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  1. #1
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    Energy - or lack there of...

    Been cycling for over 10 years. After a couple years of cycling I did a 4-day charity ride that include one ride over 200k, and the other three over 100k. That was a while ago, and while I remember suffering, I don't call any bonk-like feelings. Since then I've had 1-3 rides over 100k a year, sometimes a few more. What I'm trying to determine is why on some of those rides, towards the end of the ride (90k and longer), do I start to feel my energy evaporating...but others I'm good. And, in both cases (two I can recall in the last two weeks) what I ate before the ride, as well as my general preparedness were very similar. When I'm riding and taking in calories via engergy bars, bananas, gels or other things, I feel fine. Then within the space of 10 minutes I go from ok to bad...and depsite the calories I take in after 'bad' sets in, it's a tough ride home. Do I need to eat more early on in these rides, if yes, why just on some of them? I'm not scientific and don't like counting calories, but I'm open to some general guidance.

    Some basic stats/facts:
    - 39 yrs old
    - 140 pounds
    - bike is < 20 pounds
    - on a 100-125k route there are some rollers, and a few steep though short climbs (over 10%, but only for a few hundred meters)
    - on last weeks 125k ride I ate two energy bars, one gel, one carb drink and one banana. Before the ride I ate a large bowl of fruit, yogurt and granola (I've had this for years)

  2. #2
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    Sounds to me like you're not eating and/or drinking enough. (I notice you didn't mention how much you drank, so I'm guessing fluid, but it could be food.) I'd guess your longer rides are running right along that red line between ate/drank enough, and didn't. Some cross it, some don't.

    If you run out of energy again, stop someplace nice (inside a Dairy Queen, perhaps?). Eat something - real food, like a PBJ sandwich or a small hamburger. Drink a large drink. Fill your water bottles up and sip a bit. Wait 15-20 minutes, and hit the road again. It takes some time for significant food and fluid to work its way into your blood.

  3. #3
    Senior Member skiffrun's Avatar
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    Sometimes it is just your "lucky day."

    You only do 1 to 3 rides a year that are over 100k --> neither your brain nor your body has been trained or grown accustomed to dealing with the distance and possible "low" spots.
    Enjoy the ride.

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    Quote Originally Posted by skiffrun View Post
    Sometimes it is just your "lucky day."

    You only do 1 to 3 rides a year that are over 100k --> neither your brain nor your body has been trained or grown accustomed to dealing with the distance and possible "low" spots.
    I hear you, though I had done three in three weeks...the first time I suffered a bit from 80-90k but felt good the rest of the 125k. The next week I felt great (and did tons of climbing). The most recent one hurt a lot at the end, and there wasn't much climbing. I guess the "lucky day" theory plays a role

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    What really helps me is having a bottle of 1/2 water and 1/2 orange juice. It's very easy to digest and gives me quick, but long lasting energy. I like to drink it when I have about 40-50k left.

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    I have ridden enough long rides in a short enough amount of time that after 5 years I finally have my energy problems at least somewhat under control . I learned fairly early in my randonneuring career that I was always low energy between 50 and 100 miles. I tried lots of things, but what finally made it so that I didn't have those problems was using carb powder/protein powder mix in my water bottle. In hot weather, I also bring a hydration pack. I have a really hard time eating solid food on the bike nowadays, so that didn't help at all.

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    Did a 110k yesterday and this time I incorporated some changes to my usual routine. First, I didn't ride on the Thursday or Friday. I got good sleep both days and did some light stretching. Waking up on Saturday my body felt more ready than before. I recalled that last time, when I felt zapped, I had a heavy week of riding including a 2.5 hour ride the day before a century. I started eating early (energy bar after an hour, something else at 1:45, and I kept eating without overdoing it). I tried the 1/2 orange juice and water for the last hour and it was fine, though I can't say whether it made a huge difference. Overall I had a much better ride. At no point did I feel exhausted or close to a bonk. This is despite a pace that was 1-2 km/h faster than normal on a long ride, plus a head wind the last hour. I think the key was not riding the days before the century. While I can make this a pattern, I do short (credit card) touring and this wouldn't work, as I would be riding 2-3 days straight, but those rides are slower with many stops to check out sites.

    Thanks.

  8. #8
    Uber Goober StephenH's Avatar
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    It seems to me that thinner people operate more on the food they have eaten and when that runs out, they don't have the body fat to work off of, like some of us do.

