Rapha Manuals: A Little, and Often

Just as hill climbs are rewarded with descents, so the calories you burn must be replenished. Here’s our guide to keeping your energy up during your ride and rewarding yourself afterwards.

24 July 2018

“No meal will ever be as satisfying, and no pastry as sweet, as one that has been well earned out on the road.”

That’s what Chris Bartlett’s experience tells him and, as a former professional racer now working as the Head Chef at Rapha Soho, he knows a thing or two about food and cycling. “It’s a wonderful thing to be able to say, ‘I need this’, when indulging in a post-ride treat,” he says. “It’s completely guilt-free, well deserved and a great morale boost ahead of your next ride.”

Indeed, a number of cyclists ride solely to enjoy an extra bite or two without putting on weight, whether it’s a dash to the beach for fish and chips, a long climb to a summit coffee stop or a spin around the park before an ice cream. But just as important as rewarding yourself post-ride is fuelling on the bike. Out on the road, “what goes up must come down”, as the saying goes, and so the relationship between riding and eating is a balance too.

Counting calories

“Over the course of a good bike ride you can burn a lot of calories,” says Chris. “On particularly tough days in the mountains, pro riders can expend as many calories in a few hours as us mere mortals do in a few days. The body needs to replenish the energy stores that have been used up, which is good news for anyone who likes their food.”

We might not all be elite cyclists, but nothing fires up the metabolism like the constant turning of pedals. The consequences of not stoking the fire in your engine can result in the dreaded ‘bonk’ (more on that later), but Chris says that the key to finding balance in your belly is quite simple - and needn’t rely on a larder filled with supplements and performance energy bars and gels.

“It’s best to try and eat little and often. How much you eat on the bike will vary depending on the length and intensity of your ride and your own metabolism. Some of the guidance on ‘nutrition strategies’ for cyclists give the impression that it’s some form of witchcraft but it’s really quite simple.

“I recommend that you experiment with different types and amounts of food; you’ll quickly find what works for you. The faster and further you go, the higher your optimal rate of carbohydrate intake will be. For longer rides at a steady pace, anywhere from 30 to 60 grams per hour is typical. Try to eat whole foods such as, dates, bananas and rice cakes; they pack in all the nutritional value you need and don’t come in a nasty plastic wrapper.”

Battling the bonk

For cyclists starting out with short rides, nutrition is less of a factor as you’ll have more than enough in the tank, but failure to fuel properly on longer rides can be altogether more unpleasant.

‘Bonking’ occurs when a rider’s reserves of glycogen – essentially the body’s energy stores – are exhausted. This manifests itself in a precipitous loss of energy and sudden onset of fatigue. Never mind turning the pedals, when you bonk, you can barely hold on to the handlebars.

Chris still remembers his first time: “I’ve got distinct memories of the first time I bonked. I’d been into cycling for a little while but ignored all of the guidance previously bestowed upon me and set out with far too little food. Sure enough, I ended up grinding unceremoniously to a halt, propping myself up against a fence and calling my mum to come and pick me up.”

Some consider the bonk a rite of passage for every cyclist but by eating little and often on your longer rides, you can spare yourself its abject misery and still enjoy a good hearty meal when you get back home. But remember: if you start feeling hungry on a bike ride, it’s probably too late.

Rapha has Clubhouses in major cycling cities around the world, each with a café serving the finest coffee and snacks. Many also offer more substantial food, with menus tailored to the needs (and hungry bellies) of cyclists. Find your nearest Clubhouse – the perfect start or end to a ride.