Signing up for an endurance event is rewarding, motivating and exciting! Whether its a century, gran fondo, 50+mile mountain bike race or stage race, you will generally find a coach or follow a training plan to prepare your body for the physical challenge. But one aspect that many athletes find hard to figure out is their on the bike nutrition. Some people just guess or rely on the food provided during the feed zones at the race. Others find themselves bonking, cramping, or running low on energy at the end of the ride or race. With big races like Leadville and Breck Epic and Tour of the White Mountains coming up, planning your ride food is extremely important for a successful race.
As a coach and pro mountain biker, I have some tips on preparing for your upcoming endurance race. Some of these things I have dialed in from racing Leadville to the Absa Cape Epic (an 8 day 500 mile stage race in South Africa) and have recommended to my athletes. I have also consulted in the expertise of nutritionist Julie Cornelius, MS.
1. Train with the food you will be using in your race.
Never wait until race day to experiment with your race food. Take at least 8 weeks in advance to practice riding with the food and drink you plan to use. This gives you time to figure out what works for you. I personally prefer eating bars, dried fruit and honey.
2. Make your food easy to access on your bike.
I recommend taking bars out of packages and breaking them into 100 calorie bites. You don’t have to worry about opening a package on the bike and it’s easy to keep track of how many calories you are consuming per hour ( we will talk about calorie consumption later). Also put your food in pockets that are easy to access or have a bento box on your top tube to make reaching it easy. I like to use the back right pocket of my jersey and the side pockets of my hydration pack.
3. Consume 200-300 calories per hour and drink plenty of fluids.
Nutritionist Julie Cornelius says, your body can only process a limited amount of calories and carbohydrates while you are riding. When you are riding and racing, blood flow gets diverted from the digestive tract and is pumped to your working muscles. If you eat more than your body can digest, it can leave your stomach not feeling great. The amount of calories a person can digest is dependent on the person and the intensity of the ride/race. Like mentioned in tip number 1, always try foods out before race day and figure out what you can tolerate! Focus on carbohydrate rich foods and don’t forget to hydrate! For events longer than 2 hours, make sure to sip on an electrolyte drink in addition to water.
4. Make sure you eat the morning of the ride.
Many races start very early and it can be hard to consume many calories before the race. A few things you can try are making a smoothie, or having a meal supplement shake. Find food that’s easy to eat as your nerves will make it challenging to eat. For the Absa Cape Epic, we had breakfast but as I found myself feeling more lethargic through the week, I began to eat more plain oatmeal, and take a meal supplement shake that had been recommended by nutritionist Julie Cornelius. This helped me get extra calories and carbohydrates to top off my glycogen stores that I needed to complete each stage.
5. Bring your own food for the race.
Some people rely on what the race will provide in the feed stations however they then realize the food isn’t exactly what they expected or like. It isn’t the race promoters job to find food that appeals to everyone. Bring the food you have been training with and use the feed station as a bonus. If you like a certain drink mix, get single packets to carry with you or just add some mix to a small baggie to carry. If you have a very long race, some races offer bag drops at certain stations where you can have access to your own food and bottles.
I hope these tips will help you planning your all important nutrition for your next endurance race!
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About Melissa Ross:
Melissa Ross is Co-Founder of Potential Energy Training and Nutrition. She has an extensive career in cycling and athletics. Melissa’s 11+years in the sport as an athlete and 5 years as a coach has taken her all over the world from touring Italy, racing across Europe and the US as a professional athlete (with the US development team and riding for Team Kenda), to becoming a pro mountain biker, exploring the trails across Arizona and even recently competing in the Absa Cape Epic in South Africa! Melissa has an incredible desire to help other people reach their full potential and bring the passion of having a healthy lifestyle into their lives.
Julie Cornelius, MS is Co-founder of Potential Energy Training & Nutrition. She has an extensive background in nutrition and graduated from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ with both her Bachelors of Science and Masters of Science in Nutrition. She has worked in fitness studios helping clients achieve their nutrition goals, spent two years teaching college nutrition courses, and was the founder of Julie Bar, an energy bar company. Julie is a long time cyclist and mountain biker who loves being outdoors. Julie helps individuals to meet their nutrition goals, whether it is eating to win an endurance mountain bike race, losing weight, or just eating to be healthier. Contact: email@example.com