The hard work’s done. You’ve put the hours in on the bike and sweated out over many interval sessions. Now is the time to line up for your first bike race. But what fuelling strategy should you use to get the most out of your training and performance?
We’ve teamed up with Rawvelo - a leading sports nutrition brand for endurance athletes, powered by nature. Their full range of products are completely vegan friendly, packed full of flavour and ready to fuel your next adventure. We’ve worked with Rawvelo to break down some simple aspects of a solid fuelling strategy in preparation for, and on, race day, because nailing your nutrition can help optimise where your energy is used to be at your best.
Let’s start by taking a look at what your body can, and will, take in as fuel. Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy when you're working at higher intensities; if the intensity is lower, then fats will be utilised more; once the carbs have been used up and there’s less fat available the body will start burning muscle protein as a last resort - better know as muscle wastage.
The duration of your race determines how much ‘fuel’ you’ll need to consume to ensure you have all the energy stores you need. For shorter criterium or time trial type races of up to an hour you can get by with less, however, when looking at longer road races for two to three hours or more then your fuelling strategy comes into play even more so.
Taking a step backwards, training is where you can try and adjust things - trial and error so to speak. This is the time where you can use sessions that are most relatable to racing, to really perfect your pre-race meals. These could include a long ride and a hard interval session from the training program as a helpful opportunity to test out fuelling strategies and putting plans into action.
When it comes to what specifically to consume, foods high in carbohydrates - rice or pasta for example - with some light protein, such as eggs, chicken or tofu, is a good place to start. What you eat is just as important as when you eat it; understanding the timing of meals is pivotal to prevent gastrointestinal issues. Somewhere in the region of 2.5 - 4 hours before your session or race is an optimal time to digest and absorb all the nutrients you need to perform at your best. This can vary from person to person though, so, again, it should be tested to see if you need longer to digest your meal or less.
With race start times often varying throughout the day, it is important to opt for foods that you’d likely be used to consuming at that time of day - choosing porridge in the morning over a bowl of rice with chicken will always seem more palatable! Something to bear in mind when approaching a race is the volume of fibre you are consuming, often found in nuts and seeds, or fruit and vegetables. The build up to a race during race week can have the tendency to cause stomach irritation through nerves and excitement. Reducing your fibre intake from about 48-72 hours out can help manage any problems caused by this.
On race day, new foods should be avoided at all costs. Stick to what you know to avoid nasty unexpected surprises. Make sure you’re well hydrated the day before and on race day, then in the hour before the start, sipping on an electrolyte mix such as the Rawvelo Hydration Mix is a great way to stay on top of fluids and electrolyte balance before lining up.
In standard UK summer temperatures, 16-25ºC, a minimum of a 500ml bottle of water or hydration mix should be consumed each hour. A good way to take this on is drinking little and often. For races of over an hour long in duration, you’ll need to incorporate additional carbohydrate intake. For example, consuming two gels in a 60-90 minute race would be recommended, around 20 minutes apart but allowing the last one enough time to digest and take effect, alongside water to aid food absorption and hydration.
Check out how you work out how much you need to drink - watch here
In more prolonged races and also racing on back-to-back days consuming further fuel is vital, aiming for a carbohydrate rich food but with some fat and protein to support your body further. You’re not only fuelling for what’s to come that day but also for the coming days too, as well as jump-starting the recovery process as soon as your race is over. Energy bars are a great form of pre-formulated snack food in-race. Cereal or fruit bars, fig rolls and rice cakes are other top tier choices used by riders at all levels as small bite-sized snacks to have in your pocket during the race to top up those energy levels. Remember though that your body can only consume around 60-80g of carbohydrates per hour, or 0.7 g/kg of body weight - that’s 56g for an 80kg rider. (Estimated Carbohydrates per hour = 0.7 x Body Weight in KG). So don’t try to over do it.
Once again, practice eating and drinking in training beforehand, not only so your body is used to digesting solids during harder intensity, but also so that you’re used to having a hand off the handlebars on the bike too. Another trick is to avoid eating or drinking on a climb when the pace is high and doing so on a less technical section is recommended. This will allow you to better respond to the race, your heart rate will be lower, making it easier to manage consumption and digestion. When you’re breathing hard, your mouth is drier, your heart rate is up and you can’t chew or consume very easily. Likewise, if you’re feeling good and see someone start whipping out an energy bar on a key climb of the route, it’s not a bad moment to attack or ramp up the pace - they’ll soon be fumbling around with the bar and losing what’s left of it from their mouth!
Some athletes will require more fuelling than others and not everyone can handle the same products for nutrition. A great place to start is the Rawvelo Sample Box, this allows you to test a range of different flavour combinations and types of fuelling. Of course, nutrition is a topic which is partially subjective and personal to each rider. No one plan specifically fits all.
Now you are all set with the best know-how to combat your next big achievement. Good luck.