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!
In a world where we can follow icons of the sport on Strava, see real-time numbers during a World Tour race, and track ourselves while we sleep …where do we draw the line when it comes to data? The accessibility of power meters, heart rate monitors, CGMs, etc. is a great evolvement for the sport, but it makes stepping away from the numbers even harder to do. There’s something to be said for being able to turn off the noise and focus in on our bodies, the task at hand, and how we “feel”. Furthermore, there’s nothing you can do about Van der Poel’s power up the Poggio or what Nino Schurter’s FTP is – it’s about you and your situation.
Data’s Role in Training
This is the bread and butter of our data, gadgets and gizmos. Training can be the most benefited from having a power meter or heart rate monitor at the least. I’d even say Strava – where you could use segments or portions of trail and road to see how you are progressing. As discussed in my Zones article, structure and diligence with our training through the year is important (aka knowing when certain efforts are to be trained). Additionally, with the bleeding of Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs) from the diabetic/medical world into the endurance world, we can use insights from this as to how we respond to food and fine-tune our fueling.
Additionally, using those HRV measurements, readiness scores, and fatigue estimations (Whoop, Garmin, Oura Ring…) are great for keeping tabs on how you are responding to training over time. If we pair it with how we actually feel, this can give us an indication of when to push and maybe when to “feel things out”. Although, you can’t let a “bad score” keep you from lacing up and giving it a go – this is where you need to be open to learning how you feel. This, is where I want to move onto the topic of racing…
Data During Racing
Where things get tricky is when to rely on the numbers during events. When it’s a road race, gravel race, or some sort of “durability” type of event then it can be really helpful to supplement our pacing with this info. It’s helpful to gauge your efforts and “save matches” with HR or Power by keeping within yourself (and your threshold).
On the flip side, data can be a leash to us. I’ve seen it too many times, especially in shorter events like XC, where numbers really don’t mean all that much but we can allow them to impact our perception, pace, or expectations. This is the “paralysis by analysis” situation. When it comes to race day, we need to learn to go off of feel, be confident in our prep, and turn down the noise from these inputs. Don’t let your data talk you down from giving things a shot – it’s a race and a chance to try.
Take a look at those numbers retroactively and then draw some conclusions, break down the race, and learn.
Aside: Power v HR
Power and HR both have usefulness in training in different ways. Power is often the “golden metric” for cyclists (as pace is to runners) because it is constant, fixed metric. It represents direct workload being produced. Heart rate (HR) is the response to work that your body produces. HR can be affected by a variety of factors though, such as fatigue, temperature, caffeine, etc. I use power when it comes to nailing intervals and pushing limits on intensity. However, during the base phase, I often rely on HR more because I want to accumulate time in and/or below certain zones to stay aerobic.-taken from previous article on Zones
Know when to turn things off, not rely on numbers, or go off feel. Know when to change the page and just settle into your task fueled by intuition and feeling.
Building your Race Calendar
The season is winding up and it’s due time to take a look at your race + event plans. Here are 5 of the most important factors to consider when building your calendar to capitalize on your goals!
Prioritize, Plan, and Peak
When laying out your calendar, it’s natural to want to fill it full of events. However, it’s important to emphasize certain ones over others in line with your goals. I break races down into the A, B, and even C categories based on their value + role in an athlete’s calendar. As = peak events. Bs = important but not the main focus. Cs = performance not critical. Note: if your focus is on consistently racing for fun and don’t want to optimize one event, then this layout is not so important!
Realistically, most athletes looking for a big Peak (or highly optimized period of performance) can only do this about three times. This is because a true peak requires each mesocycle of training from the Base, Build, and Preparatory phases…or at the least Build and Preparatory. Essentially an athlete needs a couple months minimum to get towards a Peak. That being said, step one is to lay out a handful of your biggest, most important goals. Now, take about 3 of those that you can highlight as “A” events.
" Be confident in the strength and speed you are building by including such highly effective “training” sessions in the midst of a challenging fitness building block..."
If your “A” events are really close to each other (say 2-3 weeks) it is possible to hold peak form for a little while BUT you’re in a limited state of form and you’ll need to be mindful of that. Don’t fret it if you have two big goals within a couple weeks.
The others will have to become B –or even C– events that aid in the process of preparing for an event, are training races, or are simply fun to mix in. This is where mindset comes into play: you have to realize not every event is the World Championships and come into them with clear goals. This brings me to training through races…
Training Through Races
This phrase is one you may have heard tossed around and can be helpful for taking things up a notch. It essentially means to take a preplanned and suboptimal amount of fatigue and training into an event. Now, you are not supposed to be feeling 100% and that’s okay. We utilize this with our C events specifically and occasionally B events. If it’s an early season C event or one leading up to your main goals, it can be a good chance to stack some extra training on top of your plan. When followed up with adequate recovery, these experiences often produce a big compensation or “fitness bump” as I call it.
Now, you are not supposed to be feeling 100% and that’s okay.
