Fueling the Machine

May 12, 2012

So I recently took another big step forward toward becoming a “dedicated cyclist”, another step in the evolution of “my style”.

I give a layman’s view of my approach to in-ride nutrition in my “The Strategy” post here and a further update to it in this post.  I’ve now refined the method further, and have used it on several 25-30 mile local rides here with good success.

As you read widely about any new hobby, you become exposed to all kinds of tricks of the trade.  In my case, it was thanks to the very entertaining Commuterdude blog that I first heard of Hammer Nutrition.  It was in this post that he enthusiastically gushed, “E-Caps WORK, Hammer Gel WORKS, Sustained Energy WORKS”.  I’d never heard of these products before, but I sensed they were in-ride nutrition.  C-dude being a true recent “hero” of mine, I set about educating myself.

Long story made short, here on vacation I’ve been experimenting with “engineered” nutrition for the first time.  I’ve begun with Hammer Gel and also “GU Gel”, which is a similar, competing product.

I’ve realized several advantages and so far no downside.  First thing to note is that the products do what they are touted everywhere online to do – provide a good even flow of good clean energy, no jitteriness spiked with sugar or other crap; they minimize fatigue and appear to support a quicker recovery.

Compare my newest (very recent) style with the approach I’d utilized in the months up to that point:  Previously, I would ride for roughly 6-9 miles, stop for a quick break.  I’d get off the bike, walk around, and take a little breather.  Return to the bike after a couple minutes.  Every 2-3 miles I’d eat a small chunk of whole-wheat bagel from a handlebar bag (mostly while on the ride, sometimes when stopped for a break).  The process was ungainly in terms of food volume, slowed me down in terms of the semi-frequent stops, and just generally not ideally efficient.  I’ve always recognized this, and embraced it as a point along the path to a better style, which I knew was progressing.

Contrast that with what Hammer (and GU) is enabling:  Now there’s no eating bagels from the handlebar bag every few miles.  I stop every roughly 8-10 miles for a QUICK break off the bike, during which I consume a Hammer or GU gel pack, do a little stretching and hydration, and back on the bike.  I don’t have hard & fast figures but I’m guessing my off-bike time is reduced by maybe 25%, maybe more, using Hammer.  I put this down to its superior ability to manage fatigue during the ride.

I also bought a nice seatpost bag, which I’ve always wanted when nutritionally it made sense to use one.  Now, I’ll drop the handlebar bag altogether, returning my water bottle to its normal in-frame cage and leaving my nutrition gels in the seat bag.

The style continues to evolve.  Right now I’ve taken Hammer and GU out on several local rides of  25-30 miles and they’ve done very well.  I’ve done Hammer-only, GU-only, and mixing the two.  I don’t notice a major difference in the two, although with limited anecdotal evidence under my belt, the Hammer does seem just a little smoother and more even.  Longer rides, soon forthcoming, will hopefully shake this out.

The education continues for me.  Hammer has a WONDERFUL line of in-ride (post-ride too) nutrition products, which are very highly regarded in not only the cycling community, but also the endurance running/racing community.  I’m still at the early stages of building a good working understanding of the differences among these products and understanding what is best to use in which situation (shorter more challenging rides, shorter casual rides, long endurance rides, etc, what about post-ride, etc).

So far, I couldn’t be MORE enthusiastic about the gains I’m realizing from these products, and I am very eager to get a fuller understanding of them to provide for an educated decision on which additional products will complement my future routine beyond Hammer Gel.  Look for another update on this in the coming weeks!

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