What happens when the body has had enough during a ride? Alison Patterson, an Advanced Sports Dietitian explains how to prevent energy crashes and finishing your ride strong.
‘Bonking’…Hitting the Wall…Blowing up…Energy crashes…All phrases you’ll hear in the bunch that describe the dreaded feeling of jelly legs and an empty tank that can’t spin the legs over any longer. There’s perhaps no more unpleasant feeling on a ride but fortunately ‘bonking’ can be easily avoided with a well thought out (and executed!) nutrition plan. Here are a few tips to keep you rolling along and finishing strong.
Prevention is easier than cure!
The simple explanation for why ‘bonking’ occurs is a depletion of the body’s carbohydrate stores. When carbohydrate levels drop too low the body responds by switching to fats as a source of fuel. Unfortunately, this leads to a sudden onset of fatigue and dramatic slowing of intensity and pace. The good news? ‘Bonking’ is completely avoidable if you keep up your carbohydrate stores, remain hydrated and don’t over-pace yourself. Fuelling up before you head out on the road is the first important step in avoiding the ‘bonk’ – especially if you ride early in the morning. A few slices of raisin toast with honey, muesli and yoghurt or a banana plus a muesli bar are all carbohydrate rich, easy to digest options to top up your fuel stores before a ride.
Don’t ignore the clock
Too often cyclists fall in to the trap of feeling great and forgetting to eat (or deliberately ignore their plan to eat) during a ride. But the reason you’re probably feeling so great is that your carbohydrate levels are good so don’t fall into the trap of not eating and letting your carb stores plummet. Starting early and being proactive with carbohydrate intake during the ride is essential. For training rides longer than ~90minutes aiming to get in ~30-45g carbohydrate per hour is a good starting point (during rides longer than 4-5 hours you may need to push this up to 60-80g carbohydrate per hour). To put this goal into practice, most gels contain ~25g carbohydrate and a medium banana has ~20g carbohydrate. If you’re prone to forgetting to eat, set an alarm on your watch and eat each time it beeps – regardless of how you’re feeling. It’s always a good idea to carry a little bit more food than you think you’ll need, “just in case”. It’s easier to put an unused gel back in the pantry than fight your way home with jelly legs!
So, what should you do if you ‘bonk’?
Stop (or slow down if you’re lucky enough to be able to keep rolling) and get some carbohydrate in quickly! Sports drink can be a good option as it gives you a rapidly digested source of carbohydrates as well as some fluid. Once you make it back home or to the finish line, continue to recover with carbohydrates, protein and fluids – dairy based smoothies or flavoured milks tick all the boxes for easy recovery, particularly if your appetite is poor as is often the case after ‘bonking’.
Fingers crossed these few tips can help you avoid the dreaded ‘bonk’.
Take part in a Bike SA event and see if you can avoid the bonk.