Long-Distance Cycling: Food is the Thought
As fuel for a 100-mile bike trek, the food choice was definitely questionable
— if not downright gastronomically ghastly. But sometimes, according to veteran century rider Adam Rosenbaum of Falmouth, you have to go with your gut or, rather, what your gut is telling you to eat.
So that’s how Rosenbaum came to down a hot dog crammed with a hefty helping of sauerkraut while pedaling his way through a century. “Even though I knew it wasn’t the best (food choice),” he said, “I’m riding a long way, and I want a hot dog piled with sauerkraut.”
For people in the long-distance cycling community, food is a must, and while some are quite discriminating about what food they choose to consume, most simply are concerned about preventing their energy gauge from falling to empty.
Most authorities on food and fitness estimate the average 150-pound person expends between 500 and 800 calories per hour when cycling. Of course a variety of factors- head wind, hills, intensity of the riding- weigh into determining the actually number, but what’s indisputable is a cyclist riding 50 miles or more is going to burn a lot of fuel.
Consider the Trek Across Maine, the annual three-day 180-mile fundraising ride hosted by the American Lung Association of Maine. Even a cyclist pedaling at a moderate rate of between 12 and 14 miles per hour might consume about 600 calories per hour. At that rate, a 50-mile ride demands about 2,400 calories. Given that huge caloric need, organizers make sure they have an ample supply of food available before, during, and after each leg of the event. Take the 2015 Trek for example. That year organizers supplied 200 pounds of carrots, 350 pounds of granola, 2,300 oranges, 3,500 apples, 5,000 bananas, and 10,000 energy and granola bars. Seem like a lot? Think again. More than 2,000 people pedaled the Trek that year, which comes down to fewer than three bananas per cyclist over the three-day endurance test. So, no, there can never be too much food – not when you’re pushing pedals for as many as 10 hours a day.
Gary Smith, school superintendent of RSU 18, a school system covering five communities in central Maine, has completed the Trek Across Maine for 21 consecutive years. He credits his success in part to adhering to the advice of Trek organizers on nourishment.
“They have a saying on the Trek,” Smith said, “and I follow it: Drink before you’re thirsty and eat before you’re hungry.”
For Smith, though, there’s no hot dogs piled with sauerkraut.
“Fruit, peanut butter sandwiches, maybe a banana, and an energy drink – and that’s it,” he said. “But that’s just me. It’s kind of like a formula.”
Jim Merrick of the Kennebec Valley Bicycle Club is a veteran long-distance cyclist, one who has completed numerous bike centuries as well as the Trek Across Maine. He said when it comes to staying sufficiently hydrated and energized for long rides, people need to use common sense. For example, he said, cyclists should drink water on a regular basis in the course of a long ride. But that doesn’t mean guzzling water by the gallons. “I think a lot of people usually say drink plenty of water,” he said, “but people can also overdo it. I know people who have done the Trek who have been hospitalized because they drank too much.”
Rosenbaum is most certainly not a water guzzler. “I ride centuries with one water bottle,” he said. “They say ride with two, but I find that one never gets used.” Instead, Rosenbaum said he simply refills his bottle when he reaches the next aid station. Most organized centuries and long-distance cycling events provide multiple rest stops with food and water for participants.
Merrick, like Smith, heads for the tables featuring bananas and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches although in recent years energy bars have become extremely popular. “They have all these energy bars (at rest stops),” Smith acknowledged, “and I usually grab one or two to put in my bike shirt and more often than not, I have about a dozen left at the end of the Trek.” And that goes back to Smith’s belief in the formula. “I think the magic sandwich,” he said, “is peanut butter with banana on whole grain bread.”
Some, though, see room for a bit of indulgence during a long ride. Take again Rosenbaum, the hot dog and sauerkraut fan. On a bike century he did last summer in New York, Rosenbaum ate much of the usual fare: energy bars, peanut-butter sandwiches, bananas, and the like.
But he also saved room for dessert. “I couldn’t help myself,” he said. “I also had a couple of chocolate-chip cookies that looked really good.”
— Text: Colin Hickey