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Long Distance Competition/Ultracycling, Randonneuring and Endurance Cycling Do you enjoy centuries, double centuries, brevets, randonnees, and 24-hour time trials? Share ride reports, and exchange training, equipment, and nutrition information specific to long distance cycling. This isn't for tours, this is for endurance events cycling

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Old 01-30-08, 12:41 PM   #1
why2not
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just water distance?

I remember when I first started riding, getting a bit lost & turning a 12 mile planned ride into a nearly 25 mile ride. There was an ice cream stand at about mile 20 & I desperately needed the calories.

As I've put more and more distance riding under my belt, I find that my body has learned to cope with less food on a ride. I often set out on a 60 mile (3.25 hour) ride with just water in my bottles. Most of the time, this is in the morning with only a cup of black coffee since the night before. I've done 80 miles on just water with no serious problems, but was mentally concerned while doing it.

Presumably this is my body using the energy stored in my liver for fuel. I don't know if this is something I've trained my body into doing (I used riding to lose weight, so I was always trying to keep my food intake down unless the distance got over 50 miles or so) or if it's a fairly normal occurance for LD riders.

How far are you comfortable riding with only water & no calorie source? Am I a freak or is this pretty normal?
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Old 01-30-08, 01:46 PM   #2
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This is normal, I've noticed the same thing. However, I do notice that if I bring a 250 calorie energy bar on a even just a 3 hour ride and eat it after 2 hours, that last hour of riding is much easier, and my time improves.
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Old 01-30-08, 02:19 PM   #3
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What you are doing is reasonable. However, at beyond some distance--which I am sure is different for everybody--nurishment is required. I have been trying to extend my rides well beyond 100 miles and am trying to determine how best to do this with respect to caloric input. Hence, I lurk on this forum.
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Old 01-30-08, 02:25 PM   #4
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Generally speaking, yes your body will become more efficient as you train.

However, it's a very bad plan to do something like a 3-4 hour ride without consuming any calories at all -- even if you've successfully done so a few times.

The fuel you normally use is your blood glucose, which for most people will be depleted in 1-2 hours. After that, it starts breaking down fat and muscle for additional glucose. However, your body normally can't do this fast enough, your brain runs out of energy, and you bonk. Also, you're depleting your blood glycogen, and it will take you longer to recover.

You will become more efficient at this process as you train. But it sounds to me like you've just gotten lucky and/or haven't noticed some of the effects.
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Old 01-30-08, 03:38 PM   #5
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How far are you comfortable riding with only water & no calorie source? Am I a freak or is this pretty normal?
I've never specifically ridden a distance with no calorie source. Normally if the body wants to stop and get a bite, I will stop and have a bite. The only moment that comes to mind was when a friend and I rode out 30 miles to an apple orchard to join some friends for apple picking, and I totally forgot to pack anything to eat. Still felt pretty good on the way home and even did a little impromptu hammering with another couple of riders that we intersected with along the way. Then, 10 miles from home and 50 miles into the ride (and, accounting for the apple picking -- 6 hours after leaving the house and forgetting to have lunch) I just lost all of my energy and bonked hard.

fortunately, though, I had all of these apples in my Carradice ...
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Old 01-30-08, 05:43 PM   #6
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You have about 2000 calories in storage waiting to be used, if you have been eating normally. If you burn 500 calories per hour, you can actually ride about 4 hours on water and your body will use the stored calories. If you eat a meal before you go out, you could probably last longer.

And the longer you ride (years and distance) the more efficient your body becomes in using stored fuel, and the fuel your fat and muscle offers.

HOWEVER, I would NEVER recommend deliberately doing this. You just never know ... you might handle one 50 mile ride just fine with no food, but on the next one, you could bonk. The difference all depends on things like weather conditions, terrain, your health, your stress levels, how hard you ride, and all sorts of factors. I ALWAYS recommend taking some sort of food with you. That way you won't end up shaking violently and vomiting in the ditch, in the last stages of a bonk.

