The Road to Dirty Kanza 200 2020 – Part Five – Fueling, Hydration & Nutrition: by Gravel Newbie, Caroline Worrall

I just returned from beautiful Monticello, Florida after the Dirty Pecan 100-mile ride. Given this was my first century on new terrain, I rode this as a hard ride rather than a race. The weather was great this year (albeit cold at the start) and the roads were so much fun. It had rained heavily Thursday night, so I got to experience a variety of new technical elements including red clay tire ruts, drop offs from washed-out roads, and a water/mud crossing. Also, some rolling hills which we don’t have much of here in Gainesville, and very little pavement. This is an event worth doing if you can make it to the area.

dirty kanza 200 training for newbies
Scenes from the 2020 Dirty Pecan

I did okay with my nutrition, but failed with water intake. I can tell because I feel like I have a hangover today. No really issues with performance, but we kept a reasonable pace, so massive calorie intake was not a huge necessity.

dirty kanza 200 training for newbies
Scenes from the 2020 Dirty Pecan

Having done a fair amount of ultra-racing, I have gotten significantly better at fueling on the bike. The one thing I can tolerate well when going hard is SiS gel. These gels are designed to have the same osmolarity as your blood, so the glucose passes through your intestinal wall without the need for any extra water. They also have very little aftertaste which Is good because I think they taste disgusting. Other people report loving the taste, so it’s a matter of personal preference. They work for me, so I don’t really care how they taste. My favorite is Salted Strawberry which includes electrolytes. I’ve considered trying Maurten gels to see if they taste any better.

dirty kanza 200 training for newbies
Scenes from the 2020 Dirty Pecan

In addition to gels, I usually carry regular food, candy, and nut butter filled Clif bars. I bought a great book called Fuel Zone Portables which has multiple recipes on high carb snacks that can be packed in your pockets. That being said, these are always not easy to eat on bumpy roads and half of the food ends up on the ground. I also have tried baked sweet potato cubes, baby red and yellow potatoes boiled in saltwater, Uncrustables (which I would consider disgusting under normal circumstances, but they work on a long ride), and Nutella on potato bread. My go-to candy is Swedish fish, but I usually bring some gummy bears for variety.

dirty kanza 200 training for newbies

My advice for each of the Dirty Kanza checkpoints is to have a variety of your favorite foods. Especially the last one, as you will have no idea what will taste good at that moment. The last thing you want is to stop eating because nothing you have seems appealing. (Another pro tip, have a small bottle of mouthwash at each aid station and rinse out your mouth before you leave. It goes a long way to combating taste fatigue.)

When I competed in my first 24-hour race, I actually researched fueling strategies by talking to ultra-runners. One made the comment that an ultra-race was an eating contest as much as a sporting one. Now I get teased by my cycling group for being on a rolling picnic when on the group ride because I am always eating and testing out new foods.

dirty kanza 200 training for newbies

Some people can survive on just one thing such as Tailwind or Gatorade; Chris Strasser drinks nothing but Endure for the 7+ days it takes him to get across America. If this is you, then you are lucky, but don’t assume it is you unless you have tested it out. 125 miles into the Dirty Kanza 200 is the wrong time to find out that you absolutely cannot swallow one more sip of energy drink.

For hydration, I will be carrying two 24-ounce bottles, one of which will have Nuun in it, and a Camelbak Chase vest  (women’s version here) that carries 1.5 liters. This was the set up that I had at the Dirty Pecan and I planned to refill my bottles and vest at the 50-mile mark. This should have been plenty… except I only finished two bottles and half the water in the vest, and we were out there for seven-plus hours. No wonder I feel like $hit today.

I have a reminder set up on my watch to drink every six minutes and I’ve gotten pretty good at it on the road. On gravel, however, sometimes I don’t hear the reminder or I can’t take my hands off the bars just then or I just forget. I probably need about three-quarters of a bottle per hour in cool weather and a bottle per hour in hot weather. I’m not a heavy sweater, but clearly more water would be better. Any suggestions with improving my performance in this arena would be welcome.

A huge part of success on the bike comes from nutrition off the bike. I am not a dietitian nor do I play one on Gravel Cyclist TV, so I am just giving you my two cents about nutrition based on what I have learned over my lifetime.

First off, I am not a huge fan of spending money to shave weight off your bike until you shave all the weight you can off your body. Currently, I could lose about five to seven pounds without affecting my performance. In theory, it should be pretty easy to do given those pounds crept onto my body via eating and drinking crap (chocolate ice cream, chocolate bars, beer, fresh croissants). And when I say this, I mean crap from a health standpoint. From a taste standpoint, it’s all pure deliciousness.

My diet (and by diet, I mean what I eat on a daily basis, not a “diet” in the infomercial sort of way) tends to fluctuate between “pretty healthy” and “I’m sliding into a pit of chocolate despair” based on what events I have coming up and what sort of other life stressors sneak up on me.

