It is not as fun as it sounds: Bonking on your bike means running out of energy and it can spell disaster for any bike ride. Eating well before and during your rides is the only way to prevent the cycling equivalent of ‘hitting the wall’.
Bonking, or blowing up, is when your body runs out of energy during a bike ride. Once you have blown you feel as if you simply cannot go on. When your energy levels have dropped this low it is very hard to recover and continue.
When you blow-up the change can be sudden; your legs feel weak, you lose your focus, your heart rate increases and you may feel dizzy, woozy and confused. From feeling strong you will suddenly feel like you are cycling through treacle, it’s a horrible feeling! Eating and drinking at this late stage will only give you enough energy to limp home. It’s far better to avoid running out of energy in the first place!
It can happen to a cyclist of any level or experience, even professional racers, if they do not manage their energy intake properly. If you are doing rides of over 90-minutes then it could happen to you, but follow these tips to stay feeling strong to the end of your ride.
Tip 1: Stock up on carbs before your ride
Your body stores its energy as glycogen in your liver and in your muscles, this is then released as glucose into your blood stream as you need it. Eating plenty of carbohydrate, the day before your ride is important. Make sure that you have some carbohydrate with every meal or snack, don’t let yourself feel too hungry but don’t leave the table feeling stuffed. Good sources of carbohydrate include sweet potatoes, rice, fresh fruit, vegetables, cereals, dried fruit and oat cakes.
Tip 2: Have a good breakfast
Before you head out the door make sure you have had a good breakfast with lots of carbohydrate and a little protein. Have a big drink of water or juice so that you aren’t starting your ride dehydrated. A bowl of porridge or muesli with dried fruit, scrambled eggs on toast or a bagel or if time is tight a breakfast smoothie made with banana and oats will do the job.
Tip 3: Keep eating during your ride
Your body’s stored supply of energy is limited to just two hours, less if you are riding very hard, therefore it is important to keep topping up throughout your ride. If you are riding for more than 90 minutes you will need to top up your body’s reserves by taking on carbohydrate throughout your ride. You can do this in many forms; carbohydrate drinks, energy bars, energy gels or natural food such as bananas, dried fruit or jelly sweets, or a combination of these options. Eating little and often is the best way to keep your blood sugar levels constant so aim to eat a little every 20-30 minutes of your ride, starting after the first 30 minutes.
Tip 4: Choose foods you want to eat
You cannot under estimate how important it is to have food that tastes and smells good. If you don’t like the taste it is much harder to force yourself to eat. There is no point buying sports nutrition products you don’t enjoy as you will eat less of them. Your digestion starts with your eyes and your nose, when your mouth waters the saliva begins the breakdown of food into useable energy. Amazingly your body starts to release more glucose into your blood stream as soon as it tastes it in your mouth, even before it hits your stomach. Take foods that will be good for your energy levels but that you also look forward to eating so it feels like a treat.
Tip 5: Act fast if your energy levels crash
If you start to feel weak then act fast! Have a look through your pockets for the foods that release energy quickly and start with them; dried fruit, a very ripe banana, a couple of swigs of an energy drink or some sweets for example. Have a drink as well as digestion is harder if you are dehydrated, even a little bit. Slow down to reduce the strain on your body and allow it to digest the food you are putting in. It’s unlikely that you will be able to recover your previous energy levels but you should be able to get yourself home or to the end of your event where you will most likely feel ravenous – so watch out fridge!