I've never really kept track of a distance with no food ... but I have done some very, very long distance rides on very little food. The RM1200 springs to mind.
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Old 01-30-08, 06:33 PM   #7
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A lot of riders forget that how intensely you are riding effects the time you can go. For instance if you are in good shape and only riding at 10 mph you might be able to go 4-6 hours without eating. But if you are riding at 20 mph you will be exercising a lot more in the anerobic state and you might only be able to go 90 minutes.

The slower you are going the more totally aerobic state you are in and the more your body can burn stored fat effeciently without depleting your stored glycogen.
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Old 01-30-08, 06:40 PM   #8
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How far are you comfortable riding with only water & no calorie source?
Your comfort level depends on the terrain and environment. Tying your ability to go a particular distance without fuel or water is wrongheaded.

How far would you get in the desert with a stiff crosswind? On a mountain trail after a freak storm?
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Old 01-30-08, 07:08 PM   #9
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I completed six 60 mile solo training rides over the past few months leading up to the SF 200k brevet last weekend. I could easily ride the 60 miles of rolling hills in well known terrain with no food, or maybe 1/2 an energy bar towards the end.

Then on this 200k brevet, on a new route, a bit more hills, rough roads, gusting winds heading out to a lighthouse on the Pacific Ocean, early in the morning, after only 45 miles, already consumed 1 1/2 energy bars, 10 miles short of the control I became ravenously hungry. I had to stop on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and consume a PBJ from my saddle bag to keep going. Lost the group I was riding with, but I had no choice.
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Old 01-30-08, 09:22 PM   #10
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I'm good for 25-30 miles. By 40 I had better already be eating.
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Old 01-30-08, 09:57 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by why2not View Post
I remember when I first started riding, getting a bit lost & turning a 12 mile planned ride into a nearly 25 mile ride. There was an ice cream stand at about mile 20 & I desperately needed the calories.

As I've put more and more distance riding under my belt, I find that my body has learned to cope with less food on a ride. I often set out on a 60 mile (3.25 hour) ride with just water in my bottles. Most of the time, this is in the morning with only a cup of black coffee since the night before. I've done 80 miles on just water with no serious problems, but was mentally concerned while doing it.

Presumably this is my body using the energy stored in my liver for fuel. I don't know if this is something I've trained my body into doing (I used riding to lose weight, so I was always trying to keep my food intake down unless the distance got over 50 miles or so) or if it's a fairly normal occurance for LD riders.

How far are you comfortable riding with only water & no calorie source? Am I a freak or is this pretty normal?
During your ride, you are burning a mixture of fuels - you are burning the fat from your fat stores (of which everybody has plenty), and you are burning the glycogen in your muscles and liver. At low power levels, the proportion that comes from fat is fairly high, but as power goes up, more carbs are required. There is a training effect that makes the body better at burning fat (ie at a given power level, more fat and fewer carbs are burned).

So, if you are trained and you aren't riding very fast, you can go a long way on the stored energy.

But, as others have mentioned, it's not a great idea. The first problem is that if you're down on energy, it's a little cold, you run into a headwind, or the ride runs a little long, you can run out of sugar and bonk.

You do not want to do that, trust me.

The other reason not to do this is that you'll deplete your glycogen way down, and you'll end up with very low blood sugar at the end. That's bad for two reasons. First of all, your body will tear down muscle tissue to replace your muscle glycogen, and second, you'll get really hungry afterwards.

200-250 cal/hour of mostly carbs is a better bet - and that's a really small amount of food.
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Old 01-31-08, 01:07 AM   #12
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Any ride I do over 2 hours I carry food, either solid and/or liquid. Usually on rides I've found I burn about 750 calories/hr and I try to consume about 300 calories per hour, I've found that is the best for me. If you're trying to lose weight, not eating will not help. The body will try to store fat at all cost, if it isn't getting fuel it will breakdown muscle instead of fat.
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Old 01-31-08, 01:39 PM   #13
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I normally do 35-45 mile, medium intensity, training rides on only water. These usually happen in the late afternoon, when my body is "topped up" with calories. This isn't the sort of thing to do first thing in the morning.

