In which Endurance 101 covers food and fluids for riders

Endurance 101: Human fluids + food, and why you need them
Here’s a topic that I totally overlooked when I began riding endurance:  taking care of myself!

I studied and researched and queried and did all kinds of thinking about what (and when, and how) to feed, water and electrolyte my horse during a ride, and gave absolutely no thought whatsoever to my own metabolic needs.

And guess what?  That strategy didn’t work out nearly as well as you might think!

Endurance is hard.  To finish your event, you will want every scrap of extra energy and every single grey cell the Almighty left in your custody; you can’t afford to compromise any of those tools.  Your horse is depending upon you to take care of yourself so that you can make good decisions on his behalf!

Where I live, we don’t think much about a need to consume water.  It falls from the sky pretty constantly 11 months each year, for one thing, and it seeps into our boots pretty constantly for those same 11 months.  There’s not enough time in our 4 weeks of “summer” to bleach all the moss from Swamplanders' bones, so we really don’t think about our blood drying out.

However, when Swamplanders like me travel to rides on the Dry Side of the Cascade Mountain range (which is where most of our region’s rides are held) we encounter a totally different environment:  a place where the sky can rain down for two hours in the morning and the ground will be bone-dry by noon. 

Guess what happens to Swamplanders when they travel to dry regions without adding a lot of extra fluid to their diets?

The word shrivel comes to mind. 

If you live in a drier climate, or if you won’t be changing weather systems when you compete, your experience may not be so extreme.  However, as I discussed in the post about DIMR, 1% dehydration is enough to affect mental acuity, and not in a good way.  At 2% dehydration, your aerobic endurance performance is reduced, and this is exacerbated if you continue to exercise in a hot environment. 

Dehydration doesn’t just impair your reflexes and gross motor skills, either:  it directly affects your mental acuity and alertness, and YOU ARE GOING TO NEED ALL THAT STUFF on the endurance trail!

Sports drinks aren’t usually necessary unless you are exercising very hard in an environment much hotter than your normal training conditions, or if you are extremely sensitive to heat. If the flavor of sports drinks will encourage you to drink more fluids, consider splitting an 8-ounce sport drink between 4 large water bottles, and topping up the bottle with water.  Most sports drinks contain a bunch of sugars which can cause a severe boink when they wear off, especially if you are still an hour or two away from the vetcheck. 

So.  Drink your water.  Start consuming extra fluids two days before the ride if possible.  I understand that this makes driving long distances a bit awkward…consider, however, that your rest-stops are also brief breaks for the horses in the trailer, and that’s a good thing.  Remember that if you aren't peeing, you aren't drinking enough fluids.  Drink your water.   Drink your water.  Drink your water.   

Every rider is different and has different preferences and needs during a ride weekend.  On the evening before the ride, I strongly advise you to avoid excess alcohol (which contributes to dehydration, among other things you don’t want to cope with on ride day) and carbonated beverages (because those bubbles are really unwelcome on the first leg of a ride when the horses are all fizzy). 

Other foods that riders remind each other to avoid include chili and anything spicy.  Suffice to say that my friend Aimee and I were very glad that we had only signed up to ride a limited distance event the day after we snacked our way through a large bag of dried gourmet wasabi peas.  Save the gumbo, the greasy sausage, and the coconut rum drinks for the night after the ride.  Trust me.

Here’s my go-to list of foods for ride weekend:

Friday (day before the ride) – lots of protein, lots of crunchy veggies and fruit, and lots of water.  I try to have

·       a tuna sandwich and/or

·       a hard-boiled egg for lunch with

·       an apple and some

·       snap peas or broccoli

for dinner, I like

·       chicken + pasta + veggies for dinner (recipe below),

and I keep a ziplock bag of salted almonds and cashews in my pocket for snacks.

Saturday (day of the ride)

·       oatmeal + applesauce for breakfast, plus

·       some yogurt and

·       a banana if I can choke it down (I often have a nervous stomach before the start line)

At the vetchecks, I seek out

·       V-8 juice (an excellent source of electrolytes!) and

·       an apple or

·       some string cheese

At the lunch stop, I like

·       peanut butter + banana sandwiches

·       more V-8 juice or

·       a bottle of iced tea if the weather is hot.

