Following his gruelling 18,000-mile round-the-world race, Bruce Stevenson Insurance Brokers’ corporate ambassador, Mark Beaumont, lifts the lid on what it took to fuel his body for the pioneering 80-day endurance feat…
‘What are you most looking forward to eating?’ was a frequently asked question in the final days before the finish of my race.
‘I’m looking forward to not eating!’, I would always reply.
Since finishing in Paris and setting the World Record at 78 days and 14 hours, I’ve been amazed by people’s fascination with what needs to be consumed when cycling 240 miles a day, every day, for two-and-a-half months. The answer, somewhat inevitably, is a lot, but perhaps not what one would expect. It is a shame to see Food being reduced to fuel, but when cycling around the world it’s worth remembering that that is fundamentally all it represents. Although, to eat 9,000 calories each 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. 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 well 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.
However, 240 miles and 16 hours a day is another league, mainly because there aren’t many reference points for this kind of endurance test. That said, this time I had the advantage of a full support team, so that a hot chocolate was never more than wish away. Led by Laura Penhaul, my support group spent a long time discussing and trialing different fuelling strategies to ensure sure that I was riding sustainably.
Every morning began at 3.30am by standing on the scales and taking a saliva swab which showed, among 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 1,500 kcal of food per 4 hour block, repeated 4 times a day and with the fluids. The target was up to 1,000ml of calories per block, including 3g of creatine once a day. However, as I suffered from reflux, I found it very hard to eat before 4am and relied on more liquid meals as the journey progressed.
Fats were the fuel of choice, which can mean a difficult adaptation process for an athlete. 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 100 bpm, power less than 200 watts. At this level of output, consistent, high quality, slow-release fats provided far better fuels than simple carbohydrates and sugars for mental and physical endurance.
My biggest mental (and therefore physical) dip of the day always came mid afternoon, after being on the bike for 10-12 hours. That was when a caffeine or sugar boost proved most helpful, although we did try 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. To my horror, I found out that you only have one slice of cake, rather than the entire cake, when in polite company. However, apart from that I have normalized completely and my body seems to have adjusted well from its incredible 18,000-mile feast.