Eating For 24 Hours

Probably the most common question I get asked about 24 hour racing is “what do you eat?” Well, OK the second most common after “why?” I think anyone who has to ask the “why?” question probably wouldn’t understand the answer so I will just stick to the one about eating.

My normal strategy is to take lots of food, both in terms of quantity (obviously) and variety. A good variety is vital, at some point during the race I will develop a craving for something and it’s important to have the food which will satisfy that, whatever it happens to be. At the European 24hr earlier this year I had the Mickey taken out of me for taking a large stilton and an even bigger tiramisu. However, they worked. Salt is good to eat in a race, and cheese has loads of calories in it so the Stilton killed two birds with one stone. As for the tiramisu, making myself eat anything when cold, wet and miserable at 3am is hard, at least I knew that would be easy to swallow
4am at the World Champs in Italy last year. Nearly time for breakfast.

Another thing to consider is having hot food. Even at the races I have done in the warmth of the Italian Riviera and Australia it has got really cold at night and there is nothing like a bowl of warm rice pudding to bring some feeling back to the frozen extremities. This is clearly a job for the pit crews, having the food ready just as the rider arrives in the pits is a bit of an art, given the fluctuations in lap times. The food concerned should be warm enough to provide the required heat but not so hot that it can’t be eaten very quickly.

This brings me to my next point. All food must be something which can be eaten very quickly. The first few laps will probably be done on drinks and gels but for the ‘proper’ food consider how easy it is to eat. A bowl of rice pudding can be eaten in less than a minute, a peanut butter sandwich can’t, it’s far too dry. Or think about food you can eat on the move, if you can fit a whole mars bar in your mouth you can do the chewing and swallowing once you are underway again.

Our kitchen in Oz. Hardly a luxury motorhome but it had a stove, fridge and sink

Don’t forget that food also has important psychological benefits. When you are out in the middle of the race track, it’s dark, it’s minus three, it’s chucking it down and you have no feeling left in either your hands or feet it is very good to know that somewhere there is cup of hot custard with your name on it, that knowledge will get you round the lap. Generally a happy and well fed rider will tend to outperform a hungry and miserable one, all other things being equal. Have some treats ready too, a big block of caramel dairy milk will always make you feel better, however badly the race is going.

For my last 24hr race, the World Championship at Canberra, I had an extremely well organised pit crew (thanks again Carole). She even kept a list of what I was eating and drinking so that she could keep track of my consumption and make sure I was getting sufficient quantities of calories, fluids, protein, etc. She was convinced that I wasn’t drinking enough, despite the fact that I was peeing loads and it was all clear. Serious point, if you need to pee take a good look at it. Any hint of yellow means you need to drink more. Anyway, she did a fantastic job and the bullying to drink the extra water was probably a good thing. Another serious point, 20 hours into the race your brain will be completely shot, listen to your pit crew, they can think far more clearly than you can, if they tell you to drink you drink.

This is our neighbour's pit, ours can be seen in the background

So, what did I eat? I had a breakfast of a bowl of cereal at about 8:30am and then another breakfast of baked beans and scrambled eggs at about 10am. The race began at noon.

This is the list of everything I ate, note the lack of mars bars, which is most unusual, my mars bar count is normally well into double figures. I had plenty available but just didn’t fancy one this time. This takes me right back to my first point, have a good variety of food, not just what you always have.

13 bottles of Bikefood
8 bottles of water
3 bottles of pineapple juice
5 bottles of water and pineapple juice
2 bottles of coke
1 pint of tea
1 pint of milk
½ pint of hot chocolate

8 Bikefood gels
7 Bikefood bars
2 tins of rice pudding
4lbs of pineapple chunks
2lbs of tinned peaches
1lb of filled pasta with olives
1 banana
4oz of Stilton
4 caffeine tablets (and the Aussie ones are huge!)
1 small sandwich
1 raw broccoli floret

The coke referred to above is of course flat, basically a bottle full of sugar and caffeine. Note however that coke is never completely flat so don't fill the bottle right up or the lid blows off half-way round the lap. Voice of experience there...

As mentioned on my World Championship race report there was a theory being espoused by certain people that one’s entire nutritional needs for a 24hr race could be met with just broccoli and custard. I would advise taking this with a very large pinch of salt. Obviously if you are sweating a lot, which you will do in a race, you will need to replace the lost salt, and so a very large pinch of it should be added to every helping of your broccoli and custard.

I'm sure broccoli and rice pudding still count

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