All big rides are not created equal, and so there's no one size fits all approach to staying fuelled and hydrated when you're out on a ride. You need to consider how long you'll be out and the type of riding you will do. Are you intending to push hard or take it easy? Or are you racing?
I do have one general rule though, when I get asked for advice on riding and fuelling get your everyday diet right first because everything else is just the cream on top.
Now at the moment I am in prep mode for a big ride on the weekend I've entered in a 30ish kilometre mountain bike race category in the AMB100. It's my way of pushing myself physically and mentally outside of my comfort zone. I find that challenges such as this actually push my fitness further than I would if I relied solely on my addiction to riding.
At the moment a training ride is somewhere between one and three hours, depending on whether I am doing an endurance session or high-intensity training. Interestingly, it's also not dissimilar in the time I'd spend out on a ride with friends or my family on the weekend. But my approach to nutrition is 100% different.
For starters, on a social or family ride, water is more than sufficient to stay hydrated, even riding all day. The piece that often gets lost when we start relying on sports drinks or the like is that on social rides there's typically a lot of stopping and chatting. Your body doesn't need to function at peak athlete level. It just needs water.
When I am training and racing however, I tend to add fuel and electrolytes to my water, particularly if it's a longer session. There's a bit of a knack to working on your fuelling for those longer races. And whilst you don't HAVE to take supplements with you, in a race situation it's typically going to give you better endurance and longevity and make your recovery after training a lot faster.
So here's my rule of thumb which is the generally accepted reality for fuelling in endurance events and training:
- At 1-2 hours, you need about 30g of carbohydrate per hour;
- At 2-3 hours, you need about 60g of carbohydrates per hour; AND
- At 2½ hours or more you are looking at about 90g of carbohydrate per hour
Some people like to get most of their energy in their fluids, which is OK but once you are up around the higher end of the scale, that's not going to be possible so you will need other sources. Other clients of mine prefer to use straight-up electrolytes in their hydration, and use gels or bars or food to refuel. There's no right or wrong way to do it it's very individual and you should really make sure that you use your training sessions to practice anything you're considering on race day to find what works for you.
For me personally, I'm a huge fan of my backpack-style Camelbak with hydration and fuel onboard (largely because I'm not coordinated enough to reach my bottle and ride at the same time). I then top up with gels as needed. The other nice thing about my Camelbak is that I can carry tools and a bit of basic first aid equipment.