With all the hype about nutrition and sports-nutrition, it is hard to know what you should use to do your best on race day. My advice is always to practice what you *think* you should use on race day on your key workouts (intensity, volume, race-specific simulation). Race nutrition, in very simple terms, can be tested by asking if you achieved your goal, if not then perhaps you need more. If you felt sick then perhaps you did too much fuel (or not enough water). There are some variables around race nerves and hot weather, but generally, the issues on race day are due to not practicing at your race intensity, in race-like conditions (heat) and with the same fuel type, amounts as you will need on race day.
Remember you are Resilient and The other 23 hrs of the day
It is important to remember that hydration and fueling are important but that we can do a lot without, so if you end up short, drop a bottle, miss a feed it is fine. In short events the difference is not huge, especially if you do not get stressed about it. Practicing *WITHIN REASON* some fasted rides or less hydrated rides are worthwhile if it is likely in races. While we stress about getting that sugar-high it is more common that riders loose time trying to get bottles out of cages, carrying heavy and bulky hydration packs and just plain thinking too much about food/water and not about racing. Focus on the race when you are racing. Your training is meant to make all these practices automatic and normal, do not do different things on race day.
There are a few factors but it is not uncommon for the front-runners in a race to be lighter (slightly dehydrated) at the finish compared to the slowest finishers who take on more water and maintain or even gain weight, which can have consequences at extremes.
It is also very important to consider how you eat pre, post and during the rest of your days in the months ahead of any event. Your body composition, energy, sleep and ultimately your performance is affected by this. If you only eat sugar, eat constantly (graze), get hangry, or find your sleep is off then there are some lifestyle factors that need attention much more than the order of your race day chews, chomps and waffles do.
Mix – Many people like the convenience of getting fuel with their hydration. This works well for some applications but be careful in extreme conditions where the mix may become less palatable or when you need to drink more. water relative to fueling (ie. hot weather). Some people find gels hard to get down and so mix may be a better option.
Gels are nice because they are separate from your water consumption. So when it is very hot you can fuel with the gels and use cold water to douse yourself and to hydrate. These can be in the form of gel packets, gel flasks or ‘blocks’ and gummies.
Bars/solids are generally for endurance rides and long events where you are mostly under 85% … some people can stomach more of this while others will need to be careful.
Electrolyte tablets are nice to add some taste and light calories/electrolytes to drinks, they may help you drink more (if that is required). Many athletes make the mistake of only using this and do not end up fueling their work capacity (ie. they go slow, do not recover, risk over-training in long-term).
There are rules of thumb for fueling Hydration
(satisfy with gels, bars, mix as above)
200+ kcal an hour (50-60 grams carbohydrate (the more you can eat/absorb an hour the faster you will generally go BUT you also risk of GI issues. Elite Ironman athletes will push this up much higher (4-500kcal/hr). There is a balance and optimal for each of us … this can be trained and is not specific to body weight).
Water at 16-20 oz an hour depending on heat and sweat rate … in extreme heat/exertion perhaps more but as getting to top end or higher adding salt/electrolyte is likely important/wise. (shake of sea salt is great)
Plan your event strategy ahead of time (and practice it):
9:30am-11am (3hrs PRIOR TO RACE/WU) – eat a pre-race meal (cereal, rice/eggs, whey+cereal, banana and Clif bar, pasta/eggs, Peanut butter and jam/honey sandwich)
*rare to use meat/veggies/fat/fiber in the prerace meal ** thinking about pre-race as ‘breakfast’ may be helpful
12:30 warmup (some people use to mix in warmup, some don’t )
1:30 race – Gel 5-10min before start – start with a very little amount of clear water in a bottle (empty bottle on you to cool you and to wash down gel avoid ‘choking’ on gel on lap 1 effort
Examples for Different Race Start Times
For Leadville or early endurance races – many people don’t eat 3hrs prior (they sleep!) and will eat a bar or gel on the line and then start fueling early.
