While clean water is plentiful in Europe, food for endurance is incredibly important and beyond regular nutritional best practice specific geographical and psychological considerations of a race like the Transcontinental throw up some unique elements that over time can become more significant. The geographical elements will determine what access to food the racer might have. Cultural tendencies, economic wealth and remoteness of the region all play a part as do opening hours and the proximity of businesses to the racer’s chosen route. Siestas in many European countries will be an inconvenience for many racers and petrol station convenience stores may feature heavily for the sake of expedience. On the other hand local cuisine may prove too tempting a distraction for a hungry racer to ignore, but a laid back delivery may cost them time.
Psychologically the battle is one of discipline – to eat the food in the first place and to maintain a healthy mental disposition throughout the race that benefits good judgement and performance. This is where the taste, texture and satiety of the food can, to a point, be more important than its nutritional composition. Eating energy products regularly whilst on the bike might be the most efficient way of fueling but it can get boring very quickly and cravings can distract the racer. As riders become more fatigued appetite can wane and discipline suffers meaning that it doesn’t matter how nutritional the food is, if it doesn’t get eaten, it won’t help the rider.
Eating a variety of foods that the rider enjoys is the best way to ensure a regular flow of calories and as the race progresses over a number of days the metabolism of the rider will change and adapt to the fuel that is being provided. Fat burning mechanisms come more into play and provide a more steady output meaning that phenomena like sugar spikes and hypoglycemia become less likely and riders have the freedom to eat a wider range of foods with confidence that the body is becoming more efficient at exploiting the energy content of whatever it is they eat, regardless of its make up.
Fueling the brain is as important as fueling the body and towards the end of long tours the effects of lack of sleep and carbohydrate deficiencies can weaken resolve, increase anxiety and bias judgement. The regular feedback cues from the body to refuel become more subtle though so with experience a racer can use mood as a reliable indicator of their energy levels.
The bottom line though is that well fed is well fast. Those who can keep the most calories going in whilst staying on the bike for the longest will move the quickest.