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  1. #1
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    Calorie consumption on long tours: ever get gassed out or lose too much weight?

    How do you guys stay on top of your calorie intake when you go on tours lasting a week to even a month's time? Are you using some special high calorie sports bars perhaps? It just seems like you could burn about 3400 calories for every 60 miles....and I'm sure some are logging more miles than that per day. That's an awful lot of calories to replace. It just seems like you'd end up in the negative on calorie intake. This would be a big issue especially on a tour lasting several weeks I think...there must of been a few people here who got gassed out and maybe even quit a tour I'm guessing due to just not having the energy to keep going.

  2. #2
    Senior Member boomhauer's Avatar
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    I always try to have a can of beenie weenies as a reserve in my bag....but usually end up eating it the same day I buy it.

    I ran out of food before I could get over a mountain pass it Utah. I couldn't make it and stopped for the night in the woods. The next day was horrible because I still had a couple miles to go till the top.
    I've never been so hungry in my life. Was my life or health in danger? probably not.

    I'm already skinny but everyone comments how skinny I look when getting back home. I feel great so I don't really worry about it.

  3. #3
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    I think you are much more likely to have hydration issues than run out of gas.

    I toured in the 80s; before power bars and energy drinks. Gatorade was about the only sports drink. I didn't like the taste.

    I survived long rides on a 50/50 mix of water and apple juice. As for food, I kept baggies full of fig newtons, and bananas, apples whatever appealed.

    During a ride, I kept stocking up as I went. I wouldn't pass up many roadside fruit stands when they were in season.

    I did bonk one time during a ride from Ottawa to Montreal. About 2/3 of the way, on a very hot day, I ran out of gas, and found a corner store with litre bottles of Orangina. It was about 45 minutes before I was able to get going again.

    Of course evenings were full of carb loading dinners.

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    Senior Member Doug64's Avatar
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    Sticker that is like the one on the rear fender of my wife's bike. It pretty much sums it up.


    This slide from one of my wife's presentations showing how it is done

  5. #5
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    yes, i've run out of gas as you call it. i think the biking term may be bonking. anyway it's happened twice, both times on the second or third day out. not eating enough, i guess. and yes 3400 is often not enough on long loaded tour averaging 50-100 miles per day. so i need to eat a lot. all the time.

    for instance, a full breakfast, three eggs, coffee, three slices of toast, order of hashbrowns, bacon, two pancackes, glass of orange juice. then on the way out i would buy 2 or three candy bars for between meals. and a lunch and dinner of similar proportions. not to mention the ad hoc ice cream and salty snacks... i'm not kidding, it became a bit of a burden getting all that down, believe it or not. people get skinny, but i've never gotten too skinny.

  6. #6
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    Nutrition is especially important while cycle touring. Unfortunately, a decades long deluge of sports food / drink advertising has convinced people to eat power bars (aka candy) for food and Gatorade (flavored sugar water with almost no electrolytes, according to the label) for hydration. Fruit juice is similarly over-rated.

    What the body needs while cycle touring is the same thing it needs when it isn't. A well balanced diet with complex carbs (veggies; not bread, pasta, and rice), protein, and unsaturated fats. The body just needs more if it is exercising more.

    I can easily lose weight while touring, but I try not to lose too much, because my wife gives me hell for it.

    OP, your figure on calorie burn is a little high. A better number is an average of 40 calories per mile, plus your basal rate which for a male adult is about 1300 calories/24 hours.

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    On my last tour I did 1135 km over 10 days. According to Strava I burned 33,000 calories biking that 1135 km. Between Strava, my heart rate monitor, and MyFitnessPal, Strava is always the lowest for calorie expenditure for a given ride, usually by about 25%. The point being that I think 33,000 calories would be on the lower end of the estimation spectrum, especially since I didn't bother to update Strava that I was on a bike loaded up so that it weighed 90 pounds, not my Carbon Fibre road bike.

    I gained a couple pounds that tour. I suppose if you were carrying all your own food, doing your own cooking, and avoiding junk food you could loose weight (but that's no fun!).

