Fueling For Cycling Stage Races (Without Sugar!)

Published on 08/08/2014 by
Bikes on Car, ready for cycling stage racing

Publisher's note: The  recommendations in this article on fueling for cycling stage races can be used for a wide variety of endurance sports.

Pasta with plenty of fresh, organic veggies, healthy fats and lean meat is a great source of nutrient-rich complex carbs (starches) and protein for your pre-race training table.

Guest Post By Joan Kent

Stage races can be long (Tour de France) or short. Shorter, weekend stage races might feature a time trial and road race on Day 1 and a criterium on Day 2. These points on fueling for them were culled from cycling books and magazines, cycling websites, and my coach.

Ideal fueling starts with Body Recalibration, a fancy name for conditioning your body for recovery. Recovery should begin at least 6 weeks before race season. (An even better practice is to eat well year-round, but we have to start somewhere - and it's late in the season).

Start by eliminating junk, assuming you ever indulge in any! Junk includes alcohol, sugar, caffeine, high-fat chips, and such. If you tend to fuel with sugar before and during trainings, it's a good idea to eliminate it as part of this process.

My coach always said that endurance athletes never mind expending energy but don't want to waste it. Wasted energy refers to anything without a performance payoff. Having to detox from chemicals and junk like sugar wastes energy.

Next, add the good stuff. Eat natural foods whenever possible, rather than processed. Emphasize vegetables (3-6 cups a day), rather than fruit. Fructose is associated with many health issues and isn't good fuel for training.

If it's possible to eat organic foods, do. At least stay away from The Dirty Dozen with the highest pesticide levels: apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, bell peppers, nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, potatoes. Three foods recently added to the list are kale, collards and hot peppers, so it's a Dirty 15.

Eat the same types of foods that you eat during training. Race day is no time for nutritional surprises. Yes, if you've been junking out all the way up to race day, you might as well eat that way for the races.

Don't deplete carbohydrates or skip meals, especially race-day breakfast. Eat some extra starches 1-2 days before the event.

The primary nutrition concerns in racing are:

• Replacing water. Dehydration reduces blood volume; increases heart rate and perceived exertion; impairs thermoregulation, mental performance, and endurance.

• Replacing sodium. Low sodium can result in disorientation, nausea, fatigue, seizures, or collapse. Salt your food instead of using supplements.

• Saving glycogen during the race so it's there at the end when you need it. (In a previous article, I described how to make a do-it-yourself potato "goo". That works.)

• Replacing glycogen after the race so you perform well in the next stage. High-GI starch and protein in a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio replace glycogen better than sugar, including fruit. Don't eat fats immediately after the race. They slow carb absorption.

Eat 3 hours or more before the race starts. If you're not adapted to that, consider it part of Body Recalibration. Avoid eating 30-60 minutes before the start, which may be too close to the effort. Find a food combination that works for you, but avoid all-carb (especially all-sugar) meals. They can lead to reactive hypoglycemia in susceptible athletes and cause bonking. Include protein and fat.

Refuel within 30 minutes after your race. Always. Be fanatical about it. Glycogen replacement is maximized during that 30 minutes because the enzyme glycogen synthetase is in its active form and facilitates peak storage. You'll also counteract cortisol's breakdown of muscle protein for energy and will reduce soreness - very important for the next stage. If you miss the 30-minute window, your muscles may be temporarily insulin resistant for several hours. That inhibits glycogen replacement and may interfere with your performance in the next stage.

Eat again 2 hours later and 4 hours later, or 3 hours prior to the next stage. If you race twice that day, stay aware of how many calories you're expending and consuming. Many convenient devices worn on the wrist provide this information.

Racing at over 20 mph while drafting burns roughly 12 kcal/kg/hr. Without drafting, that could increase to 15 kcal/kg/hr. Gender, size, and muscle mass affect those values. Efficiency (good technique) can lower them. The more you ride overall, the less you may burn.

The goal during racing is to postpone fatigue, not replace all the calories you've burned. Full calorie replacement occurs during recovery.

Refuel within 30 minutes after the last race of the day, especially if you have to race again the next!

If you're an indoor cycling instructor, these points may help on days that you teach several classes.

Cyclists may resist the idea that it's possible to fuel for training and racing without sugar, but it's true. I've worked with many endurance, ultra-endurance and racing cyclists and helped them improve performance, energy, and recovery. One endurance rider wrote, "I recover so much better and don't suffer the fatigue I used to. I'm raring to go the day after a long ride." I'd be happy to help. Please visit http://www.foodaddictionsolutions.com.

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photo credit: Let Ideas Compete via photopin cc

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