    I would recommend- skip the energy bars and just eat some real food along the way. Get a good barbecue sandwich and a banana at the halfway point. Drink Mountain Dew, lots of sugar plus caffeine in it. If you're driving your car, you don't try to barely keep enough gas in it to keep from running out, you keep plenty in there so you know you're not running out. Don't count calories, just snarf some junk food and enjoy.

    On identical routes at identical speeds, wind conditions and temperature can make it a lot harder one time than another.
    "be careful this rando stuff is addictive and dan's the 'pusher'."

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    I'm not sure that's really true of thinner people. As you train more, your body gets better at storing glycogen and converting calories to glycogen. I know when I was in my teens and 20's, my body was much better at this than it is now. So a couple of years ago, I tried to kick-start this process by riding 35 miles without eating a couple of times a week and it seemed to work. It's really hard to separate the training effect from the not-eating effect though. This is generally independent of body weight. My understanding is that your body is fairly bad at burning fat.

    I also think that energy bars are a fairly bad way to feed yourself. I'm not sure about real food on a 100k ride, I have never had to do that even in my days riding at less than 140 lbs. In fact, 100km was what we called a "one banana ride." 160km was a "two banana ride." And that was in the mountains of southwest Virginia.

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    you may be dipping into your anaerobic energy pathway too often and not replenishing the used up muscle glycogen. When you go anaerobic like on a medium long hill your body is burning an inordinate amount of stored glycogen. This is because you cannot supply the oxygen your muscles need aerobically and the cells actually manufacture the oxygen. This burns a lot of stored glycogen that is very hard to replace by eating. You hit the wall. You can get away with this for a long time but when the glycogen is gone you MUST slow down to your fat burning pace which requires a lot of oxygen. You slow down significantly and it happens very suddenly. Eventually your liver will release glycogen into your blood stream and you will feel a "second wind". You really have to get trashed to have that happen.

    On long rides you need to avoid going anaerobic (hard to do because you can't always feel it happening) and you need to take in calories that go to blood glycogen very quickly so as to spare stored muscle glycogen.

    Of course dehydration can accelerate the loss of glycogen because blood volume drops and you go anaerobic at a lower work load. That is when the downward spiral of the "bonK" kicks in.

    Conditioning plays a very large role in all of this and if you want to ride long distance you need to ride long distance and exceed your glycogen storage levels. This increases the body's ability to store glycogen.

  11. #11
    Senior Member dave42's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noonievut View Post
    Been cycling for over 10 years. After a couple years of cycling I did a 4-day charity ride that include one ride over 200k, and the other three over 100k. That was a while ago, and while I remember suffering, I don't call any bonk-like feelings. Since then I've had 1-3 rides over 100k a year, sometimes a few more. What I'm trying to determine is why on some of those rides, towards the end of the ride (90k and longer), do I start to feel my energy evaporating...but others I'm good. And, in both cases (two I can recall in the last two weeks) what I ate before the ride, as well as my general preparedness were very similar. When I'm riding and taking in calories via engergy bars, bananas, gels or other things, I feel fine. Then within the space of 10 minutes I go from ok to bad...and depsite the calories I take in after 'bad' sets in, it's a tough ride home. Do I need to eat more early on in these rides, if yes, why just on some of them? I'm not scientific and don't like counting calories, but I'm open to some general guidance.

    Some basic stats/facts:
    - 39 yrs old
    - 140 pounds
    - bike is < 20 pounds
    - on a 100-125k route there are some rollers, and a few steep though short climbs (over 10%, but only for a few hundred meters)
    - on last weeks 125k ride I ate two energy bars, one gel, one carb drink and one banana. Before the ride I ate a large bowl of fruit, yogurt and granola (I've had this for years)
    I've found that when I think I'm bonking, as in no energy and blabbering nonsense to myself, I need salt. The way I discovered this was by eating the last of my food the other day about 50 miles out, which was a 4 pack of peanut butter crackers. They were extremely salty. Though I felt I needed more food, I did pretty well getting back home(another 30 miles), and was actually able to charge the hill to my apartment like a madman.

    Maybe you need salt.

