Fuelling to Pedal the World

Last year Mark Beaumont, Corporate Ambassador for Bruce Stevenson cycled the world in 78 days. Food became fuel with Mark consuming 9000 calories per day..

‘What are you most looking forward to eating?’ was a frequently asked question in the final days before the finish of my 18,000-mile race.

‘I’m looking forward to not eating!’

Since finishing n Paris, setting the World Record at 78 days and 14 hours, I’ve been amazed by peoples fascination with what you eat when cycling 240 miles a day, every day for two and a half months.  The answer inevitably, is a lot, but perhaps not what you would expect.   For a foodie, it’s a shame to see food reduced to simply being fuel, but when cycling around the World it’s worth remembering that’s fundamentally all it is.   Although, to eat 9000kCal a day, you also have to be able to stomach it, and as any athlete will reflect, the right food has the power to motivate and reward.

A decade ago when I cycled around the World the first time, my nutritionist Ruth McKean took me into various restaurants to meet the chefs.  I was to be cycling unsupported and so needed to recognize what I was eating.   This was very enjoyable research and I soon had a basic education of the foods of each country en route including Iran, Pakistan and Thailand.  Ruth then drew up a long spreadsheet of data, so that when I sat down to a local dish, I could work out the calorific value, plus proportions of fats, proteins and carbohydrates.  It worked and apart from turning down spicy hens foot soup and struggling with a stew of offal, I enjoyed eating my way around the World at the pace of 100 miles a day.

240 miles and 16 hours a day is another league, and there aren’t many reference points for this kind of endurance.  However, this time cycling around the World I had the advantage of a full support team, so that a hot chocolate was never more than wish away.  My performance team, led by Laura Penhaul, spent a long time discussing and trialing different fuelling strategies, to make sure that I was riding sustainably.

Every morning started at 3.30am by standing on the scales and taking a saliva swab, which showed, amongst other indicators, my cortisol levels.  If my weight dropped by up to 3% this was acceptable, but any more and the nutritional plan would be increased.  My cortisol levels stayed incredibly high throughout, showing the level of sustained stress.

The focus on the road was 1500kcal of food per 4 hour block, repeated 4 times a day and with the fluids, the target was up to 1000ml of calories per block, including 3g of creatine once a day.  However, the reality was that I found it very hard to eat before 4am, and relied on more liquid meals as the journey went on, as I suffered from reflux.

Fats were the fuel of choice, which as an athlete takes time for your body to adapt to.  Living off sports gels and jelly babies was not an option for such endurance.  Typically I was sitting in zone 1, tapping the bike along at about 15 miles per hour, with a heart rate around 100bpm, power well less than 200 watts.  At this level of output, consistent, high quality and slow release fats were a far better fuel for mental and physical endurance, than simple carbohydrates and sugars.

My biggest mental and therefore physical dip of the day always came mid afternoon, after being on the bike for 10- 12 hours, which is when a well-placed caffeine or sugar boost was helpful.  But we tried to ration this and focus on slower release fuels.

Since the finish in Paris, I have enjoyed a few glasses of wine, stopped insisting on acupuncture during mealtimes and reduced my obsession with feeding on fats.  And to my horror (!), I have found out that you only have one slice of cake, rather than the entire cake, when in polite company.  But apart from that I have normalized completely and my body seems to have adjusted well from its incredible 18,000-mile feast.