Nutrition: Advice for Base Mile Training

This time of year most people's training focus is on base miles; with the objective of building a good aerobic base that will stand you in good stead for the racing or sportive season.

The focus of base miles is to do long steady rides at a moderate aerobic level; with exertion coming from the duration of the activity, not from explosive efforts. Nutrition for base mile training therefore has a intrinsic part to play; you need the energy to sustain the required level of exertion; but also the right intake of nutrients after exercise, to aid in the all important recovery whilst you carry out back-to-back long rides.

This blog looks at the base mile nutrition strategy in detail; reflecting on my personal experience, having both got the strategy right and wrong in the past. Get it right, and base miles work well. Get it wrong and you are likely to feel the dreaded effects of over-training and often illness.

Pre-Ride Nutrition
After the festive indulgences it is often tempting to skip or skimp on breakfast before a ride, in a bid to shed a few of those mince pie pounds. Don't! Skipping breakfast has three negative effects: Firstly eating something when you wake up kick-starts your metabolism, letting you burn more fat throughout the day. Secondly, a bowl of porridge or cereal contains much needed protein that your body needs to repair itself, especially if you have done a long hard ride the day before. Thirdly, in order to get the most out of your training and to work at the required level to see results, you need that slow burning goodness that you get from a bowl of oat cereal or whole-grain bread.

Fuel up before your ride; you will ride better and probably further.

Active Nutrition
What you eat and drink when you are out riding makes a huge difference to the efficacy of base mile training. I will quite happily hold my hands up, and say that in the past I've got it wrong more than once; I frequently used to train with just bottles of water and often just a small banana mid-ride to "keep me going". Looking back I now realise that was exactly what my nutrition was doing; just "keeping me going", not improving, not developing... just "keeping going".

The effects of eating little were predictable I guess: I shed weight quickly, but my speed and strength failed to  improve in that early part of season. My base mile training this year has been far better, a large part of that I put down to proper nutritional intake. I've been using Maxifuel products to provide me with the extra kick I need for longer miles. For a typical three and a half hour ride I'll take two bottles of ViperBoost energy drink, a ViperBoost energy bar and a banana. I normally take a gel with me too, just in case I bonk far from home, but I try to keep to the slower burning oats and cereal found in the ViperBoost bars when I can.

The difference from fuelling properly has been notable; I've had more energy to do small power building sprints mid-ride, and I've been able to ride faster and further than I did last year. OK, part of this may be down to improved fitness, but I'm sure that a lot of it is also the result of eating enough during the ride. I've also found that by doing this you stop the intense hunger pains that you get when your have been under-nourished on a ride, and as a result you avoid the binge-eating when you return home.

Boost your riding by keeping your energy levels high - you will likely find that you ride better and often actually lose more weight as a result.

Post-Ride Nutrition
The real one to nail: Intense training without proper recovery is wasted training.

Last year and before, I often left it too long before getting the vital protein hit that your body needs to start the repair process after a long ride. I was fine if I was just about to have lunch, when I used to have a lot of the dishes listed in my Eating for Recovery blog. However, when I got pre-occupied by other things such as cleaning the bike, having a long bath to warm up, or even just having a chat, I used to notice it the next day and my training would suffer.

As a result protein shakes are increasingly becoming part of my routine, whether it is a home-made shake, or a convenient RecoverMax shake. Both are incredibly effective at giving you the necessary protein when you most need it, and will help to keep you sustained until you can have a proper meal an hour or so later.

If the effort of making a shake after a long ride is too much, then make one before hand and put it in the fridge; this also acts as an effective incentive to make sure you have it, so that you don't waste it!

As an additional note: I also know some people that put protein powder in their porridge the day after a big ride as well, to give them an added recovery boost. This can be a great idea if you don't like other alternatives such as eggs, and it is a quick and convenient way of getting the protein in your system first thing in the morning to keep your body repairing itself for as long as possible; ready for the next onslaught of miles.