For a shorter, harder race that is in the mid-morning like Paris to Ancaster (10 am start) you might have cereal with almond milk and a banana and hard-boiled eggs
For a noon-early afternoon start, you could have a small ‘second’ breakfast or a portable snack 2-3hrs prior. A Bar and a Banana, cereal/milk, PB&J sandwich and then you may fuel in warmup and/or on the start line
Does this fit with your strategy? What Have I missed?
With the upcoming Canadian Thanksgiving and the American Thanksgiving not too far off (not to mention Pumpkin Latte Season …) it is a great time to share ideas for keeping your nutrition and fitness goals on track this fall. Feel free to put yours in the comments below.
Focus on the social side of events. Whether that is a coffee date with a friend or family Thanksgiving, you are there for the people.
Don’t drink your calories – Cliche advice, I know, but it is unlikely your Thanksgiving memories revolve around alcohol or a glass of sweetened-milk disguised as coffee.
Exercise that day – You will feel healthier if you move that day. Try the new Anywhere Core Video if you are unsure of what to do.
Skip the white buttered-bun and any foods you don’t like that are not great choices anyhow (ie. don’t add gravy if that isn’t your big holiday treat)
Paleo PumpkinPie Season (this is my very rough directions – a full on recipe is linked below)
a) in bowl slice/mash dates (with a bit of water if not fresh Medjool dates) then add 2 cups pecan (or choice nut flour) … pecan seemed to work better and not burn vs. almond/walnut mix of past
b) put in the oven for 5-10 min to ‘dehydrate’ or if you are kooky and have a dehydrator … do your thing
c) while dehydrating make the filling by combining about 2 cups pure pumpkin puree, 3 eggs, a lot of cinnamon unless you don’t like cinnamon, a pinch of cloves and nutmeg if you have it (i didn’t!) . Some maple syrup sweetens further to your taste, The dates and pecans add a fair bit of sweetness. = For true chefs = a recipe that is close https://blog.paleohacks.com/pumpkin–pie-recipe/
Unfortunately doing well at any endurance race is not as simple as simply training for hours and hours. This is especially true for the grueling, Leadville 100-mile MTB race, which takes place at over 10,000 feet of elevation for almost the whole race and involves a lot of climbing.
Luckily most of us are limited in how much we could ever pedal in a week so the fact that success at these races involves something more than training for hours is a GOOD THING. Our fitness is a big part of the equation but what FITNESS is and how we apply our fitness through preparation, equipment, position and other methods will determine how well our big day goes.
My focus in this article is largely on everything BUT pedaling or fitness (although I do make plans to help you with that), because to me, the regular ‘desk’ athlete with kids, a job, 2 dogs and a mortgage likely has a different event to take on then the pro who can perform a month of high-volume training, on top of a mountain and do quite well.
Be A Student of the Race
The Leadville 100 MTB Trail raceor other Endurance Bike Races tend to have huge followings and so there is a lot of content out there. When I signed up in 2011, I was looking for every resource (Leadville Pictures, Leadville video, race stories, Studies) to help guide my preparation. Now, this may seem weird, as I am a supposed to be a Pro MTB racer and a coach with a university degree, but the fact that Leadville is a different event remains true and my lack of Leadville, or even 100-miler, experience had me scared. Experience the race before you get there via media and then by simulating terrain.
Get Better at Riding Fast Down Hills
Leadville has 12,000-14,000 feet of climbing … Yes, you should be light and fit to get up those hills, but dragging your brakes down 14,000 feet of downhill is costing you time too. Practice on technical trails and also on event-specific double track, ATV trail and gravel road and your average speed will go up considerably. Being comfortable on technical trails will make the Leadville double track and road much easier to do while fatigued. Check out Bike Skills Project videos on ready position and/or attack position (basically standing up on the bike)are key places to start.