As I prep for Dirty Kanza 200, I will try to tip towards the healthy scale. In general, I try to keep to the common sense side of things: lean meats, fruits and vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. My daily goal will be to take in at least four servings of vegetables (no, fruit is not included in that four, but legumes are) and avoid as much refined sugar and flour as possible. I will also limit alcoholic drinks to one or two a week because alcohol tends to mess with my sleep. Following these three rules will drop my weight down to its optimal range without a whole lot of effort and without compromising my training.

Spinach, tomatoes, avacado and beet juice

I do not count calories, but I do pay attention to things like getting protein every four hours and making sure I get 4600 mg of potassium each day (seriously, look at the potassium consumption in your diet – you will be shocked).

dirty kanza 200 training for newbies
Oatmeal with walnuts and berries, eggs, and coffee

A typical breakfast is two eggs, plain oatmeal with walnuts and berries, and a cup of coffee. Lunch is a vegetable or two, a protein, an apple or berries, and a cup of beet juice or V8 (see potassium). Dinner is basically lunch with an extra vegetable. I snack on fruit and drink primarily water. My go-to carb-loading meal is a sweet potato with rice and my recovery drink is a smoothie concoction that looks pretty gross (milk, yogurt, spinach, strawberries, an egg, and peanut butter), but I like it and it sneaks in an extra serving of vegetables. In general, I keep a pretty simple diet because I don’t have time for complexity and, really, I’m just not that interested.

dirty kanza 200 training for newbies
Brussel sprouts, yogurt with berries and pecans, beet juice

In my opinion, scientists have spent a lot of time on how to fix health problems and less time on how to prevent health problems. That means there are a lot of unanswered diet questions out there. Vegetables have been confirmed to be good for you and lots of refined sugar is not. And get lots of sleep.



  1. Avatar Steve Bailey

    Really enjoying this article series Caroline. I have been using e gels from crank sports. They have a lot more electrolytes and I can just drink water. They taste a lot better than sis I do love the cliff bars as well. Thanks for writing

    • Avatar Caroline

      Thanks. I’ll test those out. I’m always looking for something to add to the arsenal.

  2. Avatar Mike

    Agree, I like the series, it has been a great read. Since you like the fruit and vegetable angle, maybe mix in some spring energy and try them if you haven’t. I like to mix them in when I want something clean/refreshing and do a similar food mix. I think you should always error on the side of more water and food than you think and you will feel much better later in the day.

    I also try to load some long burn food early on (like the nut bars) and then mix them back in around 2 hours getting real food mixed in every once in a while with your gels/hydration.

    You are doing great with trying what works for you and finding the right balance.

    Hydration is always a challenge for everything it seems. I prefer on the long rides a bladder and pack since that is so much easier to get into my mouth than reaching for a bottle. I do the same thing you do and have bottles mixed with strong electrolytes and then chase it with water in the bladder to keep balance.

    I will force a long drink if I feel like I am off track and get as much as I can at once before I get too gone. I have stopped before just long enough to take the cap off and force myself to take down the remaining bottle I have if I didn’t do it in my hour per bottle rule or at a spot I can comfortably get it in hand.

    I also recommend if you don’t already to pre-hydrate the night before with a maurten drink or your nuuns to bump up what you are bringing in before you start and give your body the 24 hours to get it topped off. I think if I am not going to the bathroom like once an hour going into the event I am not topped off, not sure if that is proper thinking or not but it seems to have worked well for me in Arizona.

    • Avatar Caroline

      Thanks, I think forcing myself to finish a bottle each hour is a great idea. It’s humid here in Florida, so we don’t suffer so much from spotty hydration, but I rode in St.George, Utah last year and thought I had enough water, I ran out three miles from the end of the ride and it was 108 degrees. I actually had to stop to catch my breath a quarter mile from the finish. I can imagine that Arizona would be similar.

      I’ll definitely give the Spring Energy a try. It looks great and I like the fact that they have a range of products based on the effort that I’ll be putting out.

  3. Avatar Larry Brenize

    Caroline love reading your prep for Dirty Kanza. I did some of the ultra roadie stuff and had no problem or little problem with bonking. On the gravel side I get more excited and watching the lines too much that I don’t drink or eat like I did on the road. Not sure if anybody has suggested this or if you have tried it but do you deaden the front end of your bike some by riding 5 lbs. less psi in the front so you hands/arms don’t take a beating? Good luck on your ride. I am trying to get ready for the Gravel Worlds 150 at my end.

    • Avatar Caroline

      Thank you! I agree with you. It’s way easier to remember food and drink on the asphalt. I will try playing around with the psi in the front wheel. Good luck at Gravel Worlds. That looks like a great event. Maybe in 2021. 😉

  4. Avatar Larry Brenize

    I forgot to add on the randonneur end lots of riders boiled potatoes to take with them. They then put olive oil on them and salt would stick to them.

