There’s nothing worse than training your heart out for an event to have it to all fall apart on the day due to poorly planned nutrition. It’s something we see all too often. The kilometres are in the bank, the hills have been climbed, your bike is tuned, and you have a plan on how you will approach each day. But how well have you planned your fuel?
Nutrition isn’t something you should just think about for event day. How your fuel before, during and after training will decide the quality of your training, your recovery from sessions, and ultimately how well you perform on each day of your event.
Our bodies are built to move, and this requires us to eat regularly. Add training for a multiday bike ride, and suddenly the grocery bills start to increase! As your exercise levels rise, the energy you burn also increases. Being prepared is key as you will reach for the closest thing if you are hungry, and often make poor food choices which won’t aid your recovery from sessions.
Keep your food choices clean, as unprocessed as possible and low in refined sugars. Your plate should have a good mix of clean carbs, simple protein and good fats. In simple terms key things to keep in mind:
Carbohydrate: essential for energy output.
Protein: essential for recovery and cell regeneration.
Fat: essential for transportation of nutrients around the body.
Breakfast is a key component on heavy training days and each morning of your event. On a morning when you have a session of 60mins or less, you can get away with having a small amount of carbs pre-training such as a banana or slice of toast. Longer sessions require something more substantial.
On each day of the event, you should eat a normal breakfast. You can also top up on electrolytes in the morning. 15-20mins before you start, add in 20-30 grams of carbs: a banana or sports bar are good options.
The week prior to the event, you will decrease your training load, this is called ‘Tapering’. Eat normally as this naturally starts to build your glycogen/energy stores ready for day 1.
Built into your event days are regular stops for morning tea and lunch but, you need to get used to eating on the bike and solid foods are essential. Aim to get your body weight in kgs in grams of carbs in per hour i.e 70kgs = 70grams per hour. If you only like water when you train, then ALL your carbs need to come from food.
Carbs can be in the form of sports drink, bars, bananas, chews, gels etc. Test out what works for you in training and stick with it.
Break things down into robotic eating. Set an alarm to bleep on your sports watch every 10mins to remind you to eat. Alternate food and water together, but have a sports drink on its own so you don’t overload your stomach. Play with one hour on liquid nutrition (gels, water, sports drink), one hour on solids (bars, chew, water).
If you feel sick, then just miss that 10min feed and take on some water. You can also add salt tablets into your riding. This will take care of electrolytes which are essential to your body’s ability to stay hydrated and are a great option if you don’t like sports drink. Dehydration greater than 2% will have a detrimental effect on your body to perform during sport.
Recovery is a key part of your training and it’s an essential part of multiday riding. If you don’t refuel correctly and quickly your body's ability to back up the next day will become compromised.
Hitting the café post ride is great, but make sure that latte is accompanied by some solid food. Aim for your bodyweight kgs in grams of carbs within 45mins of stopping exercise. This meal should be a good balance of proteins, carbs and fat.
The larger in volume and intensity your training session, the more important your post training fuel becomes. Protein is a key component of recovery, so whatever you eat, make sure it contains a protein source. Supplement this if needed with a good quality protein powder which you can have in a shake with some berries, banana, oats etc as soon as you get back from training.
Continue to drink water throughout the day post training and once of the bike on each stage of the event. It’s a great idea to add in a bottle of electrolytes or a rehydration tablet if you have sweated heavily. If you feel sluggish a few hours after training it can be dehydration.
As with any event, adapting to the conditions on the day are essential. If it’s hot you will sweat more, meaning the intake of fluid needs to be increased. Cold may cause you to sweat less but we can still loose substantial moisture as we wear more layers to keep warm.
Bad weather conditions on the day could see you out on the road for longer than planned. A head wind for 50kms will tax everyone, if you spend time on the front don’t forget to eat and drink as planned.
If you have to stop to fix a mechanical, remember to eat. We’ve seen athletes stop for 10mins by the side of the road and miss a window for fuel, then try to ‘make up’ time on the bike by riding harder. Disaster strikes soon after.
Every athlete we work with is slightly different, nutrition is a very personal thing. Find out what works for you by testing it during training. Be prepared for the challenges that face you during the event both from a physical and a nutritional perspective. With any endurance event, be ready to adapt and adjust your sails as the days unfold.
** this article is meant as a general guide only. If you have any concerns over your fuel during training and racing, we recommend you contact a qualified sports nutritionist who can work with you on your personal requirements**