The longest I have ridden on only water is 100 miles. In the past I have had stomach problems on long rides, with the result being that I couldn't take in anything, sometimes not even water. This is bad, and is fortunately a thing of the past.
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Old 01-31-08, 10:00 PM   #14
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My super healthy riding nutrient intake.

My super healthy nutrient intake plan:

0-50 miles: Sip on water

If I go longer (usually a tad over a 100) this is what I do:

50 mile mark: 1 Pint Kolsch and 1 Pint Stout, smoke a rolled cig. (tradition)
75 mile mark: Brat/Hotdog, candy bar, 12oz Soda.
75-100+ drink a bunch of water, maybe hit my reserve granola bar stash (usually really old and nasty by the time I need them).
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Old 02-01-08, 12:55 AM   #15
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I drink lots of water, weather depending somewhat, on any ride over 30 miles. Since I'm addicted to blueberry crisp cliff bars I try to rationalize eating them as often as possible. Every 2 hours or so on rides over 40 miles. Between water, cliff bars, bananas and maybe a bagel with peanut butter I'm good for 100 to 150 miles. For me I would worry about just water on anything over 2 or 3 hours so I wouldn't do it.

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Old 02-01-08, 05:10 PM   #16
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I have done a number of long training days with nothing more than water. The longest ones were 8 hours of cycling & running. I haven't had any problem with this. I usually have a bad spell at about two hours & fifteen minutes. The better trained I am the shorter this lasts. Sometimes as short as a couple of minutes. Then I feel better for the remainder of the ride & run. I do not go slow on these, averaging over 20mph on the bike. And, sometimes quite a bit of it is anaerobic with some of it maxing out my heart rate. I can't go quite as fast as with food or fluids with calories.
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Old 02-01-08, 08:53 PM   #17
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I experimented with a full century with only water and no food except a pre-ride breakfast and a bit of a carbo load the night before. The course was fairly flat and there were services along the way to get me out of trouble if need be. I was spent, but didn't bonk, by the time I got home. My mood was somewhat dark.

While there are some who pooh-pooh the idea of riding like this, I think a person needs to know what their limits are. We all make errors of judgment, and randonnee and touring stories are littered with accounts of people runnning out of food (and water) at particular points in their rides with X number of kilometres left. If you know what your limits are because you have experimented under reasonably controlled conditions, you are more likely to manage your speed and energy output to make the next control/checkpoint, rather than just collapse in a misering heap on the side of the road without even trying.

And yes, I agree, that training helps extend the period before the body is in need of sustenance. Remember, also, that if you keep your heart rate under a certain level (what is it? 70% of max) you will continue to burn body fat rather than energy from any other source such as the liver. That's why I like to have a little bit of "condition" on when I start big 1200km randonnees, rather than be a bag of bones and muscle with little in the way of fat stores.
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Old 02-01-08, 10:02 PM   #18
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I experimented with a full century with only water and no food except a pre-ride breakfast and a bit of a carbo load the night before. The course was fairly flat and there were services along the way to get me out of trouble if need be. I was spent, but didn't bonk, by the time I got home. My mood was somewhat dark.
I didn't not this before, but if you're on pure water and you're sweating a lot, it's easy to go into hyponatremia, which can be life-threatening. Electrolytes (well, salt, predominately) prevent that from happening.
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Old 02-02-08, 06:26 AM   #19
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I did many 100 km rides on water only, no food, after a breakfast of skim milk and whole bread with jam. I think I could do a century, but feel more comfortable if I eat a banana or granola bar every 50 km or so.
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Old 02-02-08, 06:33 AM   #20
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I think it likely my body fat a higher percentage than yours. But, energy bars easily fit into a jersey pocket. One of my two water bottles is usually some form of a high energy drink. Since, once on a bike, the ride can take over and who knows when I might get home; my biggest concern is remembering to take along some kind of light. In fear it might durn into a low light situation.
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