Dinner at the Round Table: Fueling Strategies for a Knighthood Attempt
Presented by Warren Pole, co-founder of 33Shake Performance Fuel
Want to try 33Shake? Use code SUFFKNIGHT33 and get 10% off at checkout.
You are not normal. That much is plain. You are about to take on the hardest thing The Sufferfest can offer. That’s the hardest, most painful thing to come out of a place that knows a thing or two about very hard, very painful things.
So it’s a given that your nutrition for something this monumental can’t be normal either, and that’s where this guide comes in. Consider it your secret map to the hidden treasure that is sustained and stable energy, a happy stomach, and genuinely enjoyable hard-core fueling.
While Suffering through a long, brutal effort is both glorious and essential for any Knight-to-be, Suffering through rubbish nutrition is both pointless and unnecessary. It’s the rookie mistake of a Couchlandrian. And we know that’s not you.
When it comes to nutrition, you shouldn't be Suffering. Instead you need to think pleasure, reward, and of course, power. So let’s get to it.
Knighthood nutrition: three core principles
1. NTANORD (‘Never Try Anything New On Race Day)
It doesn’t matter if we’re saying it here or your fastest mate’s recommending it on your Sunday ride (before he disappears off into the distance again), on the day of your Knighthood challenge stick to what you have tried, tested and know works - halfway through Blender with six hours to go is not the place to find something’s not for you.
If you want to try new fueling strategies, foods, supplements or improved fat adaption, do it in training and give yourself at least six to eight weeks in advance of the big day to test and evaluate.
What matters is not what experts, nutritionists or other riders tell you should happen, but what you actually feel happens. We’re all different and what works for one rider won’t necessarily work for another, so when testing foods always be lead by your own results.
2. Do eat food
Sounds obvious, but sadly much ordinary sports nutrition is not food. Rather it’s some weird and processed amalgamation of chemical nonsense better suited to a Bond villain’s dirty bomb plot than a Knightly feast. Things you—and your body—recognise as food are the best and most powerful primary sources for your fuel. That said, if you know conventional sports nutrition works you, don't make any drastic changes (see Rule #1).
3. Do listen to your body
Your body is a finely-honed machine. A complex system that makes even NASA's Mission Control look simple.
Your body is very good at telling you when you need to eat (hunger) and when you need to drink (thirst). It will also recommend what you need to eat/drink in the form of cravings—salty cravings like pizza and crisps suggest a need for fats/salts, while sweet cravings like Mars bars and cake suggest a need for carbs/sugar.
Tuning into these signals and adapting timing and food choices accordingly is the sign of a truly enlightened nutritional ninja bound for the glory that is Knighthood.
Knighthood nutrition: before the big day - what to eat and when
Much advice here revolves around carbs, and a lot of them. But a word of caution: Unless you precede all big rides with enough pasta, rice and potatoes to floor a rhino, suddenly asking your stomach to do so now is unlikely to be beneficial.
Instead, simply maintaining a healthy, full, and balanced diet containing all key macronutrients (carbs, fats, proteins) while being sure not to go hungry in the last three days ahead of your Knighthood ride is the smartest option.
Make the focus of every meal and snack whole foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, quality meat/fish) wherever possible as these are the most nutrient dense meaning you get maximum nutritional bang for buck out of each and every calorie. You’re going to need it and a whole food focus is the easiest way to turbo your diet for the work that lies ahead.
All this will deliver those all important full carb stores, with the added benefit you won’t be starting your ride feeling like a beached whale before bailing at the third hour to spend the rest of the day in the bathroom.
Caffeine: a note
Caffeine’s a great natural performance enhancer, but needs using properly so you can peak on its benefits without dipping into any of its pitfalls. Because while caffeine can be A Good Thing, more caffeine is not automatically A Better Thing.
On Knighthood day keep your breakfast normal (see Core Principle #1 above), so if you have coffee then, fire away. For your ride keep caffeine supplies—whether as gels, bars or a steaming mug of fresh—on hand and prepare to deploy only in the final two to three hours.
Any earlier and the lift the caffeine delivers may wear off before you’re done, making the final push even harder than it needs to be. Also be aware of how much caffeine you’re taking.
Caffeine is primarily a stimulant, and adding it to the mix of an already stressed body with a well-elevated heart rate that’s in an extreme physical state needs doing sparingly. With ordinary caffeine energy gels containing up to 150mg for example (which is as much caffeine as three full cans of Coke) these are not to be used like candy unless you want to feel very unwell. Or worse.
In short, caffeine’s not a get out of jail free card, but a quick hit can certainly help towards the end of your challenge.
Knighthood nutrition: the day itself
Remember our nutrition keywords from earlier - pleasure and power? This is where they come into their own.
Put together a broad selection of sports nutrition products and foods you like, drawing from what you know has worked for you during long rides in the past.
Also consider other things you know you crave at those times but which simply aren’t easily portable. Like buckets of iced sparking water laced with fresh-squeezed lime, trays of diced watermelon, pineapple and mango and that handy stash of Mars bars.
Because the beauty of your Knighthood ride is you don’t have to carry a thing, yet can have a veritable smorgasbord of what you like on hand.
So have fun, get creative and draw up your ultimate day’s fueling (not forgetting Rule #1 of course). Lay it out at arm’s reach and enlist a Minion or two to drop back to the team car (okay, the kitchen) to mule a load more up to you as it’s needed.
Carbs matter here, and as Sufferfest’s Chief Science Officer (CSO) Neal Henderson explains, "you want to be taking in carbs as soon as you start and as you go. You can only take in 90 grams of carbs an hour and it takes 60-90 mins for that sugar to actually hit your muscles.” Little and often is the way forward for carb intake. Aim for 20g of carbs every 10-15 minutes. Choices here are your favourite gels, bars and energy drink powders.
