"You've probably never lived for a week on pork rinds and Coors Light, but you can do it!" That's the dietary advice I got from a seasoned multi-day cycling veteran just before I took off for last week's Cycle Across Maryland (CAM) Tour.
Billed as "Shore to Shore in '94," it began in Leonardtown on the southern end of Maryland's western shore, went to Largo, Millersville, Centreville, Salisbury, Crisfield at the southern tip of the Eastern Shore, then finished in Berlin, just a few miles from Ocean City.
In six days, we covered 366 miles, including the first-ever bicycle crossing of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and a one-day, 100-mile "Century" ride. The challenge is to fuel our bodies to meet enormous energy needs, spare glycogen stores so we don't "bonk," replenish any used glycogen on a daily basis so our legs continue to work, prevent dehydration and heat exhaustion, and space out the food so we don't overload and fall asleep in the saddle.
I couldn't resist the urge to calculate. A 40-mile day would require 3,400 calories. The century would demand 5,500. Clearly, I was not going to weigh and measure my food.
I'd have to let appetite be my guide, at least for the stopping point. For starters, I followed the CAM Tour rule: Eat before you're hungry, drink before you're thirsty, and eat small amounts frequently.
Sparing and restoring glycogen would require plenty of carbos, both simple and complex. I had no control over the food being served or the methods of preparation. I could only control my own choices, so I made a plan: Eat the carbos first, then add proteins and fats until I wasn't hungry any more.
The plan worked just fine. I completed each ride, including the Century, feeling I could do more if necessary (but always glad to get out of the saddle!). Here's what happened on a couple of typical days:
MONDAY -- 61 MILES FROM LEONARDTOWN TO LARGO: Breakfast: two slices French toast with syrup, one slice bacon, potatoes, bagel with jelly, orange juice, cantaloupe, decaf coffee. Rest stop at 20 miles: Gatorade, 1/2 banana, box of raisins. Lunch stop at 28 miles: 1/2 veggie pita, carrot sticks, caffeine-free soft drink, orange. Rest stop at 39 miles: Gatorade, cookies left from lunch. Supper: macaroni and cheese, mixed veggies, roasted potatoes, roll, salad, fried chicken breast, cherry cobbler, iced tea.
THURSDAY -- 102 MILES FROM CENTREVILLE TO SALISBURY: Breakfast: pancakes with syrup, sausage, orange juice, cantaloupe, decaf coffee. Water stop at 11.5 miles: Gatorade and PowerBar. Rest stop at 16.4 miles: Gatorade and PowerBar. Rest stop at 43.6 miles: Gatorade and banana. Lunch stop at 64.1 miles: four kinds of pasta salad, multi-bean salad, marinated carrots, cantaloupe, fresh tomatoes, cucumber salad, dabs of chicken salad and egg salad, roll, iced tea. Water stop at 72.9 miles: water and cookies. Rest stop at 84.6 miles: Gatorade and banana. Water stop at 91.7 miles: water, Gatorade. Supper: manicotti, rice pilaf, corn, green beans, pasta with olive oil, cantaloupe, watermelon, cold pasta salad with artichokes and black olives, ice cream. Snack: fresh plum, pretzels, gin and tonic. Deep sleep!
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.