For greater Atlanta, the Wilson 100 is to cycling what the Peachtree Road Race is to running, minus 59,000 participants. The number of training days until the Wilson 100 is now less than 30. For those riders intent on setting goals for personal bests, their training has been ongoing in Atlanta’s hottest summer on record. The importance of hydration has been previously covered and checked off. Riding techniques including cadence, stroke and proper shoes have all been fine tuned. But what about fuel? A century definitely requires you to have food to travel and nobody wants to get caught short and bonk. So what does it mean to bonk? Bonking describes a sudden and extreme energy loss, resulting in an immediate drop in performance, which most often occurs on a long, fast bike ride. In simple terms, bonk means running out of gas. A more technical explanation of the condition is when the available glycogen, which the body burns as fuel is depleted. Your body is similar to your car, when it runs out of gas, it stops. The way to avoid bonking is to ingest food containing carbohydrates, which can be quickly absorbed by the body. Most energy bars and gels are made specifically with this purpose in mind. Glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles and releases glucose into the blood when your body needs energy. Glycogen is your primary source of stored fuel. Even though fat is your body’s way for storing energy, it is not your body’s preferred fuel source. Your body will always opt for the readily available glycogen stores when available.
You need to start fueling the night before the ride. Studies have shown that eating a large meal of good carbohydrates with a moderate protein source about 12 to 18 hours before a competitive sporting event can help to improve strength and endurance. Good carbs include breads, pastas, rice and other complex carbohydrate sources. Including a complementary protein source with that meal is good because of the way that your muscles are broken down and restored as you exercise. While exercising, your muscle tissues will actually be slightly damaged. In order to repair those damaged muscles more effectively and quickly, your body will require a load of protein. This helps to achieve a greater endurance and strength level.
So, if you are planning to spend a little over 5 hours on the bike with few if any stops, then following a good pre-race dinner, you will have to take the appropriate fuel along to keep your tank from running low. The best rule of thumb is to make sure you eat something at the end of each hour on the bike. Assuming you start your ride well nourished, then you will be eating at the beginning of hour 2, 3, 4 and 5. For the first three hours, an energy bar or gel will most likely do the trick. After that, your body will probably be calling for a little more. An apple, a banana or a peanut butter sandwich would be a good call at that point. This leaves you with one more hour of bars or gels to get you to the finish line. The most important thing is to keep up with your eating schedule. Once you run low on fuel, the recovery process is not immediate, and you can bonk before your body can react to the food that you eat.
Another trap that can cause you to bonk is binge eating. Say that you have ridden for three hard hours and you stop at a support station and someone breaks out a large meat lover’s pizza. You’re hungry and the pizza looks and smells great. The next thing you know, you have wolfed down four slices. This is definitely not good. Even though you have refueled your body, you have filled it with a large amount of food that needs to be broken down. Now, a large amount of the vital energy you were hoping to transfer to your pedals is consumed with breaking down the pizza. It is sort of like when a snake swallows a frog. It has to crawl off to its den and rest until it can dissolve and process the huge lump in its belly. So, save the binge eating until after your ride.
Another good policy for eating on a long ride is, don’t stop to eat. If you only eat while you are riding, then you are less likely to over-eat. The process of eating on the bike has a high enough degree of difficulty, that psychologically, your mind will be relieved with only a small amount of food and the craving will be satisfied. When you stop to eat, the psychology is the reverse. Your mind would rather you sit and eat as opposed to return to the saddle. Add to this the distance you can travel by staying on the road, compared to being stopped and it is a no brainer.
For those who are hoping to lose weight while completing the Wilson 100 in record time, you are confusing your missions. Fat burning should not be part of your equation. You only burn fat once you have exhausted your glycogen. Burning fat may be OK on a training ride, but it will definitely not get you first to the finish line in a century.
The sun can certainly rob you of your energy, adding to your bonking worries, but it doesn’t have to be your enemy if you wear your sunscreen, hydrate, and eat often and correctly. Don’t forget your sunglasses though. Not only do they protect your eyes from the sun, they protect them from all forms of flying objects. Poor visibility can cause a whole different kind of bonk. The good folks with the Southern Bicycle League will be there for you with support stations along the route; however, you need to do your part and start your grocery shopping for your race food today. You can pre-registrater now for the ride at wilson100.org . Be sure to check out all the other event details. The official send off is at 8:15AM on Sunday, August 28th. The ride begins at East Coweta Middle School, 6291 E. Highway 16, Senoia, GA. 30276, so, be there, be square and don’t bonk.