A stage race can be one of the most telling events of an athlete’s total energy awareness; this is a culmination of fitness, fueling, and planning. For one, it requires multiple days in a row of race efforts…whether it be 3 days or 3 weeks. If you’ve got the depth to finish and/or perform for multiple days in a row then you’ve got a step up. However, if you haven’t got the diligence and preparation in store to keep up with the fueling demands then it can drag your performance down.
I’ve often heard of the Grand Tours being referenced as an “eating contest” in addition to a bike race. Where the Pros are burning 3, 4, 5k + calories a day for 21 days, it can often boil down to who can keep fuel on board, stay healthy, and sleep. Fortunately for them, they have chef-made meals and snacks being provided constantly, so they only have to worry about chewing. Even then, this takes an immense amount of practice and diligence to be able to handle that quantity of food on AND off the bike. These athletes are also capable of shooting for 90-120g of carbs an hour, which is vital when you are packing in that amount of work consistently.
On a more reasonable level, you may be targeting a week long stage race such as the Leadville Stage Race, a local omnium event, or the Breck Epic. Regardless, anything that stacks multiple days requires fueling with intention. I recently competed in the Pisgah Stage Race in Brevard, NC and was able to play with/test out my fueling plan for a 5 day mountain bike event. Here are some of the most important pieces of fueling to consider for a stage race.
How You’ll Fuel
This is where you want to consider what kind of support you may have, terrain you’ll encounter, and time between your feeds. Often, these events will plot out some neutral feeds where you can pick up products or –even better– send your own to it. It’s important to think about your options here and estimate the time (not necessarily distance) between these so you aren’t caught out to dry. 10 miles may typically be 45min for you, but if that includes technical terrain and two massive climbs, this may look a little different. Again, with our goal being carbs per hour, we want to keep an eye on that timing.
Another thing to think about is your carrying capacity: two bottles, a hydration pack, or some combo? It’s worth considering how easy it is going to be to fuel as well. Carrying a pack like USWE may enable you to consume more fuel if the terrain makes it tough to take your hands off the bars.
At the end of the day, carrying a little extra weight in fuel is going to be significantly more beneficial than “going light” and suffering the consequences. Having more is better – this is a multi day event and crawling to the line will harm more than just that day’s result.
Depending on time to event, you will want to stock up as best you can roughly 2-3hrs in advance. Now may not be the time for the heartiest of meals, but it is the time to initiate storing glycogen away. Additionally, with limited opportunities to pack in nutrients, a breakfast supplement like Kyoku can pay dividends to your performance and recovery throughout the event.
This is where our high-carb philosophy comes into play. I’d suggest checking out this article to read more about why we shoot for the relative maximum amount when it comes to carbohydrates. You’ll need to practice and explore what works for you but we are finding that more and more research suggests pushing that intake up towards 90g of carb/hour can improve performance.
For the Pisgah Stage Race, I would stock bottles with a full serving of Skratch Lab’s Superfuel based on the hours I’d be out there. Additionally, you can carry supportive fuel like gels and chews (such as Maurten Gel 100, NeverSecond Gel, Clif Shot Bloks…). The terrain can get rough or you may even lose a bottle on a descent – having other methods of fueling is a great safety blanket.
The demands of one race day are plenty to deplete glycogen stores and necessitate some recovery…however, that’s not the only reason to keep carbohydrates coming on board. If you tank your body’s supply of glycogen, it’s going to need time to catch up and restore that. Additionally, you’re now on the clock for getting stocked up for the next day’s event. The shallower a hole you dig, the easier it’ll be to fill it back up.
The time immediately following an event is a great opportunity to get a leg up on the recovery process. Not only is your body more receptive to the nutrients you are consuming in this window, it’s also more effective at replenishing those glycogen stores. I’d immediately take a recovery shake following the race and then have some small snacks while in transition to lunch or dinner. Sticking around to congratulate buddies or debrief the day is great, but keep something with solid carb:protein content on you if so.
When you have your next meal, try to capitalize on getting in nutrient dense foods to support all the stress going on in your body. We don’t aim to get in the “healthiest” food on the bike so now is the time to help your body out. You can complement meals with things like smoothies and protein as well to bump up that support. SwissRX Total Recovery is a big favorite for these situations!
Pro Tip: some pre-bed protein (20-40g) can be a great boost for your body while it’s in repair mode as you sleep. I’d always have another lean protein snack before hitting the hay; you can keep it simple by using another protein shake or similar to have a standardized, reliable product.
Make it Easy
Meal prep is a popular phrase, but when one day bleeds into the next, staying on top of your plan is key. The night before each stage/event, lay out your nutritional needs for that day based on per-hour-goal. You can pre-mix bottles as well or have a hydration pack ready to go. Creating less guesswork for those groggy-eyed mornings is vital to a sustainable plan.
