In our experience, the biggest single reason for a rider failing to finish a Sportive is inadequate attention to eating and drinking during the event. Yet, it is actually quite a simple thing to prevent.
It helps to simplify the problem if you boil it down to some simple guidelines based on time in the saddle and weight of the rider. Sports nutritionists recommend consuming one gram of carbohydrate per kilo of bodyweight, per hour, during a prolonged activity like a sportive. For a male rider of average weight, around 75kg (almost 12 stone), that means that he would have to take on-board about 75 grams of carbohydrate per hour.
What does 75g of carbohydrate look like? Well, it’s roughly a bottle of race energy drink, a normal sized banana or half a flapjack or large sports energy bar.
From that, we can see that for a rider who expects to take five hours to ride a 100kmm Sportive, he or she needs to consume about five times this amount of food to keep on top of their body’s requirements. That might take the form of a flapjack, an energy bar, a small banana and a bottle of race energy drink.
As well as eating approximately the right amount of food, it’s equally important to spread out the food intake, so that the body has the opportunity to digest it. So, again, the actual consumption might go something like this: at the end of the first hour, half a flapjack and half a bottle of the drink in regular sips. The second hour might see the rest of that bottle consumed, plus the other half of the flapjack. The third hour might include a stop during which the banana is eaten and the fourth hour might end with the energy bar being eaten in nibbles over the period of about 15 minute.
Clearly, this steady intake puts less strain on your digestive system whilst keeping re-fuelling constantly on the agenda. One danger is that you simply forget to eat due to the excitement of being in the event. You can overcome this by simply taping a note to your handlebars reminding you to eat (and drink).
You can also use the event’s feed stations as a prompt to check your nutrition. As a rule, don’t gorge yourself at the feed, but simply make sure you are up to date with the amount you need to eat up to that point and pick up the food you expect to need for the remainder of the ride, or at least to get you to the next feed.
Having covered the eating side of riding a Sportive, how about the drinking? Again, it’s useful to start with a simple formula and for that average 75kg rider, the best advice is to aim to drink 750ml to 1 litre per hour. That might take the form of two 500ml bottles (a standard cycling bottle), one with water in it and other with a sports drink with an electrolyte component.
Electrolytes are an essential ingredient of energy drinks. They are a key aid to muscle function, but they are lost during the sweating process. But with modern drinks it possible to re-stock them whilst also taking on fluid.
When the weather is warm, and sweating is greater, the amount of fluid required can be up to 50% more and that would equate to three bottles per hour. It’s probably safe to say that riders tend to drink too little. Again, it’s worth looking at how this might pan out in a real-life situation over a five hour ride.
Starting with two full 500ml bottles, you might have a pre-ride drink immediately before the off, meaning that your first two bottles might well last you well into the second hour of the ride. You would regularly sip your drinks so that your consumptions is spread evenly over the ride. Perhaps your first feed opportunity is at 2 hours. You would re-fill your bottles, but perhaps take on a litre of fluid whilst actually stopped at the feed. That would bring you up to date and perhaps enable you to get to a second feed at around three and a half to four hours, where you would once again fill your bottles and drink an additional litre whilst stopped. That would give you a total of five litres for the ride. It probably sounds a lot!
So, it’s fairly straightforward to keep on top of your eating and drinking. But it’s easy to forget and the best way to prevent this (apart from the reminder taped to your bars) is to practice during training rides. It should be a natural part of your cycling, something you almost do without thinking about it.
You can train as much as you like, but failing to look after nutrition will undo all your hard work faster than almost anything!