledging that this is a significant step up for you and as a result recovery will come harder. Let’s dive into some data and takeaways.
Fueling off the Bike
You’re probably here for advice on best fuelling practices while riding. We’ll get there, but stacking multiple days together with a high total volume requires zooming out a level. The Festive 500 is not only a challenge of timing when you are able to ride at a busy time of the year but also understanding when to eat to fuel your effort. Figure 1, below, is how we think about the continuous cycle of fueling. Each third is equally as important as the next.
Seems simple enough – fueling is always important. But progress lies in understanding how fueling during each of these stages affects the others. For example, if you decide to skip breakfast that fuel needs to be made up for somewhere else. This problem is at times exacerbated when training for long durations, because time off the bike is reduced and intake on the bike is almost impossible to match with output on the bike. That is why many Supersapiens athletes who have training volumes of ~30 hours per week will often fuel easy sessions at excessive rates, thus reducing their caloric deficit once off the bike.
TLDR: Eat all the things, especially the carbohydrates.
Pre Ride Meal
Many athletes, cyclists included, could stand to improve their pre workout fueling. Most probably grab a coffee and bagel (or maybe some oatmeal) before hitting the road, this could be problematic for a few reasons. Priming is all about timing and there may be times where you can’t eat long enough before exercise so may need to start fasted (and then fuel harder during).
TLDR: Try eat 3hrs+ before your ride, just as you’re riding out or fuel harder on the bike.
Recovery and the festive season can go both ways; there’s probably extra time for you to sleep, but there may also be more social engagements and more stress. Time with family may also be something that is restorative and aids in recovery, but there are also many facets of recovery, hormonal, nutritional and musculoskeletal to name a few. For more on the nuance of stress and coping with it, check out our podcast episode on ‘Life Battery’.
The fundamentals of recovery are sleep, nutrition, hydration and stress management, so as they say, simple but not necessarily easy. As mentioned in the “Fueling off the Bike” section, fuel used to recover from day 1, is fuel for day 2 and when stacking days, you don’t want to be digging yourself a hole for later. This has particular importance when it comes to carbohydrates given their role in higher intensity exercise and importance of replenishing glycogen stores. This is where timing is key, and getting some carbohydrates and protein in ASAP post workout is crucial as can be seen in Figure 2, above. When it comes to recovery nutrition, this blog is what you are after.
One thing that certainly won’t help recovery is alcohol, though it may be part of the festive season for you. If you do decide to partake, ensure moderation and keep it as far away from sleep as possible.
Pro Tip: This podcast episode may help you post Festive 500.
TLDR: Get some carbohydrates and protein early and often post ride.
Fueling on the Bike
Getting fueling on the bike right is part of the bigger picture as we have covered already. There may be days where you want to have higher intakes to make up for deficits elsewhere for example. Ultimately though, the basis is dependent mostly on intensity and duration. Very easy rides and shorter rides may not need anywhere near as much fueling, but for moderate intensities and beyond intake guidelines are shown below in Figure 3.
Sports nutrition vs Real food
Given the abundance of goodness around during the festive season, there will no doubt be the temptation to use some of the leftover food on the bike. Don’t be scared to Free the Donut or similar baked goods of choice. After all, you may find playing with your food informs your next race nutrition strategy. Just be careful of cafe legs if you stop at a cafe to refuel!
TLDR: Aim for around 30-60g of carbohydrates per hour.
What Does the Festive 500 Look Like on CGM?
As mentioned Xylon and Jack kindly donated some of their work day’s to riding to provide us some data to analyze for this blog (it’s a tough job but these guys heroically volunteered). Below you can see their data from the dashboard
Note: This ride was 1:34 because of the way the event was created, it amounted to a few mins or riding.
On this ride Xylon was struck by cafe legs, see below cycling event in isolation with power overlaid.
Above is Xylon's cycling even from day 4, showing cafe legs. You can see his glucose rising whilst he is stopped (power in yellow at 0) and then as he starts moving again it plummets and he feels like garbage.
Xylon chose a group ride and has a big rush in response to working hard to not get dropped by the group on a hill.
Apparently Xylon didn’t learn his lesson and had another cafe legs episode, saved by a bag of gummies (always carry rescue fuel team).
A bigger day for Jack here to get ahead of the planned distance knowing that storms were scheduled for Day 6.
Following this ride Jack had noticed he was feeling quite fatigued in the legs given all of his riding. This persisted through the rest of the 8 days.
The big rush you can see here is from a cafe stop (Almond raspberry jam cookie) but Jack was wise enough to not sit still for too long.
This day was rained off - a no cycling day as Jack was neither waterproof nor going to do any of his kms indoors (in the name of science).
A longer day to make up for the lost Day 6, Jack finished this ride in the dark (with lights!) to bring his ride back on schedule, and avoid disrupting family Thanksgiving commitments on Day 8!
An easy ride on Thanksgiving day followed by copious amounts of roast dinner to reward the efforts of the previous eight days.
What to Watch For
In the case of Jack and Xylon, they both hit 30-60g/hr for most of their rides, similarly in general the intensity they rode at was not too high so they didn’t dig themselves holes from a fueling or loading perspective. So whilst the two examples above don’t show much of a change from baseline, there is certainly the potential for this to be the case. With a significant increase in training volume (either duration or intensity), underfueling or both there is the potential to see some changes in CGM trace that are worth noting.
TLDR: Glucose can become suppressed and more stable with either increased load or underfueling. This is particularly apparent in overnight glucose. It may also fail to increase with higher intensity efforts. *Note seeing this is not a problem in itself (and not seeing it does not mean there is no problem) but these insights may give you some more information to make decisions with.
Some Thoughts, Tips and Advice from the Guys:
- Try get ahead of the average so you don’t need to play catch up
- Plan your rides and routes ahead of the 8 days as best you can. (At this time of the year family commitments and weather can disrupt your carefully planned schedule!)
- Make sure you fuel hard, especially earlier in the challenge (especially if this is more riding than you’re accustomed to)
- Make sure you plan longer days when you have less on (from both a time to complete and recovery standpoint)
- Don’t be scared to fuel with real food/festive baked goods (Christmas cake and lebkuchen are favorites for Jack!
So now that you know the best way to survive and thrive through the Festive 500, fueling it like the best in the business, you will need to find another reason to have to make emergency cafe stops or ride slowly to avoid the in-laws.
If you are looking to take your fueling and understanding of your body to the next level, grab your Supersapiens sensors here.