You Can’t Run a Car on Carrots

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I made a startling discovery at the weekend. It was towards the end of the 50 mile Cycle for Cynthia fundraising ride which I took part in along with my girlfriend, brother, father and also my training buddy.

The discovery was; how many participants were running out of steam before the finish line, particularly on steep hills, in spite of their impressive tree-trunk legs, streamlined gear & clothing and bicycles which I can only imagine they re-mortgaged their houses for.

I looked back to 6.15am that day and reflected on what I fed my poor girlfriend and brother to fuel them for the 4 to 6 hours riding we were about to endure on our somewhat less expensive carriages.

I had given them a combination of simple and complex carbohydrates, protein and B vitamins. In simple terms: tuna pasta in a white sauce with bell peppers. “What an awful breakfast” I hear you proclaim. But it was all part of the plan.


For endurance events it’s important to get both simple and complex carbs alongside a dose of protein a few hours before the start. The complex carbs (in our case the pasta) release their energy slowly, which is slowed down further by the portion of protein (our tuna). B vitamins (in our peppers) also promote energy release so are also very important. The simple carbs (the delicious white sauce) are for raising the blood-sugar level prior to exercise to make sure the natural stores are totally maxed out before you start. Once we were off, we were all strong and consistent – even though we hadn’t all been training that much before this considerable challenge!

With a couple of well-timed fuel stops along the way to take on more flapjack or shortbread, our team was able to finish the race with no unscheduled stops caused by absolute fatigue. The only thing that bought us off our saddles was fixing the inevitable slipped chain or two.

I heard a couple of guys talking over a steaming mug of coffee after the rally, desperate to dry off and warm up. They were discussing how hard it was, how steep the hills were and how it took everything out of them. I listened closer and got what I hoped for – a breakdown of their food intake. One chap (with most impressive thighs) didn’t eat enough – A small breakfast which wouldn’t weigh him down and plenty of coffee. He planned to rely on energy drinks once he got going. It didn’t work! Not enough energy in the first place meant he was almost completely depleting his energy before trying to refuel, which would have only brought his energy levels up a limited amount.

The second chap (owner of the bike which looks like it would sell for more than my car!) did the opposite – crammed an enormous fried breakfast about an hour before the race hoping for maxed out energy for the start and quaffed down fuel food all the way round. He was on the right lines, but eating too much overall weighed him down. The fatty breakfast will have taken more digesting than he bargained for, which in turn will have sapped quite a bit of energy. It was still working its way through when he set off, which would leave him lethargic pretty quickly. If it was less fatty and more carb based as well as eaten a good 3 hours before the race to allow for digestion he would have done better.

As with all exercise, long or short duration, it is vital that your body is well fuelled and hydrated. After all, it’s what you’re expecting to transform into a solid performance and competitive time, even if it is just with yourself.

Hats off to everybody who completed the Cycle for Cynthia ride – it was a huge turnout and a lot of fun was had by all. Not to mention we all raised quite a bit of money for cancer research, despite the freezing conditions and driving rain!!

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