Additional options - assuming you have time to test properly in advance (hello Rule #1 again) - are the homemade rice cakes as pioneered by the Feed Zone Portables cookbook—which have since rightly swept the pro ranks—or our 33Shake Chia Energy Gels. Designed specifically for strong and stable energy over distance and proven in Europe’s toughest endurance events, these can be a great Knighthood fueling option.
Protein on the Bike: A note
No, this isn’t a typo - this is going to be a very long ride and it’s going to take some toll on your body. As Sufferfest Head Cycling Physiologist, Mac Cassin notes, getting ahead of the recovery curve with protein during your Knightly ride is important.
“Riders should aim for at least 50g of protein split among different items over the day. Protein bars and powders are great options because they have easy to digest protein, and are still rammed with carbohydrates."
Stomach trouble, a note:
While often accepted as part of endurance sport, stomach trouble is neither necessary or inevitable when fueling over distance. Rather it’s most often caused by eating the wrong foods at the wrong time.
If you’ve suffered in the past with stomach issues and want to be sure your Knighthood ride isn’t blighted the same way, this guide covers all you need to know.
Knighthood nutrition: fueling the post-Knighthood glow
Con-bloody-gratulations. You have just done something unique and monumental. Your glory will be forever written on the Knights’ roll of honor. It will also likely be written into your carpet in the several buckets of Sufferlandrian Holy Water you’ve leaked during your Knightly epic.
Now you need to refuel, and this is where protein comes in as the key rebuilding block for your exhausted muscles. Ordinary sports nutrition companies like to make the whole protein subject complicated (confused customers are more easily lead) but it’s actually very simple:
- Use a quality protein source: a complete plant protein source is best as it’s the most readily digestible, and also has all the muscle repair and growth benefits of whey, without whey’s downside of increased inflammation which can slow recovery. The best plant protein sources are isolates of pea, brown rice and hemp.
- Shoot for 20-30g of protein per serving: this is the average amount most of us can absorb in one go. Any more and all we’re doing is producing protein-packed poop. Beyond this you’re aiming for 1-2g of protein per kilo of bodyweight per full day, which sounds hard but actually isn’t. The average UK adult male for example is already consuming 90g of protein daily and he weighs 84kg, so is happily over the 1g/kilo mark without trying - and as this is a national average, while also likely eating a fair amount of crap. Add a performance focus to your food, power up meals with nuts, beans, oats and quality meat and fish while also supplementing wisely after your Knighthood and you’ll be sorted for protein
- Read the ingredients: protein is not the tastiest ingredient in the world on its own and many protein powders or bars are bulked up with artificial sweeteners and flavourings to cover this up. Unfortunately these ingredients also derail recovery and in many cases have been associated with longterm health issues from heart disease to diabetes. Common red flag ingredients to avoid include maltodextrin, acesulfame K, sucralose and aspartame.
Go beyond the protein
To maximise recovery, as well as protein you again need to power up the nutrient density in everything you’re eating to focus on foods that actively help reduce inflammation and assist the body in adapting to - and recovering from - the battering you’ve just given it.
This is where certain superfoods are worth their weight in gold. Don’t worry about the weird ‘superfood’ tag, all it means is any food with a higher than average concentration of beneficial nutrients.
Having worked with superfoods for athletic performance at 33Shake for over a decade with thousands of athletes at all levels, we have a pretty good steer on what works and what doesn’t here. Great options include:
- Pineapple: a brilliant natural anti-inflammatory thanks to its high bromelain concentration, use instead of ibuprofen to ease soreness
- Flaxseeds: one of the highest natural sources of Omega-3, these are a recovery gem. They’ll also help lower cholesterol while they’re at it. Sprinkle on salads or add to smoothies
- Chlorella: this seaweed is a total antioxidant powerhouse, and as a side benefit has twice the protein of chicken. Buy powdered, sprinkle into smoothies
- Reishi mushroom: officially recognised in Japan as a treatment for cancer, this is the business for powerful immune function. Buy powdered, sprinkle into smoothies
- Raw cacao: one of the most antioxidant-rich foods on the planet and delicious with it. Buy powdered, add to sweet smoothies and drinks
- Maca: this root’s already been proven to improve cycling endurance and is also a powerful adaptogen, helping the body adapt to changing stresses. Buy powdered, mix sparingly with water, into porridge or use in smoothies
- Cinnamon: delicious, and a brilliant anti-inflammatory. Add to porridge, smoothies, hot drinks or go old school and mix a load into fresh stewed apples for a recovery desert treat
When you really need to take your nutrition up to eleven and don’t have time to source and measure the mightiest performance superfoods around, you might want to consider our Elite Pre & Post Workout Shakes. Packing the 33 most powerful athletic superfoods in one tasty powerhouse blend alongside the highest quality protein hit available these are the ultimate support for your biggest days in the saddle.
You’ll also need to look after your immune system once your Knighthood challenge is complete.
Thanks to the snappily-titled Post Exercise Immunosupression (or just ‘PEIS’ to its mates), your immune system’s going to be on holiday for a few days after your Knighthood attempt, as it will be after any major endurance effort.
For more detail on PEIS and how to beat it so you come out of your Knighthood attempt bathed in the power and glory you deserve, as opposed to feebly sneezing and sweating it out in bed for the next week, this post has all you need.
About the author
Warren Pole is CEO & co-founder of natural sports nutrition company 33Shake. A seasoned endurance athlete, he’s racked up over 35 ultramarathons, plenty of triathlons and the odd Ironman. A motorcycle racer back in the day, he now gets his two-wheeled kicks by road bike but despite an increasing addiction has yet to shave his legs.