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Fuelling the Rapha Festive 500: nutrition advice.

Updated: Feb 9

Tackling the festive 500 this year? Read on to learn how to fuel for it properly with advice from a sports dietitian.

You have the week off work. The roads are quiet. You're going to spend as much time as possible on your bike. You're doing the Festive 500. Fuelling the Rapha festive 500 is not easy. The whole event isn't easy. Unless you are a pro cyclist you are likely increasing the amount of cycling you do drastically. This means the amount of energy you need to eat drastically increases. There are specific foods you should be eating at specific times to make the event easier and recovery better.

cycling to complete the festive 500

When I retired from elite rowing I spent several months cycle touring around New Zealand (Read my blog on the adventure). This gives me huge knowledge and experience on how to fuel endurance sport and the practicalities of doing so. Read on to discover how a focus on fuelling can make the rapha festive 500 that little bit easier.


Carbohydrates are king

Firstly lets establish what fuel you will be using when doing your training. Your body has several fuel sources, but the main two are fat and carbs. We all know where fat is stored on us (hello belly) and we know it is not in the muscles where energy is needed for exercise. This means it takes time to use fat as energy as it has to move from [insert fatty body part here] to our muscles. Meanwhile carbs are stored in our muscles as glycogen. This is very easy for our muscles to use and therefore is the preferred energy source, especially at high intensities when energy is needed fast. High intensity in this scenario is zone 2 and up. Anything zone 2 or harder is mainly using carbohydrate as fuel and therefore carbohydrate needs to be replaced.

Interestingly several podcasts recently have discussed this is possibly why performance in cycling has boomed so much in the last 10 years. Previously cyclists did not eat during rides as a macho challenge to see how far someone could go. Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome discussed this recently in G's podcast.

So when you are starting to train you need carbs, this is what your body will be using. Your body will always burn a little fat, but everyone has plenty of this stored. Compare this to carbohydrates where your body stores very little, normally enough for 1 hour of exercise.

Now we know what energy sources we are using we know what we need to eat for festive 500 nutrition. You guessed it. Carbs! You want to make sure your carb stores in your muscle are full before you start your sessions. Good carb sources in our diet are starch: potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other grains. These should make up half of each meal. If you are increasing your training increase the carbs you are eating. Use this table below to calculate how many carbs you should be eating a day.

table showing how many carbs to eat with increases in exercise volume

 If you're feeling lethargic or light headed during training it could be your carb stores are still low and you may need to be eating more carbs through the day to maintain your stores at 100% for when you want to do you exercise. You can see with the volume of exercise required for the festive 500 you likely want to be eating 8-10g of carbs per kilo of body weight a day. Load your plate with potatoes, bread sauce, Christmas pudding.

You need to make sure your carb stores are full before your ride, but also need to top up carb stores during. You can see here carb stores are always going down, you are using more than you can replace. But if you start eating from the beginning of the ride you extend your stores way longer.

graph comparing exercise while eating carbohydrates to without eating carbohydrates

Hydration is key

Even with basic nutrition you want to make sure you are hydrated before training. Your blood is mostly water and like a gravy gets thicker as water evaporates from it your blood gets thicker when you are dehydrated. This makes it harder for you heart to pump blood around your body and makes exercise harder. A good gauge of hydration is your urine colour. Clear means hydrated. Other symptoms of dehydration are headaches, dizziness and poor focus. You'll likely only need 500ml the hour before exercise for proper hydration. I have a book for Hyrox that goes into detail on hydration and is highly relevant to any endurance sport.

During your ride you want to replace any water lost as sweat. Everyone is slightly different in amount of sweat and the saltiness of your sweat. As a rule of thumb 500ml an hour with 1g of salt added is enough.


After your ride your carb stores are going to be pretty much empty. Therefore you want to get these replaced ready for the next days ride. The first hour after your ride is the most important. Blood supply to the muscles is still increased and carbs and protein can be delivered to the muscles to faster increasing recovery. Therefore aim to have a high carb high protein snack or meal as soon as you get in. See my instagram posts for recovery meal ideas.

Festive 500 nutrition: Alcohol

Lets be realistic, we're all likely to have a drink over christmas. Just be warned this does make sport harder. Lets explore why. Firstly alcohol stops your body from making glycogen. This means your carb stores will be reduced the day after you've had a drink. Alcohol also dehydrates you making your blood thicker and harder to pump the day after. Alcohol also causes worse quality sleep. Initially it sedates you, but as it is broken down in your body it becomes a stimulant. This is why sometimes you wake in the night and can't sleep after drinking. None of this is going to make the festive 500 easier, but armed with this knowledge you can make your own choices.

If you have found this useful and interesting please like and share with anyone else who would benefit from reading this article.

If you have any individual concerns about nutrition we can arrange a call to discuss. Contact me here.

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