    I don't cook on tour (at least so far), but I camp 9 nights out of 10. I eat at restaurants or cafes (try the local flavour), or stop at delis and get sandwiches. I carry a couple tins of food in case I get caught somewhere, some cookies, some fruit, and some junk food for after I stop for the day.

    For me that's one of the joys of biking 60+ miles a day, day after day; seeing cool little restaurants / delis / bakeries, and eating way too much when you go in

  8. #8
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    I agree on the 40 calories a mile, it's what I use. When I was younger and less knowledgable about nutrition our gang crossed the country eating anything we could get our hands on but we always had powdered milk, peanut butter, honey, & bread handy (and "is it handy" was the go-to catch phrase). Also ate raisins, peanuts, M&M's, ice cream, bananas, eggs, salami, hamburgers, smoked oysters, pickled herring, canned tuna, Ramen noodles, apples, fruit in general though I don't recall eating a single leafy anything other than iceberg lettuce in a burger. Towards the end I figured I was burning nearly 7000-8000 calories a day (fully loaded riding 120 miles a day at age 21) and eating was ritual. I lost 2 pounds in 60 days. However, when I got home I realized that I was likely nearly constantly dehydrated. One small water bottle wasn't cutting it.
    Amerika, Land of the Very Brief.

  9. #9
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    On tour I try to eat what my body tell me it wants. I seem to crave what I need. That said, on very long tours, eating enough can become kind of a chore at times and I have lost more weight than I would like. After a while my body adjusts and I put a little weight back on, but have always finished a tour lighter than I started. For me month long tours are not long enough for weight loss to be a big issue, that takes 6 weeks or more.

  10. #10
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JEdward View Post
    How do you guys stay on top of your calorie intake when you go on tours lasting a week to even a month's time? Are you using some special high calorie sports bars perhaps? It just seems like you could burn about 3400 calories for every 60 miles....and I'm sure some are logging more miles than that per day. That's an awful lot of calories to replace. It just seems like you'd end up in the negative on calorie intake. This would be a big issue especially on a tour lasting several weeks I think...there must of been a few people here who got gassed out and maybe even quit a tour I'm guessing due to just not having the energy to keep going.
    Food has never been an issue for me on a tour ... and a randonnee, yes, but not on a tour.

    For one thing, it's not a race, so you're not riding at a high calorie burning pace. For another thing, half the fun of a tour is stopping to sample the food along the way.

    Eat a good breakfast, stop for a snack from a roadside market after a couple hours of riding, stop for lunch from a grocery store in the town you're cycling through, stop for an afternoon ice cream, stop for the night ... eat crackers and cheese before putting up the tent or getting settled for the night ... eat dinner after setting up the tent and getting settled for the night.







  11. #11
    djb
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    I think its fair to say that after a few experiences of having to ride when hungry, everyone learns to always have extra things in your bag. It ain't no fun having to continue to get to a destination and the stores you expected are not there, or closed, and the gas tank is empty so to speak.

  12. #12
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    I bonked big time on two occasions. When I first started cycling and didn't know about the calorie requirements I had an experience on a long ride in which my thinking got fuzzy and I had tunnel vision. It took me about 45 minutes to get to a store and I was really out of it. One Snapple and some food and it almost instantly reversed. (I have no problems with blood sugar in my everyday life.) It happened a second time while touring when I thought I had had enough food but apparently not. I am trying to eat bigger breakfasts and eat something every hour on the bike. This seems to do the trick.
    Last edited by mm718; 04-01-14 at 06:48 AM.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    More ppl probably gain than lose weight while touring. "Wow. I just pedaled 50 miles. That entitles me to eat as much as I want."

    Not.

    Avg cal burn for a 50 miler is in the 3000-3500 range, total for 24 hours. One jar of peanut butter or 10 Snicker bars, more or less.

    Bon appetit.
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  14. #14
    Senior Member Thulsadoom's Avatar
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    If I ate during my normal life like I eat on a bike tour, I'd weigh 400 pounds. I eat ridiculous amounts of food on a tour. Thankfully, when on tour, my metabolism goes through the roof. I have no problem moving huge amounts of food through my system. The body rises to the challenge and adapts to the increase in physical activity.

