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I'm a high performance rower that uses cycling extensively to cross train (the local waterways are.....suboptimal some of the time).

When I'm out for longer rides (2-3hr) I generally run out of calories and crash, occasionally getting dizzy. I've started carrying a camel pack and some snacks (granola, GU, etc.) which helps if the pack decides to stop for a quick pitstop but its often hard to get enough calories down fast without feeling it 10 minutes later.

I never have problems within my normal training but it typically never exceeds 2.5hrs and isn't quite as continuous. Such a workout can easily burn 1500+ Cal, however.

My question is, is there anything I can eat before rides to maintain blood sugar levels so I don't pass out while trying to strike fear into the hearts of the local cyclists?

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    Have you asked the guys you're riding with what they eat? (Keep in mind that in part it's a matter of training, and in part a matter of genetics. The amount of glycogen stored in the muscles and liver increases with endurance training, and also is determined to a degree by genetics.) – Daniel R Hicks Jun 24 '12 at 3:38
  • They typically don't eat anything during rides and just eat normally through the day. This kinda surprised me, though, upon closer inspection, they are rather small people riding carbon road bikes. I ride a 30lb bike and am quite tall... – pdel Jun 24 '12 at 18:59
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    If they're riding carbon bikes they've probably been at it for at least 5 years. You can't expect to build up endurance overnight. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 24 '12 at 20:20
  • hammernutrition.com/products/… – user313 Jun 24 '12 at 22:54
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    Lots of answers below, but I don't see what I would think of as "THE ANSWER" [on second look Daniel Hicks actually does in a comment]. I could be wrong so I'll just put a comment here...it sounds like you are actually bonking, not crashing (do a web search of "bonking" and "hitting the wall"). Bonk is glucose to liver issues...and I'm guessing based on "dizzy" may be your issue. Load 150 calories of easy carbs (gel or such) every 45 minutes while ridding; if it's a bonk issue, the carbs will cure it. – Ken Hiatt Jun 25 '12 at 4:27
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I don't know what you consider a "long ride" to be but I just did a 77 mile fund-raiser ride yesterday in Ohio. I averaged a little over 16mph for the entire ride. About 50 miles of the ride was into a 10-15 mph head-wind.

During the ride, I probably went through 10 large bottles of water and Gatorade, a dozen energy bars, a couple brownies and a Subway sub. The temperature was in the mid-80's with a little humidity. Even with all that, there were times I was a little light-headed and got some chills (almost a sure sign of not enough hydration). So on rides like this, you almost cannot drink and eat enough. It's very important you try though. If you don't, your body will let you know it, and you won't like how it feels :).

You don't necessarily need the pack to stop just to hydrate and eat. Most cycling jerseys have enough pockets to store a lot of energy bars and bottles of water. And you can probably include two bottles on your bike.

  • On the other side of the coin, a normal Saturday training ride for me is about 70 miles, we average 20-22 miles per hour with many stretches at 26-28 mph. I eat a bowl of oatmeal and a banana before, during the ride i'll eat another banana and 1-2 energy bars and go through 3-4 bottles of water. It really depends on your body, fitness, metabolism and energy expenditure. – Tha Riddla Jun 24 '12 at 15:30
  • -- Most cycling jerseys have enough pockets to store a lot of energy bars and bottles of water-- Interesting, a true fact. – user313 Jun 25 '12 at 4:12
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I'm going to guess that you shouldn't be looking to replace those 1500 calories immediately during the ride.

  • Shouldn't part of your energy-to-exercise come from burning stored body-fat?
  • And a lot of your energy, from the food you ate the day and week (not just an hour or two) before the ride?

Compare your 1500+ Cal, with the 15000+ calories in one day that is needed to swim the cold English Channel.

  • Yeah, part of endurance training is to "train" the liver to more readily convert fat to glucose. The liver can do this quite efficiently, but it's like a muscle in the sense that it must be repeatedly stressed to grow in its ability to do this. Burning fat directly in the muscles is possible, but is inefficient and results in ketosis if continued too intensely for too long. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 24 '12 at 12:57
  • @ChrisW - What? Why would one not replace calories during a long bike ride? – user313 Jun 25 '12 at 3:43
  • @wdypdx22 I thought the OP shouldn't expect to eat enough during the ride to replace them all: to replace some, yes. – ChrisW Jun 25 '12 at 4:24
  • @ChrisW - Get back to me when you've done some serious riding. You commute across town. Yay. – user313 Jun 25 '12 at 6:53
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    @user313 commuting means e.g. 10,000 km in 50 weeks including winter and summer, a different endurance than average riders. My point was not that you don't need to eat, but that eating /only/ on the ride is not enough. – ChrisW Jun 25 '12 at 16:13
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My question is, is there anything I can eat before rides to maintain blood sugar levels so I don't pass out while trying to strike fear into the hearts of the local cyclists?

Actually, you need to consume calories during the ride.

It's not difficult.

  • Option 1 - Carry along "energy" (not protein bars) bars, or gel packs, etc, and consume freely.
  • Option 2 - "Make it yourself" - Boiled potatoes or any high carb snack should work.
  • Option 3 - Pre-made product - Something like Hammer Perpetuem or other similar products.

Any of these during the ride.

All of the above thinking that you're doing at least 2+ hours of riding.

Pre-ride - Eat some complex carbs. Oatmeal? Or something like that?

Your complaint is:

When I'm out for longer rides (2-3hr) I generally run out of calories and crash,

Interesting. Calories can be consumed while riding. Running out means that you didn't bring any with you. Bring some along on your next ride.

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