It won’t come as any surprise that food and sleep are critically important for endurance athletes. The surprise is that some people still more or less ignore them.
And by some people, I mean me. I’ve applied the food and sleep rules to myself in ways that are wildly inconsistent and illogical (cue the circus music). I was eating a lot on my rides and almost nothing on my runs. As for sleep…huh? Why?
On my long rides, I eat a lot. I refuse to consume gels. They might take up less space, but they’re gross and I feel like they’re responsible for most gut issues in a race. Load up on those and no wonder you feel like crap after a couple of hours.
Instead, I eat real food: mini potatoes rolled in salt; peanut butter and jam sandwiches; baby food; rice krispie squares; gummies; quinoa bars. A friend suggested salted pasta. I tried it last Saturday and it was so great that I’ve made it a permanent addition to the list.
50g of carbs per hour is what my coach says I need. She made me list out what I eat on my rides and check the number of carbs each item contains. I was certain I was eating enough. But I was wrong.
On my long runs, I wasn’t even coming close to consuming 50g of carbs per hour, nor was I hydrating enough. I’d bring a little packet of Welch’s gummies and some salt and vinegar chips and call it a day. However, on my last few runs, I made sure to consume what I was supposed to, and—no surprise—I felt so much better.
I now force myself to eat a proper breakfast before a long workout, even if it’s six a.m. and a bowl of Cream of Wheat is the last thing I feel like having.
The night before a particularly long workout, I make sure to get to bed early. I can’t overemphasize the difference a good night’s sleep makes to the quality of your training. This is something I have really neglected in the past. But Garmin being Garmin, it tracks everything, so I started paying attention. That was when I realized I wasn’t sleeping enough.
I also guard my rest days religiously and take regular recovery weeks that are actually recovery weeks and not just pretend. Whether I feel like I need them or not. I used to be an expert at pretend recovery, because how can doing less be a good idea? But of course, it is. Rest is where the gains are made. It’s one of those counter-intuitive things, like running slow to get fast.
Yes, these things are obvious now that I know them.
Yes, I’m a slow learner.
I tended to operate on the “exception” basis, i.e. what’s true for other people couldn’t also be true for me. But no: five hours of sleep is not enough, not for me or anyone else. Scarfing down a piece of toast before a long ride is not enough. Maybe I was able to get by on doing this for a while, but I’m getting older, and my body is becoming less generous about cutting corners. If I don’t get enough food or sleep, I feel it.
These are easy, solvable problems, so I figured…why not solve them?