  12. #12
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    You say you don't want to count calories, but that's the problem. You have to keep track of everything, all the time. Energy expenditure, leg state, butt state, pee status, food intake, time, cadence, average speed, distance to the next control. The more stuff you keep track of, the more successful you will be at long distance riding. Besides, it keeps your mind occupied.

    I find it helps a lot to have a goal for energy consumption per hour. The faster I'm going and the more climbing I'm doing, the more energy I need. So I keep track. On any long ride, I find that the most important hours are the first three. That's when I set the patterns for the whole ride. That's when I want to establish my calorie and water consumption per hour. When I do that, I have a good ride.

    I have a very simple system for food: a water bottle with 750 calories in it should last me 3-4 hours, no more. Or one Clif bar/hour. Or 3 gels/hour. Or some combination. If I stop at a control and eat 300 calories, I probably won't need to eat again for 45 minutes to an hour. Usually when I get close to the finish, I can cut back on my food and increase my speed because I've been keeping up with my expenditures. Napoleon said an army travels on its stomach. So does a rider.

    If you just want to go out and ride your bike, you're going to have uneven results.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Dave Cutter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noonievut View Post
    ............. - on last weeks 125k ride I ate two energy bars, one gel, one carb drink and one banana. Before the ride I ate a large bowl of fruit, yogurt and granola (I've had this for years)
    Food may be enough.... but certainly you also drank a heck of a lot more water or something right?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Cutter View Post
    Food may be enough.... but certainly you also drank a heck of a lot more water or something right?
    Yes, plenty of water and I felt I was (usually am) well hydrated as evidenced by lots of pee breaks

    Carbonfibreboy - if I was riding long distance often, and trying to get better, I would keep track of things more diligently. But after years of expanding my use of digital equipment (HRM, computer with cadence, etc.), and becoming more serious about cycling, I found that I wasn't enjoying as much as I could (and I didn't know it). Since I've changed to riding for the pure enjoyment of it, and only using a basic computer to track distance and time of day, that my fondness of all things cycling has increased so much and I'm so much happier. Granted, the downside is I come here with complaints and questions about lack of energy...but I believe I solved that (see my previous post) and surprising to me it didn't have to do with food/water (I ate and drank the same on my most recent ride, as the zapped ride, with much better results).

  15. #15
    Senior Member Dave Cutter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noonievut View Post
    Yes, plenty of water and I felt I was (usually am) well hydrated as evidenced by lots of pee breaks

    ....... I come here with complaints and questions about lack of energy...but I believe I solved that (see my previous post) and surprising to me it didn't have to do with food/water (I ate and drank the same on my most recent ride, as the zapped ride, with much better results).
    I read (and re-read) your previous post. So I assume your crediting/blaming energy levels on rest days.... or on paying closer attention to good sleep previous to long rides.

    I am generally stronger after both... rest days and/or good sleep days. Allergies like hay fever can be a bit draining for me. I live at the base of a huge hill. So almost everyday I ride... is a test of climbing strength... of sorts. I know... on days when my health isn't peak, or when I haven't slept well, I might struggle a little with my climb.

    For reasons I haven't been able to identify.... maybe twice a year (about 1% of rides).... I (feel compelled to) dismount. I drink a little water and catch my breath... maybe walk my bike a few feet and then resume the climb. I would guess it is because I am NOT training, NOT monitoring my food and water intake, NOT making a point of turning in early. An unpredictable lifestyle... produces unpredictable results.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
    You say you don't want to count calories, but that's the problem. You have to keep track of everything, all the time. Energy expenditure, leg state, butt state, pee status, food intake, time, cadence, average speed, distance to the next control. The more stuff you keep track of, the more successful you will be at long distance riding. Besides, it keeps your mind occupied.

    I find it helps a lot to have a goal for energy consumption per hour. The faster I'm going and the more climbing I'm doing, the more energy I need. So I keep track. On any long ride, I find that the most important hours are the first three. That's when I set the patterns for the whole ride. That's when I want to establish my calorie and water consumption per hour. When I do that, I have a good ride.

    I have a very simple system for food: a water bottle with 750 calories in it should last me 3-4 hours, no more. Or one Clif bar/hour. Or 3 gels/hour. Or some combination. If I stop at a control and eat 300 calories, I probably won't need to eat again for 45 minutes to an hour. Usually when I get close to the finish, I can cut back on my food and increase my speed because I've been keeping up with my expenditures. Napoleon said an army travels on its stomach. So does a rider.