I carry Belly Timber bars in my pockets during the event, because they are easy to chew, swallow, and digest, and they don’t turn disgusting if they get hot or squashed. 

I “decaffinate” myself the week before a ride because I can never choke down a whole cup of tea on ride morning, and the headache at miles 7 is unbelievable if I’m accustomed to drinking 2 or 3 cups of caffeine each morning. 

After the ride

·       PROTEIN!  This is the time that I really want meat and beans and cheese, and lots of ‘em!

·       FLAVOR!  My buddy Paul’s amazing Cajun gumbo is the best post-ride food I’ve ever had.  Lots of spice, lots of flavor.  Absolute bliss.

·       CRUNCH!  Once the ride is over, I’m willing to spend the energy to eat crispy vegetables again.  Celery, fresh snap peas, and broccoli always taste extra-good to me at dinner time.

·       A beer.  Nothin’ nicer. 

For your first few rides, pack a variety of foods to eat in camp before and after the ride, and a wide variety of stuff that you think might appeal to you at vetchecks.  Don’t forget that you will get tired—and cooking and eating seems like hard work to a tired rider. Be careful to avoid foods that sometimes bring on allergies and sensitivities during a ride weekend—the excitement and exercise may make your reactions more severe.   Bring things to eat that are “easy.”  I even know several riders who pack little jars of baby food or applesauce in their coolers. 

Keep track of what you eat and what you don’t.  I pitch all the food-trash back into a cooler, and then take notes about which packages and peelings are empty at the end of a weekend so I can figure out which foods I actually ate and which foods I ignored during the event.  The list of “foods eaten” becomes the shopping list for the next event.

“Green Stuff”: Pre-ride Pasta and Pesto and Veggies
Fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, and whatever veggies look good at the market

Mix these with:
Pesto, either homemade or from the store
Pre-cooked bite-sized chunks of chicken, beef, pork or shrimp 

Then, boil up a bag of
Fresh or frozen ravioli

When the ravioli is cooked, drain away the water and immediately add the vegetables and serve.  “Green Stuff” is the only food I’ve ever given to my young cowboy friends and had them come back and ask for another serving of vegetables.

You can toss the veggies into the water with the pasta if you like your veggies slightly softened, and then stir the pesto in after you drain away the water.

This is also very nice served cold.


  1. Mmmm, pesto and sauteed veggies and meat sounds good!

    People probably think you're kidding about shriveling up, but it's true! I shrivel when I leave SF and get back into the mountains.

    I love a cold steak, sliced thinly and salted and tossed in a ziplock. Stick it with a cold pack in your crew bag and it'll be delicious at lunch.

  2. I, too, have a nervous stomach in the mornings, so much that most "solid" food sticks in my gullet. I can barely fight my way through a half-cup of oatmeal.

    So this past year I was delighted to discover the pleasure of protein-based "diet" food. Not trying to sound like a slim-fast commercial, but I reduced my morning repast to two protein shakes and a vitamin water (for electrolytes).

    I'll have another vitamin water at all subsequent checks, plus plain water in between and either a protein bar or turkey jerky somewhere along the way.

    So far, this routine is the only one that has kept me from nausea and light-headedness at the final trot-out. I used to get so-so-soooooo sick.

    The evening after, I really like canned green beans or chicken broth. I think it might be my body asking for salt.

    None of the products are particularly "natural," but they got the job done.

    A ziplock full of steak sounds heavenly for afterwards. I've grilled steaks and porkchops the night before a ride, but I rarely have the energy after. Next time I'll make an extra for later!

  3. I spent all day craving a baggie of steak. Thanks a lot.

    wv: terse: My comment to you, after craving steak all day but eating del taco for dinner instead.

    PS: I think we are going to cook Green Stuff for dinner this weekend.

  4. I think Aarene forgot to mention one of the perks of endurance riding: you get to eat anything you want for at least two days afterwards. ;)


Post a Comment

To err is human. To be anonymous is not.

Popular Posts