Get Ready for the Altitude, But Don’t Freak Out
If you can go to a few camps to simulate your race pace at even moderate altitude, that will help. If you accept that it will be a bit harder and not exactly the same as home, it is part of the challenge and many people do no altitude adaptation and do fine thanks to good fitness and great pacing.
Altitude tents and devices such asSpiroTiger can be an asset in maximizing your adaptation to altitude and enhancing your respiratory system to help you be more comfortable with the increased breathing requirements at altitude, and while racing/riding/existing. Both devices can be rented from many companies.
I also like getting clients to practice breathing through their noses during their day and while on rides (start slow and breathe deep with BELLY). You should find you can eventually build your wattage while nose breathing towards ‘tempo’ (about Leadville pace) AND (in my opinion) this first experience with restricted breathing helps you be psychologically ready in Leadville.
Beta-Alanine and Sodium Phosphate-loading are two potentially beneficial supplements to help maximize Oxygen-dependent performance (under ‘threshold’), which is important at altitude. Ensure you have used both appropriately in training prior to Leadville and make sure you take care of all the (CHEAPER) basics first, such as fueling, sleep, mobility and bike skills. A special tip is to try to stay lower then Leadville the week off. There are many cool towns at slightly lower elevation and I think it is worth getting better sleep, with a few rides in Leadville vs. Being in Leadville all week.
Eat Enough, But Not Too Much
Minimize the digestive work your stomach has to do. Save that energy for pedaling. Many athletes make the mistake of eating too many solids and overwhelming their stomachs with foods/fuel that they have not game played over distances, at specific intensities and/or while not at altitude. We may not be able to test/Game Play any or all of these, BUT we can take notes from experienced athletes and the averages. Generally, focus on more liquid sources of calories at 2-300kcal/hr.
Maltodextrin-based mixes/gels seem to be most digestible, possibly with some fructose or simple sugar. Solids earlier in the race are used by some to break up the fueling strategy and avoid overloading on a certain sugar or component. Many distance athletes (e.g. RAAM and 24 hour Solo) will use products like Ensure to get a digestible calorie source; at Leadville, having an Ensure at top or bottom of Columbine could work well. I have also always likedBranched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)and typically will ride/race with them in my bottles with some electrolyte to help with energy and focus.
Many a race is ruined, if not lost, based on little fixes on the trail. You should be able to take your bike apart on the course and reassemble. Make a list and start practicing. A good and patient local coach or friend should be able to help you through sticking points. Bike Skills Projects on Mechanics HERE
Do. Not. Stop.
It is very important that, within reason, we never go 0 km/hr. Leadville and many similar races are about average speed. Keep rolling steady. You should not stop in the feed-zone, or to eat or to transition to a hike-a-bike. Situations may arise, such as nature breaks (although some may find ways to do this one bike) but generally, try to plan and train for minimal stops to preserve that goal pace. The feed bag pickup is a place I messed up in 2011 and actually fell (so pro!)
… Again, these are the little things we forget when out doing 4 hours hard, and a couple Game-Plays with the feed bag could have saved me minutes, if not gotten me a podium spot. Bike Skills Projects onDismounts / Mounts.
