Jens Voigt’s Tips On Fueling Your Body For Maximum Endurance

When we ask ourselves, what is endurance? We quickly realize that it means something different to everyone. As for myself, at the height of my career and having been cycling since age ten, any ride less than three hours wasn’t considered an endurance ride at all. It was more of an active recovery ride. However, if you ask my children, they would say anything longer than ten minutes is extreme endurance. This brings us to the conclusion that endurance is relative to each person and their personal fitness level.

For the Beginner (Two Hours or Less) 

If you’re just starting to build your endurance, I would recommend training in intervals. For example, on my first run after cycling season, I did four sets of two minute runs with eight minute walks. All in all, I was active for 40 minutes, but only ran for eight. It was slow but sensible, and it didn’t burn me out. The following day I did five minute runs with five minute  walks. I continued that until I was able to run 30-40 minutes without any problems. If you go all in on your first day of training, it will kill your motivation when you go home limping. Be smart and don’t overdo it on the first day. 

For your first two-hour bike ride, there isn’t a need to change your diet or have an overly large breakfast. A normal breakfast should suffice for two hours and you’ll want to keep your drink intake the same too. If you start drinking tons of water before you start, nature will call midway. 

To prepare for your ride, you should start hydrating in the days leading up to it. Then, when the day comes, always bring enough liquids with you. If your bike cannot hold a water bottle, you should plan your ride around some places where you can stop for drinks. As a precaution, you should also bring some food with you. I would recommend some sliced apple pieces, or a banana plus a muesli bar. 

Never eat breakfast then jump straight onto your bike. I would highly recommend one hour between your last meal and the beginning of your ride. To put things in perspective, at the Tour de France, our last meal with the team was always three hours before the start time. This was to give our bodies time to digest and transform our meal into energy ready to use. Of course, we’re not doing a Tour de France now, but still, give yourself time in between eating and riding.

Medium Length Ride (Two to Four Hours) 

Though some of the basics I talked about above should also be considered for longer rides too, here we’ll pay more attention to nutrition and hydration. If you’re going for a medium length ride, your food intake becomes more important simply because you want your body to function longer. You’ll also want to opt for healthier food alternatives during these rides. Instead of white toast or simple cereals, consider switching to whole grain toast and wholegrain muesli, which has long chain carbohydrates that will help you maintain your energy level longer.

You’ll also want to add some protein to your breakfast to better balance your food intake; I suggest a slice of ham. If possible, skip the morning coffee to avoid a caffeine crash later on. However, if you’re planning to go for up to four hours, you might consider taking one caffeinated energy gel (more than one would be overkill), which are easy to digest. 

Sometimes I would even prepare small slices of avocado wrapped up in aluminum foil for my first hour. This is because avocado contains good fat, which helped my body stay in the fat burning metabolism longer. Bear in mind, though, that this only works for low intensity training rides.

If you’re racing, you should drink at least one water bottle per hour, more if you can manage. Stop halfway if needed to refuel your water bottles and if you feel it benefits you to put some mineral and electrolyte tablets or some electrolyte powder into your water, do so. Lastly, you’ll want to eat something small every 30 minutes to maintain a constant energy level and blood sugar level. That should get you through your two to four hour ride.

In For The Long Haul (Rides Over 4 Hours)

For rides of four hours or more, the same applies with just more of everything. Well, kind of. Have a good breakfast, but don’t eat like there’s no tomorrow. The key is to eat small bites regularly while you ride, so bring enough food according to the length of your route. I suggest a mix of apple or banana, energy bars and energy gels.

In addition, now that you can last longer and your body might start to break down protein (muscle mass) for energy, you should bring a protein bar. I fancied a small sandwich—dark bread with some Philadelphia cheese or ham, which leveled out my food intake. At this accomplished distance, it’s not only all about the carbs anymore, it’s also about your proteins, which means you don’t want to break down more than your body can rebuild, right?

After every ride, your first concern should be hydration; secondly, I would recommend a protein shake to help your body with the recovery process. Choose a recovery drink that contains enough vitamins and minerals. This is because they are the key for many chemical processes in your body, like producing energy or breaking your food down into carbohydrates, fat or protein. Start eating foods that are healthy and easy to digest, like rice. I always enjoy Canadian wild rice or brown rice. The less processed your food is, the better it is for you.

Here’s a motivational quote to tie it all together: 

“I always found it so much easier to eat healthier after a good workout. My mindset was just focused on health and well-being after a workout. And my body did not crave chocolate or a big fat burger. That only happened when I had a week off from exercising. So, stay active and your body will help you to eat healthy after the exercise. I promise.”

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