    If you just want to go out and ride your bike, you're going to have uneven results.
    Now this is just very good advice! While I understand the OP's desire to ride without feeling infringed by tracking metrics, I would venture to say at the 100 mile mark and above that tracking these metrics is directly proportional to enjoying the distance.

    Recently I made a serious error and tried an 3+ hour ride on only 1 Clif bar and water. By the symptoms following the ride, I almost had a serious medical issue from low blood serum levels. That ride was not even a particularly strenuous ride. Conversely yesterday I used 320 calories of gatorade and a Clif bar to ride a strenuous 3 hour ride (30% of the time I was above Lactic Threshold) and never felt as though I ran out of juice though I was exhausted at the end.
    RUSA #8269

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
    You say you don't want to count calories, but that's the problem. You have to keep track of everything, all the time. Energy expenditure, leg state, butt state, pee status, food intake, time, cadence, average speed, distance to the next control. The more stuff you keep track of, the more successful you will be at long distance riding. Besides, it keeps your mind occupied.

    I find it helps a lot to have a goal for energy consumption per hour. The faster I'm going and the more climbing I'm doing, the more energy I need. So I keep track. On any long ride, I find that the most important hours are the first three. That's when I set the patterns for the whole ride. That's when I want to establish my calorie and water consumption per hour. When I do that, I have a good ride.

    I have a very simple system for food: a water bottle with 750 calories in it should last me 3-4 hours, no more. Or one Clif bar/hour. Or 3 gels/hour. Or some combination. If I stop at a control and eat 300 calories, I probably won't need to eat again for 45 minutes to an hour. Usually when I get close to the finish, I can cut back on my food and increase my speed because I've been keeping up with my expenditures. Napoleon said an army travels on its stomach. So does a rider.

    If you just want to go out and ride your bike, you're going to have uneven results.
    what I really like about this is that it keeps your insulin levels at a steady state. You're not flashing and crashing. I've been counting everything for 7 months, (45 lbs later I'm almost at fighting weight). I'm just not totally convinced of my cal consumption rate. Great post, thx.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Null66's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noonievut View Post
    Been cycling for over 10 years. After a couple years of cycling I did a 4-day charity ride that include one ride over 200k, and the other three over 100k. That was a while ago, and while I remember suffering, I don't call any bonk-like feelings. Since then I've had 1-3 rides over 100k a year, sometimes a few more. What I'm trying to determine is why on some of those rides, towards the end of the ride (90k and longer), do I start to feel my energy evaporating...but others I'm good. And, in both cases (two I can recall in the last two weeks) what I ate before the ride, as well as my general preparedness were very similar. When I'm riding and taking in calories via engergy bars, bananas, gels or other things, I feel fine. Then within the space of 10 minutes I go from ok to bad...and depsite the calories I take in after 'bad' sets in, it's a tough ride home. Do I need to eat more early on in these rides, if yes, why just on some of them? I'm not scientific and don't like counting calories, but I'm open to some general guidance.

    Some basic stats/facts:
    - 39 yrs old
    - 140 pounds
    - bike is < 20 pounds
    - on a 100-125k route there are some rollers, and a few steep though short climbs (over 10%, but only for a few hundred meters)
    - on last weeks 125k ride I ate two energy bars, one gel, one carb drink and one banana. Before the ride I ate a large bowl of fruit, yogurt and granola (I've had this for years)
    Others here know better, but riding partner Mary, will fall off the cliff like that and a few Bugles or something similarly salty snacky thing perks her right up... Fairly dramatic the decline and recovery...

    When she runs out of gas, it is more of a gradual subtle decline until she pretty much topples.

  19. #19
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    You may suffer from some degree of hypoglycemia. If you do then your bad bonks may be from insulin spikes and in that case more sugar is the opposite of what you need. If this is the case then you should respond by eating "real food", like a peanut butter sandwich, or my favorite, a pimento cheese sandwich. I've seen a friend who was suffering from a hypoglycemic bonk respond by eating a whole carton of cottage cheese.

    Excessive sugar and caffeine are two no no's for hypoglycemic persons. I noticed your diet on ride day is weighted toward sugar and carbs... If you suspect that this may be the case, then there is a simple sugar test to find out. Hypoglycemic or not, I think most experienced distance cyclists would recommend mixing in real food with your energy drinks or bars.

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