Fuelling your body with the correct nutrition for long distance endurance sports, such as marathon cycling, is a three-fold challenge: you need to consider pre-loading of energy stores, during-sport blood sugar stabilisation, and post-activity recovery. Tick these three boxes, and you will be optimising your energy levels and performance.
My personal endurance cycling challenges have ranged from trans-continental multi-day bike rides, such as the #7Countries7Passes; to single-day ultra-distance rides such as the Ride the Trafalgar Way. A sound approach to energy intake has been a fundamental part of making all these rides possible, and enjoyable.
My nutrition strategy is always to go as natural as possible and avoid refined and processed products. There is one element that always features in my nutrition approach… oats!
If tasked to select one true 'super-fuel', I would undoubtedly pick the humble oat. The ancient grain has fuelled more rides and more adventures than I can count. Whether in the form of porridge, muesli, flapjack, or oatcakes; oats really are the ultimate endurance fuel.
Pre-Ride Porridge or Muesli
When I think back to past challenges, there is one common factor... porridge.
It was porridge I ate at 4am, when I started the 'St Boniface Down Everesting'. Porridge was my fuel of choice at midnight, in the pouring rain, midway through the 300 mile Trafalgar Way ride. Even in the south of France, on the final day of the #7Countries7Passes, it was porridge that kick-started the epic ride.
Porridge is the without question the king of breakfasts.
Wholegrain oats, like those found in Nairn's Gluten Free Scottish Porridge Oats, are the key to its 'super-fuel' status. These oats are high in soluble fibre, which help fill you up and release energy slowly. They are rich in vitamins and minerals, and they are also a source of beta-glucans, which can help lower cholesterol.
Porridge oats provide a natural low-GI energy source. They have fuelled adventurers for centuries and remain one of the principle ingredients in most energy bars and snacks. For me, porridge is still my favourite way to enjoy Scottish oats, and nothing comes close as a pre-ride breakfast fuel.
Whether you make your porridge with water, dairy milk, or one of the many alternatives, the quality of your oats remains a defining factor in how good it will taste, and how well it will fuel you. I opt for wholegrain oats, cooked in a saucepan on the hob, to get the ideal texture and taste.
To add some flavour and additional nutrients to my porridge, I always add a few little extras. Sometimes it is banana, dried figs, or chopped nuts. My most frequent choice is a spoonful of peanut butter and a drizzle of honey; sweetness, flavour, added protein, and a creamy texture.
Up your breakfast game to a bowl of porridge, and you will be upping your chances of a superior performance.
On-The-Go Snacks for Endurance Sports
When you have been bike riding for some time, you come to realise that most 'sports bars' on the market are simply cereal bars, often with added sugar and preservatives. Over time, I have learnt that a far better fuel for endurance cycling is to look to natural products like oatcakes and wholegrain oat cereal bars.
Nairn's 'On The Go' Fruit and Seeds Oatcakes have a great flavour, with a touch of sweetness, and a nicer texture than many other brands on the market. Taking a little pack of three in your jersey pocket is a great energy snack, and you can combine them with jams or nut butters to add extra energy.
The new Nairn's Oat Bars are also a tasty snack to have in your pocket. They are lower sugar than most cereal bars on the market; focussing instead of sustained energy from oats. The variety of flavours provides a nice variety, and because they are not chocolate coated, they are perfect for summer weather.
When you return from a long ride, you need to consider getting protein and slow release carbohydrates into your system as soon as possible; in order to rejuvenate muscles and replenish depleted energy stores.
A favourite of mine is Nairn's Flatbreads—topped with cottage cheese, egg mayonnaise, or smoked salmon. The protein in the cheese, eggs, and fish provide the much needed building blocks for muscle recovery, while the slow release energy from the oats will help to keep you satisfied and stop delayed post-exercise energy crashes.
Oats have been the choice of fuel for many great explorers and athletes, past and present—I definitely recommend joining the party.