How to train your gut for sportives

Teach your body to absorb fuel better before your sportive to have your best performance

Eat and train like you will on the day for your best sportive performance

Learning how to perfect your sportive nutrition is key to performing well and like all aspects of cycling performance, it all comes down to training. Getting out on the bike is about more than increasing endurance and strengthening your muscles – you also need to train your guts.


As a sports nutritionist, Emma Barraclough is keenly aware of the need to prepare the digestive system to properly deal with the fuel cyclists gulp down during events. Here are her tips on how to make the most of nutrition in training.

Related: Cycling nutrition – why carbs?

Breaking coffee stop rituals

While the importance of nutrition is drilled into those competing in high performance sport, the same isn’t necessarily true for sportive riders. Emma puts this down to a leisurely attitude towards fuelling in training, but whether you’re looking to hold a high average speed or just get through your first sportive, good nutrition is key to enjoyment and staving off the dreaded bonk.

“The messages around sports nutrition in the sportive market probably get watered down at bit because for most people, it’s a gradual progression,” says Barraclough. “You go from steady Sunday rides, maybe stopping for lunch or two or three coffees as you go, to doing 100 miles of much hillier terrain [during the sportive].”

By suddenly jumping up to a longer ride – or one with fewer breaks, your fuelling needs can change completely and learning to manage this ahead of your sportive can make it more manageable, enjoyable and satisfying.

Training metabolic pathways

“You’ve got to do it in training. The whole premise of endurance training, ultimately, is to make more mitochondria within your muscle cells – the little bits that produce energy – but there’s a whole set of chemical pathways that go along with that. So if you’re not training with the amount of carbohydrate that you want to use during your race, then you won’t train those metabolic pathways either.”

This means it’s important to structure some training rides around how your fuelling is likely to be during your event – cutting out the leisurely coffee stops and slabs of cake unless you’re planning on slurping from a flask around the course.

It also highlights the need to train your body to deal with nutrition under the same intensity at which you’ll be riding your sportive – and it’s exactly what the pros do.

“That’s what you see in the higher-end elites. They’re doing the volume of endurance training that’ll be increasing the mitochondrial content of their muscles, but will be increasing their energy pathways as well to go along with that by consuming the amount of carbohydrate in training that they would be in the race.”

Employing the tactic of eating like an event on every single training ride would be a costly exercise, but Barraclough says a handful of rides like this could be enough to start seeing benefits from the process.

“You need to try and have at least three or four rides before your actual sportive, replicating in the sort of patterns you’ll do come the event and that is very much focusing on carbohydrates.”

So, train and eat like you’ll ride in your event and you’ll soon be on your way to your best sportive performance.


Emma Barraclough is the Senior Sports Nutritionist for Science in Sport (SiS)