So there you go, three basic nutritional tactics that could really improve the effectiveness of your training. Base mile training is a key part of your preparation for the season, but there is no point if you are wearing your body away to nothing by doing it.
Fuel up, stay fuelled up and recover well. You'll notice the difference.


  1. There is a lot of nice information in this post, however, I don't agree completely with the "Active Nutrition." For anything shorter that 2h you do not need sugary/protein drinks, water should be fine, otherwise you lose the fat burning benefit of aerobic training i.e. your body finishes up the readily available energy, rather than getting used to burning fat. Joe Friel ( has the same opinion. Personally, after reducing the amount of dissolved powder to almost nothing has made a big difference in endurance in the last month for me. You need the fat burning metabolism in season. For longer rides (2+h at lower intensity) you do need to fuel up to avoid bonking.

  2. Hi Nikola, I don't think that what I'm saying necessarily disagrees with that notion, but perhaps I should clear it: By definition base mile training is normally more than two hours, as it is a bid to get a large aerobic base built. As a result, taking on energy is (as you say) a good idea.
    What is sometimes helpful is if you use a bottle of water for the first hour or so, and then switch to energy drink subsequently. In fact this is often what I do, to help to develop the "fat burning" that you mention. However, the time when you switch from water to energy drink is quite crucial in my experience: leave it too long and you will often bonk, not recover from that low sugar level, and therefore not be able to put in the required level of effort for the second part of the ride.

    Perhaps a good compromise is to dilute down one bottle of energy drink for the first part of the ride, and then have one at normal concentration for the later part. The point that I am trying to make though, is that if taking an energy drink on your training ride allows you to ride further, better and at a more optimal intensity than training with water; then the efficacy of your training will be improved, and it is worth doing.

  3. With that part I completely agree. =) The very diluted energy drink is a good compromise since most people, myself included find the plain (sometimes with hints of plastic) taste of water not very appealing.

    As you mention proper nutrition makes a big difference on how you can train and improve. With a powermeter and some experience you can see/predict where is YOUR point when you start running on fumes so you can avoid it (by eating beforehand). I have been back and forth with the whole needing energy supplements during training and through my experience I have concluded that what you eat before and after training is more important than what you put in your bottles. A lot of that stuff is quite calorie dense and for most people it might do them more harm than good. (I always thought those labels saying "this supplement is not a substitute for a balanced diet" were only there for legal reasons...)

    I do take some quick sugars (stroopwafels, small kitkat bar) with me on longer rides in case I start to bonk, however, 2 bottles of 3/4 of the "suggested" dosage of Gatorade/Powerbar/Isostar+a banana/powerbar should do the trick.

    I enjoy reading your blog so keep the articles coming and good luck with your base training!

  4. I'd just like to further your pre ride breakfasts and say to avoid cereals which have a high glycemic index, such as rice crispies, sugar puffs, or chocolate based cereals. These tend to raise you blood sugar levels fast which causes the body to over compensate by lowering it just as quickly. A big reason why you feel so hungry after only a hour of eating. Tim is right in saying eat oat based cereals as they are longer lasting and don't cause a spike in your blood sugar levels.

    You can train your body to need less on rides but its not worth it as there is nothing worse than hunger pangs miles from home. I however, trained my body to cope better with solids whilst riding which I found suit me better than energy drinks which can leave me a bit light headed. The sugar in those drinks will totally rot your teeth by the way!

  5. *Nikola*
    Thanks, great to know about other nutritional strategies as well. Glad you enjoy reading the blog. Plenty more articles to come. :-)

    Porridge all year round for me Jez, can't knock it!

    I do prefer solid energy as well to be honest, flapjack and energy bars take preference over energy gels any day. I find that I have to dilute most energy drink down quite a lot to make it palatable. Having said that I do find it easier to drink than water most of the time...although that is an entirely personal thing.

    Thanks for reading :-)

    1. Alpen for me, although it was a Bacon and egg bun that rescued my tired legs during my 24hr race. I flew after that!


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