  5. Avatar Scott C

    The Tropical SIS gels aren’t too bad, but the Cherry tastes like cherry air freshener. I’ve been using Tailwind for a year and I like it, but I feel like it isn’t enough. Actually, I know it isn’t enough. I add a little pink salt to mine, and I may think about upping the amount to 3 scoops per big bottle.
    I try to eat something every 30 minutes: 3 Clif Bloks (currently liking the salted watermelon), half a banana or a gel. I had a bunch of bananas that were about to go bad so I dried them in a food dehydrator. They taste good but I don’t know how many calories there are in each serving. I tried uncrustables but they typically turn into a hot mess and can be hard to eat when you are working on a case of dry mouth.
    Bear in mind, I’m a big so I need more calories than the smols.

    I played around with a 4 liter Camelbak last year but I struggle with knowing how much I’m drinking. On a 200k brevet, I wound up only drinking 1 liter of water on a hot day. That sucked. I have since added a 3rd bottle cage and I can fit a fold up Platypus bottle in my frame bag if needed.

    Anyway, I don’t have any advice for you, you are clearly better at this than I am. But thanks a lot for sharing your prep process. It’s helping a lot by making me (and others) look at our own processes.

    • Avatar Caroline

      Thank you! That is great to hear. I love getting to hear what others are doing. It makes a huge difference in my own planning.

  6. Avatar George K

    I understand the flavor cleansing blast of mouthwash, but… this:

    The SIS gels are pretty good if you ask me. Only the Espresso one was odd at first. I can snork it down quick enough and its not a big deal. Cherry is the best.

    Maurtens is good stuff, but if you think the SIS stuff is a tough swallow, you had better be ready for this one. It is an odd mix of maple syrup and something else. Not heavy, just odd. And you MUST get the mixture right with water or its not as good. It does pack a lot of calories though.

    Ultimately a healthy diet is just that: eat as much unprocessed crap as you can, limit excess sugar and otherwise be well balanced. Ultimately enjoy what you eat because that will make you happy and motivate you do more.

    • Avatar Caroline

      That is a fascinating study. I’m thinking though that just rinsing my mouth out with minty water would have the same effect for eliminating flavor fatigue. I’ll have to try the cherry.

  7. Avatar Caroline

    Thank you for sharing your prep. It’s nice to hear that other people struggle with this as well. Seriously, this has been a great experience because I am learning so much. I tend to sound way more confident than I feel, I’m sure. It’s the mom in me. I have to test the Uncrustables on a long ride. I’ve only had them on shorter rides. Maybe I’ll just leave them in my aid station bag. One thing I carry with me, just in case, is a tube of Base salts (and truly, you could just put some pink salt in a tube and carry that).

    • Avatar Scott C

      It’s funny, the more gravel races I do, the more I realize it’s not really about the bike or the riding, it’s about the hydration and nutrition. Especially for people in my (50+) age group. Before my first gravel century, I wondered “How am I gonna do this?” Now I wonder “How am I gonna carry all of my groceries (and a small bike shop)?”

      • Avatar Caroline

        Haha, that is so true. I am also 50+. I definitely play Tetris with my food, body care products, and bike tools, making sure they are all where I can reach them when I need them.

  8. Avatar Lyford

    50+ year-old male here. My normal diet is very low in sugars, and gels absolutely do not work for me. I’ve had the best luck on long rides with homemade rice bars, which seem to provide a steady level of fuel. i suspect it’s the mixture of carbs, fat, and protein. It’s nice having savory flavors instead of just sweet. Favorite combinations include egg & cheese with smoked paprika, and a Pad Thai- inspired bar with peanut butter, garlic, ginger, and lime. I do keep a sweeter option, such as mini Clif bars, in case I need a quick boost. Homemade dried fruit/nut/chocolate balls also work for a quick hit.
    I’ve had good luck with Skratch as a drink. With any sports drink it’s good to experiment with the concentration — people vary in how much salt they sweat.

    • Avatar Caroline

      Yes, the Feed Zone Portables has some rice cake recipes. Another book with some good on the go snacks is Run Fast. Eat Slow. by Shalene Flanigan.

  9. Avatar John Bronze

    Difficult to make any useful contribution based on my own preferences because, as you rightly say, its such an individual need. You are spot on in saying its good to have a variety of foods available near the end of the event as you really won’t know what you want until that time and place. My own preferences are always for salty foods at the tail end of a long day and my one thing I always carried in very long events was a little pot of a few stuffed olives. They always hit the spot after a day of sugary drinks!
    And of course, practice the nutritional strategy before race day. But you’re already on that!!

    • Avatar Caroline

      Actually that is something I totally forgot to mention. Salty snacks are so key. I have been saved by many a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips. Not a great on the bike snack, but a good quick hit at the rest stop.

  10. My wife bought the book ‘Roar’ by Stacy Sims, and it has changed the way she eats during and after riding. And yes, I have read a bunch of it also, even though targeted at women, Sims knows sports nutrition like few others and is a great resource.

    • Avatar Caroline

      It’s a fantastic book and I have recommended it to a lot of women. I have read it a couple times because it can get technical at times. It definitely changed how I look at my diet as well as structuring my training around my cycle.

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