Sunday, June 28, 2009

Science Diet

On-bike nutrition has become my new obsession. For the past 30 years of biking I have been a staunch advocate of "real" food on my rides--the idea of relying on nothing but energy bars, Ensure and salt pills was anathema. "Eschew the Goo!" has been my rallying cry. "Vive les pommes de terre! Vive le sandwich au beurre d'arachide!" My dismissal of Science Diet was also partially informed by the fact that my first experience in trying Clif Shots and Heed resulted in a scene familiar to anyone who has seen The Exorcist.

So while other riders packed Clif Shots and Hammer Gels, and downed gallons of Heed , Perpetuem, and Spizz, I packed my bags with boiled potatoes, baked tofu, PB & banana sandwiches, muffins, and trail mix (and, in the pre-vegan days, I also brought boiled eggs). I did make the exception for the occasional Clif Bar; at least those give a person something to CHEW. The closest I would get to Science Diet was Clif Shot Blox (aka Gummi Bears for cyclists).

Yes. Well. That was all well and good when the longest ride I did was less than 200 miles and when I was not racing a clock. The extra weight that "real" food added to the bike load did not concern me, and I always had time to unpack and repack complicated concoctions. And last year, when I did two 600-kilometer rides (approx. 375 miles), I continued to pack "real" food with no obvious detriment, but I did begin to question whether I could afford to be pushing the extra weight and taking the time to pack and unpack on the longer rides. It may have only slowed me down a little, but was it possible that without the extra weight I would have been the minimal increment faster that would allow me more than a couple hours of sleep on a 40-hour ride?

And then last month I rode the 600 XTR. In my front bag I had some tofu, some licorice, a few apricot bars, a few packs of Shot Blox, some trail mix and cashews. I decided not to bring potatoes and sandwiches, figuring I'd also be foraging along the way.
What I did not factor in was that the extreme heat on the ride would switch off my hunger switch. It was not so much that I could not eat what I had with me, it was more that it simply wasn't something I thought much about. As a result, I finished the ride with almost as much food in my bag as I started with; I hauled it for 376.1 miles and took it back home with me.  And since I was trying not to spend too much time at controls, I also was not purchasing mch food or taking time to eat it.  When I tallied up what I had eaten over the 38 and a half hours it took for me to complete the ride, I realized that I had taken in somewhere around 5,000 calories. I had probably expended twice that many. Not good.

Now I am preparing to ride twice that distance - something I have never done before - and the terrain and temperature will be equally unforgiving. So I have begun thinking about Science Diet again. Factoring into the consideration is that Hammer Nutrition is supplying the riders on the Gold Rush with gels, Perpetuem and Endurolytes, gratis. But I did not want to just show up in Davis and start ingesting any of those products without seeing if I could tolerate them. I did not want a repeat of the Heed/Clif Shots experience. Since I was signed up to lead a long, hilly climb for Portland Velo this past Saturday, and with the ride to the start and back would have almost a century in, I decided I would use that ride as my test run.

First I investigated the liquid supplements. I've had good luck with Cytomax, but it is not a complete supplement. Obviously, anything dairy-based was right out, so no Ensure, Boost, Spizz or Accelerade. That left Perpetuem. I picked up a pack of the Orange-Vanilla. I also collected a variety of gels - Hammer Chocolate, Apple Cinnamon and Rasperry; Gu Orange Roctane and Blueberry-Pomegranate. I also picked up a packet of the Gu gummies. 

Saturday morning I mixed up a bottle of Perpetuem and gave it a taste test. It tasted okay, but the texture was less than appealing. In fact it was downright nasty. Like drinking silty river water. Dreamsicle-flavored silty river water. Oh well, I thought, perhaps if I am thirsty enough and drink it quickly enough, it will be alright. NOT. On the one hand, it did not make me hurl. On the other hand, it made me want to hurl. So I am skipping the liquid nutrition concept and going with water and Endurolytes.

I had better luck with the gels. The Hammer Chocolate was like thin pudding or thick syrup, and the Raspberry was sweet but not too sweet. Lynne had not been very enthused about the Apple-Cinnamon, but it wasn't that bad. I don't think I'd want a steady diet of it, though. The hand-down winner, however, was the Gu Orange Roctane. It tasted good, and I could definitely feel a difference shortly after downing it. And none of them made me hurl. So I'll be packing some gel this time around, just in case.

I don't think I would try to do any ride on just gels and Endurolytes. I will still pack some light and calorie-dense foods (Trader Joe's flattened bananas, perhaps), and I'll throw some avocados in my drop bags. I've been in contact with the ride organizers and they are making an effort to ensure that there will be vegan-friendly items at the food-controls (I just hope the faster riders don't eat it all before I get there!). Now I just need to remember to eat.


Marcello said...

I feel your pain, sort of. I like cooking, and I enjoy the experience of eating good food. When I started randonneuring three seasons ago, I tried Perpetueum, and found that I tolerated it, but I totally missed the mental stimulation of food. The fact that 90% or so of our control locations are small convenience stores that have food that I don't find appealing at all, makes it tough for me to keep consuming enough calories. On 200k and 300k I can still finish even when I mess up my eating and drinking, but on a multi day ride like the XTR or GRR that will not work. So finally I surrendered to the evil of liquid bike food, and I will bring 36 little bottles of Ensure Plus with me to California. The heat and the climbing on the GRR don't worry me, but the idea of drinking so much sugary drink for 4 days straight is scary. I guess that will make me want to go faster to get to some real food in Susanville (Mexican), Alturas (Thai), and Oroville (Chinese).

Anonymous said...

Cecil --

I tried Heed and found it to be so horrible tasting that I couldn't imagine actually depending on the stuff at an urgent moment on a ride. Ick.

If you want, I CAN give you some ZYM tablets. Toss one in your water bottle, shake gently, and drink. Tastes a little like under-carbonated lime-aid with half the regular sugar. Not sickeningly sweet like other "power" drinks. Also gives a noticeable boost when you're striving to keep it together on a long, hot ride. I got a bunch. Lemme know if you want some to try.

Cecil Anne said...

Marcello - I saw that you had been scoping out restaurants on the route, and was duly impressed that you will have enough time to have a sit-down meal!

Beth, that ZYM stuff sounds interesting - let me ponder that

lynnef said...

Heed works for me. The Apple Cinnamon is the best of the Hammer Gel bunch, which isn't saying much. We choked it down and followed it with a LOT of water.

Cecil Anne said...

The Hammer apple-cinnamon was not bad, but I actually preferred the Hammer chocolate and raspberry . . .

Lesli Larson said...

I'm a fan of cytomax and your old school solid food (those boiled potatoes). Perpeteum intrigues but I cannot get over that apocalyptic creamsicle flavor (why not a standard lemon lime). I did try Recoverite in BC. Not bad (seemed to work) but it would take an extreme event to make me digest that product again in the near future.

Good luck with all your final packing, prep and last minute decision making. That's almost harder than the actual event.


Susan France said...

Do not rely on anything you haven't tested unless you are already in a pickle and have nothing to lose. Testing isn't something you do on a Sat morning ride. It is an all day test ride. Sounds like you've not really tested much of the "plastic" foods. These foods taste much different after hours and hours, or days and days. I've gone 14 days with nothing but one "plastic" food that actually worked for me.

Cecil Anne said...

Oh, I know better than to test anything on a real ride - but Saturday's ride was 10 hours in hot temps (the club ride was only a portion - I tacked on another 50 miles on my own), so it was a fairly decent mini- test of the plastic foods, but I am certainly not planning on relying on them as my base nutrient. More of an "if all else fails" concept . . .