Pacing is Imperative
While on our bikes, we can add benefit to our training by making sure we learn what a sustainable pace is and how to hold it over varying terrain. I believe HR is still relevant to optimal pace even at altitude, but we also need to use our brains and experiences to inform when it is time to go or if HR won’t be used on a given day. My goal during my 2011 prep at sea level was to see my pace on hilly terrain (Miles/HR) come up to 1 mile faster/hour then my goal Leadville pace (14.7mph for ~7hrs over 103mi ). ( Posts from Smart Athlete / Train With Peter on Pacing )
Be Able to Function Off Your Bike and Avoid Cramps/Tightness/Back Pain
Be able to walk/hike uphill efficiently and dismount/remount easily, even uphill. Walking can be optimal pacing strategy. Be efficient in mount/dismount and walking/jogging. Avoid getting stopped at zero miles per hour pace. Plan spots you will likely walk (top of Columbine and power-line on the return for many). Have a daily mobility practice including standing often and walking a ton (i.e. on breaks at work and before-after meals). Bike fit and mobility are big causes of time off-bike so make sure these items are very well Game Played before the race. ( Smart Athlete Posts on Mobility) ( Also check out the MobilityWod on Youtube)
Maximize Aerodynamics, Position, Efficiency
Leadville is a mountain bike race but a lot of time can be saved by drafting and having a reasonable position on the bike (that you can pedal well in). Looking to optimize clothing (i.e. no garbage bag coats) and spend some time on the road in an aero position of some type (narrow hand position and maybe forearms on the bar). Elite Leadville times are becoming so fast that much effort is put into Aero (see 2016 winner’s bike/gear here) There are many sites out there proving being aero is worth thinking about, such ashere. Recently, a bike company tested hair styles and found that braided hair was more efficient than a bun or ponytail and also found some interesting gains from shaved legs and arms (but not face!). So there are some little wins you can get for low cost or a bit of skill practice.
While these concepts may sound basic and optimistic at times, I do believe that there is a ton of time to be gained for almost anyone looking at Leadville and similar races without even touching on fitness. We want to maximize the work we can do (fitness) and minimize the work we have to do with preparation, planning, health, nutrition, and equipment creating our best performance on THE big day.
I would love to hear your feedback on these ideas, any questions they might spark or suggestions on ways to squeeze every last second out of your next big Endurance Race.
Want these tips scheduled to fit 100% for your schedule, YOUR ability, and YOUR goals? The Smart Athlete 100% MADE FOR YOU 3-Month Plans will prepare you for Leadville or any other big adventures you have planned.
Stick to your normal. Don’t eat to excess the day or morning before.
Leave 2-3 hours before the race without eating and use 16-20/oz of water per hour and 200-300kcal / hour (divide into bottles and/or laps as needed)
(for me) I will add more rice and less veggies then I usually eat and generally less meat. Most people can/should just eat what they normally do. Especially for shorter races like Ocups. Excessive ‘carbo-loading’ is not generally recommended for most people. What is more key is that you don’t go too long without food on day prior especially after training. (recovery snack and fueling in workout + regular meals/snacks)
*watching fiber/spicey foods is a good idea.
During The Rides/Races
Doing what you do every key workout. Game-play your pre-ride meal daily, especially for key workouts.
Most people do some sort of sandwich or oatmeal/cereal. Carbs and a bit of protein is general recommendation. Again not a ton of food just enough to top up.
I do not use different things in my bottles as it complicates things for the feeder. I will generally do sea salt and water, often with BCAA.
I use mostly gel in a Hammer Flask for fueling for all but longest races. (>4 hours) . I rarely use bars or mix in races. . Separating fueling from hydration lets me drink more water if hot but not affect my fueling schedule and also I can use my water to douse myself if hot or my drivetrain if very muddy.
Many people use a carb solution (like Hammer HEED or Accelerade) … if doing this I would likely just put all the fuel you need and skip gels but you might do a mid race top up with caffeine or a ‘gel on the line’ within 15min of start.
** AGAIN THIS SHOULD BE GAME-PLAYED in training**
If fading in races is an issue (ie. long races > 2 hours) then fueling may need to be increased (kcal/hours) .
Aim to eat within 30min. Most people do not need any magic potions or vitamins just eat something.
If training/racing later that day or the next day or you are very busy with podiums and/or shuttling kids around then a product like Recoverite or a smoothie with Whey protein may be a good solution.
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hot water in bottom , matcha powder on top … plunge making sure plunger gets just above level of water. Longer you plunge the better. Turn the Press top so less likely to get matcha green on your white counters . Carefully remove plunger to poor so get more foam.
In the spirit of Groundhog Day, a video that I did last year for Chico Racing (www.chicoracing.com) for their Learn to Race Clinic 2012 . Some Nutrition Ideas to try out and see how they work for you and your goals.