  15. #15
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    I keep a ready supply of carbs in my bag while on tour. (I don't buy bars--I think they're just expensive candy. Some have HFCS as a main ingredient.) My energy staple is muesli made of rolled oats, nuts, and raisins--good whole grain, real food. For quick energy during the day, I keep a bag of raisins handy. Also a bag of nuts for longer lasting fat calories and even longer term protein needs. I stop every two hours and eat something, so the concept of "meals" pretty much goes away. I try to find an ice cream stop every few days, where I'll usually put away an entire pint of Ben & Jerry's for a nice 1000 calorie boost. I figure my caloric intake on my last coast-to-coast trip in the US, a 4,500 mile, 55 day trip, was over 4000 per day and I only lost a few pounds--I got skinny but it wasn't alarming and I never bonked, not once.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    On tour I try to eat what my body tell me it wants. I seem to crave what I need.
    This. Unless you only do short daily mileages, I am sure most people have run out of gas on a particular day or two. But over the long haul, my body tells me if I am not getting enough calories.

    I have even had my body tell me that I am eating too many calories. Crossing the country from west to east, psychologically as well as physically I got used to consuming a lot of calories due to the terrain. I kept that up in the flatter plains/midwest and actually gained weight.

  17. #17
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    I will pass along another lesson learned....

    Once upon a time I was doing a ride to my parents place. Its only 100 kms but at some point I have to climb the Niagara escarpment which is a decent grade and a longish climb.

    I made the mistake of taking a break for lunch just before the climb. Must have been hubris, I was in pretty decent shape, even if I wasn't a great climber.

    I had a burger/fries combo at Dairy Queen.

    I waited about twenty minutes and began the climb fairly strongly. But by the time I got to the top, I was cooked. I found a tree and sat underneath for a while and rehydrated.

    Of course I learned that you only have so much blood in your body, and that when you are absorbing a big meal and pushing your body hard with exercise, a little war takes place. And you lose either way.

    Of course it wasn't fatal, just waited a bit to recover and thankfully it the rest of the ride is flat.

    And of course the ride back, going down that slope is an amazing ride. I know there were times I could have been stopped for speeding. Totally made up for the bonk on the way up.

    So its great to have lots of calories when riding, just give yourself time to absorb them, and have only snacks when riding.

  18. #18
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    not as ambitious as Mark BEAUMONT *, so my slower pace and not trying to set a record rounding the world
    I have time to stop for a Pub Lunch , and a Delicatessen and Bakery as I pass through..

    *BBC TV YouTube videos show his intake challenges , for the effort expended ..

  19. #19
    Senior Member boomhauer's Avatar
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    7859611124_191edf13fa.jpg
    Best photo I've ever seen in this forum!!! Thanks for sharing!

  20. #20
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    Eat early, eat often, I never pass up a good opportunity for a good lunch. I keep some trail mix in the handlebar bag. Eat before you get hungry, and plan for a plan B.

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    After several weeks touring, I crave fat, the best source of high density calories. I carry olive oil and use i generously.

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    One of the top 10 reasons for thruhiking the Appalachian Trail applies equally as well to long distance biking...'lose weight...without dieting.'

    All kidding aside thruhikers find the secret, whether they like it or not. After the first couple of weeks of normal eating but exerting a lot more calories than what you normally would you're body kicks in and starts demanding you to eat more and you just start carrying a lot more food with you. The trouble comes when you stop hiking/biking. The appetite is still there while the exertion isn't...you gain weight quickly......whether you like it or not.

    For the distance most of the guys on this message board typically ride a day they won't have any kind of trouble keeping up with their caloric intake needs. You would have to be riding 100+ miles a day to run into any kind of real trouble...that or you would have to be really out of shape at the start. Otherwise even if you were doing a standard 50-60 mile a day tour I couldn't see how you could run into any kind of trouble keeping up with the diet.