Make it Tasty
Try mixing up your meals, dishes, and flavors, throughout the week. One of the biggest things that can happen when we stick to a hard-nosed routine is getting sick of the same tastes and losing grip on the fueling plan. One benefit of The Feed is that it offers nearly all product(s) in single serving options, so you can mix and match flavors!
As long as you aren’t trying something new that don’t have experience with, these small changes can keep you excited to eat and more responsible about it. At the end of the day, that can make the difference in proper nourishment and fueling.
I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the elusive Supersapiens CGM & software for two months. During this time, I trained heavily, raced across the county, and analyzed my daily responses to diet. The whole process was extremely simple and user-friendly, where I received minute-by-minute updates at my fingertips.
This product, in my opinion, is going to be a true game changer at every level; for the amateur athlete looking to improve their diet to the world tour pro aiming to optimize their fueling.
After nearly 60 days with a CGM, I’m still learning about my glucose from both a health and performance perspective. Here are my biggest takeaways from this experience.
Off-hours Glucose Tips
The target of off-hours (or non-training) glucose control was to keep a more stable glucose pattern. When we’re not training, minimizing big spikes and time above 140ml/dl can be more beneficial for our long-term health. Without getting too into the weeds, that essentially keeps us from constantly needing insulin to swoop in and help us. With that in mind, I would implement a few practices to minimize those higher exposures.
In this case, I refer to “meal layering” as the order to which you eat your food. What I found was that by simply eating fibrous and protein-rich foods before my carbohydrates, I would really dull down the glucose response. So, typically I’d have a salad and/or my meat staple first, then move on to the rice, pasta, etc.
Power of the Walk:
It’s quite remarkable what a post-meal walk can do I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but walking just ~10min after a meal can drastically impact the glucose response. As we talked about earlier, exercising muscles opens another door to pulling glucose into the cells. Even a short stroll after eating would steady out glucose spikes and keep me from getting big swings in blood sugar response.
I began to feel weird if I didn’t do a post-meal walk after dinner. I made this a staple –mostly for breakfast and dinner– to manage big swings in glucose and assist in “loading” glucose if I had a carb-heavy meal.
Staying Above the Line:
The “line”, as I call it, is what Supersapiens considers below 70ml/dl. Supposedly, a lot of time below it can impair recovery, glucose storage, and impact day-to-day training. While everyone has their own range, significant drops or time below the “line” can certainly impact how well my body resynthesizes, stores, and prepares glucose as it’s limiting the amount readily available.
The period leading up to a big workout, event, race, etc. is the “priming” phase. This is, realistically, the 3-4 days leading up to an event – not the classical “carbo load” night before.
My goal would be to increase total glucose exposure, or the running average blood glucose times (x) the hours in the day, by ~5ml/dl for a couple of days leading up to an event. This short-term increase in blood sugar would help me ensure there was more glucose available to stay topped up and primed for the event. This is not the time to hold back or skimp on fueling where I’d come in with less-than-optimal muscle glycogen.
Timing can be crucial. One big takeaway was the prevalence of a phenomenon called “rebound hypoglycemia”. This is the overcompensation of pulling glucose levels down due to the combination of insulin response and muscle demand. For a physiology lesson, your body can pull glucose into the cells through either insulin production or passively through exercising muscle; like a second doorway.
This experience can increase when you get out to train within that 30min - 90min period following a meal because both are happening simultaneously. When I ate and then hopped on the bike immediately, this would be almost nonexistent. Yet, a little delay and you can be feeling the classic, rough low blood sugar symptoms. If you can’t wait or are training early, some ways to avoid this include fueling more just as you get on the bike or just prior to hopping on,
Go time! Whether it was a hard workout, a long ride, or a race day, I tried to utilize the Supersapiens as much as possible.
The biggest takeaways for on-the-bike training?
First off, I have been *likely* under-fueling for a significant amount of my rides. I may have been fine just “getting by” for some of them, but does that necessarily make it right? More fuel could have led to more training stimulus, which could have led to a little more gain over time.
For me, taking smaller doses of food (like half a bar) but more consistently led to a smoother glucose profile during the rides. Also, I noticed that, during endurance rides, starting out with more complex, real food in the first hour or two helped manage the glucose control the whole ride. I’d start with a homemade snack, banana, and Maurten SOLID for example and then transition into simpler fuel.
Lastly, if you start using gels and chews (quick energy) be ready to back it up with more. These fuel sources are amazing for lighting a fire when you have a race and/or hard workout…but if you are popping them then make sure you have enough. I took a gel with about 30-45min left in one of my endurance rides, thinking I’d be back home soon and it’d be fine. This spiked my glucose about 15min later and then dropped like a rock in the final few miles.
While this is entirely my personal experience, I do feel there are some valuable points of interest for any athlete or health enthusiast out there. Fortunately, The Feed is an amazing place for testing out various modes, methods, and products for fueling and make things extremely easy. Plug and play with your fueling plan to see what works for you!
Disclaimer: The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this article are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen!
Carson Beckett, 22 // UCI MTB Racer // Coach // // Student // Outdoor Enthusiast