How To Keep Touring

Someone in r/bicycletouring posted that they were having trouble finishing a tour. They were feeling lethargic. Even depressed. They wanted encouragement, but also: advice.
This is what I p0st3d:


1) HYDRATION. Make sure you are fully hydrated. By which I mean: drink lots of water. Then: drink lots more water. I recommend aiming for 20oz of water per hour of cycling, PLUS gulping down another 20 before bed.

If you are not well hydrated, you will not be able to flush toxins from your system (I use the term loosely, but they’re bad to have in your system, so… toxins). Cycling generates a lot of toxins. Like a LOT. If you don’t flush them, your muscles won’t recover. You’ll be sore and you’ll be tired. And it’ll only get worse.

If your pee is yellow, you are not hydrated. If your pee looks like clear water, you are super well hydrated, good job. If your pee is purple, you have porphyria. Consult a doctor before you turn into a British monarch.

2) ELECTROLYTES. If you drink all that water, you are going to be sapped of electrolytes. Doubly so if you’re a sweater (like me). The result is hyponatremia, the biggest effects of which are exhaustion, soreness, poor muscle recovery, and did I mention exhaustion.

Basically, if you’re drinking as much water as I recommend, you should also be getting several hundred miligrams of salt per hour cycling. You can achieve this by A) salting your water with table-salt packets that you pinch from fast-food restaurants, B) using sports drinks that have electrolytes (Gatorade, those instant sports drink tablets), C) eating food that has enough salt in it.

I usually go for #3, as Gatorade is BAD FOR YOU and salting water just seems wrong. Whereas a slice of pizza contains enough salt to pass as a naughty Biblical waifu. My favorite salty snack foods are salmon jerky and salted almonds. Chef’s Chocolate Salty Balls also highly recommended.

3) CALORIES. You need a lot of them. The technical measuring unit for the amount of calories a tourer needs is “THE METRIC FUCKTON.” (Abbreviated Fkt).

You can use online tables to help compute your caloric needs. The big variables are A) your weight, B) how in shape you are, C) how hard you’re cycling. You can basically calculate C) by knowing your speed (and if you know distance and time, you know speed).

Let me put it this way: I am about to do a short five-day tour to warm up for the season. I am out of shape, because winter, law school, and generally being shaped like a keg of ale. When I tour, I aim for a century per day. And this is a New England tour, with ~2000 feet of climb per day.

I anticipate that I will burn something like 9,000 calories PER DAY during this ride. Or 4 times the daily recommended intake for a sedentary person. So, um, 4Fkt.

I will not want to eat that many calories. I will probably not want to eat at all, because endorphins. But if I don’t, like, FORCE-FEED myself some calories, the next day I will feel like shit and ride even shittier. Try to eat healthy. But: EAT.

4) PROTEIN. You need a lot of it. Otherwise you won’t add new muscle (which is kinda bad). But worse, your body won’t be able to efficiently replace the muscle tissue that gets broken down by hard work (which is super duper bad, especially if you plan on doing it the next day. And the next.)

The among of protein that a cycler needs can be, like, absurd. Absolutely absurd. It should be at least 25% of your daily calories. So if you’re getting even 4,000 calories per day, that’s 1,000 calories of protein you’ll want. At 4 calories per gram, that = 250g of protein.

If that was one meal, you’d want a 20oz ribeye, or a whole rotisserie chicken. But if you’re thinking “Hey, I’ve got three meals today, I can make one meal entirely out of Dunkin Donuts muffins,” THINK AGAIN. Specifically, think about how you’re going to need to eat an entire chicken for dinner.

You can find specific protein-needs calculators online. But, um, yeah. Protein. EAT IT.

5) CARBOHYDRATES. It’s pretty hard to avoid carbs. But you should still make sure you’re getting plenty of them. Like, 50% of your calories – so hundreds of grams per day.

Carbs are especially important in recovery. Pure protein is good but it’s not the most important thing, especially if you’re going to do more exercise the very next day (or right after lunch). You need carbs to keep your muscles going. You’re not a bodybuilder, you don’t need pure protein: get carbs.

For a cyclotourist, any carbs will do. But unprocessed carbs are way better than processed carbs. So that loaf of whole-wheat bread? It is your friend. EAT YOUR FRIEND.

6) FAT. You need fat. If you’re touring, you need fat more than most people. If you’re in really good shape, you need it need it need it – because your body has very little to give you.

Symptoms of insufficient fat during high exercise are – you guessed it – extreme fatigue, loss of cognitive function (feeling drowsy, also depressed), and sore joints.

Fat has 9 calories per gram, compared to 4 for protein and carbs. So it’s easier to get. But if you’re eating Fkt of calories, you need proportional amounts of fat. I’m talking stick-of-butter amounts. Don’t want to eat sticks of butter? Spoonfulls of peanut butter. Handfuls of almonds. Tubs of full-fat yogurt. Bacon Egg and Cheese breakfast sandwiches. Or just driving past an Arby’s, that counts as 50g I think.

7) REST. You need it. Sometimes you need a rest day. Sometimes you need a rest week. That’s just how bodies work.

But chances are you think you need one more than you actually do. My advice for rest days is not to rest entirely. Try to bike at least 10-20 miles. Go slow. Relax. Enjoy. 8 miles per hour is totally acceptable. Think of it more as stretching than biking. Don’t forget to stop to take pictures of the ridiculous shit that we take pictures of on a tour.

If you’ve found an awesome place to rest for a few days, leave your shit there and bike unloaded just around the area. Or go swimming in a lake. Or do some stretches – not just legs, but whole body, everything. If you have access to a hot shower, take 47 of them. And let’s not forget the joys of TOURING SEX. And by joys I mean medicinal value. Obviously. (Tinder? More like TindeRx. Amirite?)

8-10: keep riding. ❤


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