    One secret for getting the calories is to forget the quality of the food and just focus on the quantity(calorie wise). I don't have a sense of taste or smell so I can eat the same thing day in day out. I did when I thruhiked back in 1997. I would eat 2 fruit pies(think Hostess) in the morning for breakfast(roughly 900 calories). Lunch I would eat 6 oatmeal cakes(think Little Debbie)...another 900 calories. For supper I would spoon out around 1/3 of a 40 oz jar of peanut butter and lick it right off the spoon(2000 calories). Yes, I still eat oatmeal cakes and i'll still lick peanut butter off the spoon. I didn't loose any weight when I thruhiked. Even though I did come off the diet immediately upon finishing I still gained around 10 pounds after I finished the thruhiked.

  23. #23
    Senior Member Thulsadoom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikenh View Post
    One secret for getting the calories is to forget the quality of the food and just focus on the quantity(calorie wise). .
    Doesn't work for me. I don't usually crave junk food or high sugar foods while touring. I might have an occasional coke or piece of chocolate cake, but mostly I crave grains, lean meat, eggs, fruit, potatoes, pretzels, bagels, etc. If I ate lots of ice cream and cake and stuff I don't think I'd ride very well. I'd probably get sick to my stomach.

    I read somewhere that this is how much food a TDF rider eats each day during the tour.
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    Last edited by Thulsadoom; 04-01-14 at 05:00 PM.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thulsadoom View Post
    Doesn't work for me. I don't usually crave junk food or high sugar foods while touring. I might have an occasional coke or piece of chocolate cake, but mostly I crave grains, lean meat, eggs, fruit, potatoes, pretzels, bagels, etc. If I ate lots of ice cream and cake and stuff I don't think I'd ride very well. I'd probably get sick to my stomach.

    I read somewhere that this is how much food a TDF rider eats each day during the tour.
    It's kinda like I said above...the more you ride the more food you're going to need or going to end up craving in the long run. The only way you can truly get the food is to eat the junk food and go for the carbs/sugars. They are where the energy is located. The energy doesn't come from fat and the calories or energy don't come from fruits and veggies either.

    The one big thing you have to remember when you start doing higher mileages is to replenish the salt and potassium. Yes, if I'm riding long rides...150-200+ miles I'll down basically a banana an hour. I just rode 125 miles today and I'll end up eating my usual 2 bananas after I get home this evening. On long rides I'll add a teaspoon(I think that is the right measure spoon type) of sea salt to each liter of water I drink, especially when it's hot. When I started doing both of those two things a couple of years ago I stopped having any signs of dehydration at all like I use to have.

    You have follow what your body wants...I'll agree with that completely. You also need to watch to make sure you are replenishing the main staples of energy though or you will end up running out of energy...if you are doing long days. If you are only riding 50-75 miles a day I wouldn't do a darn thing different than if I was at home sitting on butt all day long.

  25. #25
    <riding now> BigAura's Avatar
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    I'm a fan of more complex carbs rather than sugary stuff. I eat LOTS of rice, beans, pasta, ramen, couscous, oatmeal, sweet-potatoes, and bagels. For proteins: nuts, salmon, tuna, peanut-butter. Fresh foods that I usually eat on the spot or shortly after purchase, milk, yogurt, fruit, and cheese. Occasionally I stop for Subways, burgers, and Chinese buffets.

    I've only bonked once but was able to hobble into convenience store and ate two bananas and a chocolate milk which fix me in short order.

    When I toured SC to Key West in June it was very hot, of course, and since I had to drink huge amounts (up to 2.5 gallons a day) I had trouble eating enough while riding because my stomach was so full. That trip I did need to consume a good bit of sugary Gatorade and sweet Southern tea to get calories and hydration. Once you get into that sugar consuming & fast burning pattern it's hard to break. I don't recommend it, and I try to avoid it.

    I do always drink coffee on my tours, no calories, but I do enjoy it very much.

    BTW: That 3400 calories for the days I do 60 miles, is pretty close to spot on for me.
    Last edited by BigAura; 04-01-14 at 06:35 PM.

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