Along with a masochistic yoga session, a pint of beetroot juice and a fresh goat - the consumption of large quantities of food is one of Ernie's favourite things (whoops - that sounds dangerously like Julie Andrews). It is not unknown for the cassocked one to crank up the MSR in the cloisters and cook up a storm... his banana infested pancakes being particularly popular with the brothers and discerning members of the choir. We managed to drag the Rev away from his administrative duties for the Church of the Rotating Mass to scribe a few insights into the art of food and bikes...
After days of deprivation in the backcountry who hasn't lusted after roast chook with lashings of gravy and sloppy mashed potato, second helpings of chocolate "moose", or something equally indulgent. Eating is indeed a near carnal pleasure - however building a menu for a big day in the saddle, or a multi-day epic, demands a little attention to matters like weight, space and nutritional value. A caveat before we get started ... these ramblings are based on a bit of science mixed with acquired "wisdom" from a few big trips over the years. Plus it's coloured by my own taste buds - after all it's important to enjoy what you're eating!
You need to swallow a lot of water - up to a litre per hour when you're working hard. The aim is to keep your muscle tissue nicely saturated - reducing cramps and improving recovery time. A couple of litres the night before is useful preparation before an epic.
You may end up looking like Mr Ed, but a cocktail of jumbo oats and dried fruit for breakfast will get you well into the morning before you need to refuel. Soak them in water the night before (I measure out about a cup's worth)and woof 'em down before rushing off with the spade to deal with your body's peristaltic response.
The contradiction with eating is that the act itself consumes vast quantities of valuable energy - which is why most people feel a little flat after lunch. The go is to make like Little Red Riding Hood and eat a little often. I tend to build my on-the-ride menu around snacks. Your body chokes on fats, and proteins are similarly hard work to digest. So try to load up with a combination of simple and complex carbohydrates (giving you both the instant hit and slow release). Dried fruit is a good staple ... dates, raisins and figs score particularly well. You can add a few nuts (brazil, cashew, almonds or pecans - peanuts are a bit acidy). Nuts taste good but are hard to digest so use sparingly. Avoid chocolate and similar sugar based nibbles, as immediate gratification puts you on the energy roller coaster. For general munchies I settle for a Supermarket muesli bar. I also have a weakness for fruit fingers, fly trap biscuits and have recently discovered giant gingernuts. Yum. Sports bars are over-priced and have far too much writing on the packet for my liking. But I generally have one hidden in my pack for emergencies ... at the end of a long day when food and tempers are short they are unequalled as a pick-me-up.
I know others don't share my taste in this area, but you can't beat an avocado, cold spud and banana sandwich for lunch. Fruit loaf makes it exceptional. Leftover rice or pasta make for a good nosh also. At the end of the day, don't collapse in a heap ... but pig out. The sooner the better - the magic window of opportunity is within a couple of hours, to help your body rebuild after the day's hammering. For dinner I generally go for a vegetable stew centred on beans and/or canned salmon, sitting on a bed of rice or pasta. Spuds are great too - if you have any left over from lunch. And remember to drink heaps of water - at least 2 litres. Invariably you will have to climb out of the comfort of your pit to pee during the night, but this is a far lesser evil than feeling like a cripple the next day. A cold beer may satiate your immediate desires but as alcohol is a diuretic it only exacerbates the dehydration problem. On multi-day rides when recovery is everything, eating properly can make the whole experience less gruelling. The harder you ride and the further you travel, the more you need to eat. Now that's a good thing.
Pedal on, Ernie