Depending on your focus or “type” of racing and the demands that come with it, you can also leverage other disciplines to assist your training plan. For example, as a XCO mountain biker, gravel races and endurance events can be great springboards for stacking up some preseason fitness for me. They’re typically longer and more aerobic in nature but really challenge that aerobic threshold.
Likewise, you can use local mtb races to fine tune some skills, work on repeatability and power, and get some speed work in for your gravel/road/endurance events.
Leave Room for Rest
After a big peak or block of racing, rest must follow. Even midseason or in the summer when events are going off left, right, and center you have to be mindful of building in rest periods. These don’t have to be full “off-seasons” but a week to 10 days of both rest days and light riding to hit the reset button. Most people train diligently until the spring and race all the way through to the fall…then wonder why they may feel so fried.
Additionally, if and when injuries, illness, or complications throw a wrench in your plan just accept these moments of pause. This is one of the biggest struggles I have. I’ve learned that longterm growth and progression is not harmed (and even benefited) from leaning into these breaks in training and not fighting the complication. Then, you can come back healthy, rested, and mentally ready to go.
Bonus: maintaining strength
As you approach these events and when the season gets going, it can get difficult to keep your strength in the routine. Sometimes you may have two, three, four weekends in a row of racing. This is not the time to try to build strength – and I’m speaking from experience. This is when you should scale back the strength to “maintenance” work. Let the ego go and take weight off the bar, focus on form, and address functional movements that keep you healthy. I back off and advocate for band work, TRX movement, and body weight exercises to keep from adding fatigue to heavy weeks already.
“If you can’t handle the heat, stay outta the kitchen.” Or, just get stuck in the kitchen more often. Heat is a tricky thing to tackle when it comes to endurance events. It’s an uncontrollable, inescapable part of competing certain times of the year and in certain locations. Excessive heat (or more specifically the inability to handle it) can lead to an increase in overall core temperature and just a few °F can make things go downhill quickly. The brain starts to realize that there are more important things than you pushing hard on the pedals and will try to put a stop to that. Overall, heat stress will reduce the ability to achieve maximal metabolic rates during exercise. to a Cardiac drift is common term for the increase or “drift” of your heart rate upwards over the duration of an effort/event and is expedited with dehydration or heat. Often, this dance with the discomfort of heat is manageable over the duration of a training session or short XC style event. However, if gone unaccounted for it can lead to a drastic drop in performance.
Things may start with discomfort and an annoyingly hot feeling…typically if you are equipped to handle it then it will stay that way. If you can’t, then some dizziness, nausea, and/or waning ability to really focus on the task at hand can follow.
Below, I’ll dive into ways to manage the heat from an micro (small) perspective around racing or training + from a more macro (big picture) perspective.
Managing The Heat
There are Manny things we can do to mitigate the effect of heat. In the lead up to the big event/workout/race, it’s important to think about your prep 2,3,4 days prior. Firstly, hydration cannot be neglected during these days and a greater importance should be placed on electrolytes. The idea behind this is to increase the essential minerals we need and that especially being sodium; as sodium levels in the body rise, water will follow. Thus, if we slowly increase these minerals we will “hold onto” more fluid in our cells over time. Yes, you will gain a little water weight but SO WHAT if it means mitigating the effect of heat.
On race day, keep all your bottles, fuel, etc as cool as you can and try to buffer heat through cooling vests, shade, and less aggressive warm ups. PRO TIP: fill pantyhose with ice and stick them in your jersey collar while getting ready.
From a bigger picture, and longer timeline, you can prep for key events by acclimatizing to the heat. If it’s during the warmer months or you are in a warmer climate, try moving some of those moderate workouts towards the warmer part of the day….gradually. If it’s the winter months (as my Puerto Rican race trip was) you can leverage sitting in a sauna to get acclimated. This looks like: 7+ days of 20-30min sauna sessions around 180°f if possible and ideally immediately following training. (Check this article out for a scientific review…)
Here’s What’s Happening
Heat acclimation typically takes around 10-14 days depending on variables. During this time, your body will be learning how to send more blood to the skin quicker, in greater amounts, and more efficiently. One big reason for this is due to the increase in plasma volume in your blood (the fluid part). These processes lead to more liquid coming to the skin which cools you through convection. As you begin to get more acclimated, this typically induces more sweating but less mineral/sodium loss. Additionally, your body’s entire cardiovascular system becomes more responsive and efficient when it encounters this heat stress and the hormonal system is becoming more adapted to this “new normal”.
For a detailed interview with someone that has a lot of experience on this subject, see the Trainerroad Podcast with Dr. Minson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8edDmyhHes
Laying the Foundation
The notorious “base season” is a staple of endurance athletes’ training. It may not always come during the winter, depending on your sport and/or goals, but typically does for the average cyclist. This period can be neglected by many due to a variety of reasons including weather, daylight, and motivation relative to your season. However, this is one of the, if not most, crucial times for developing year over year as an athlete. An analogy to tie it all together is to think of your training year as a pyramid: the broader and stronger the ‘base’, the higher and better the peak.
Goals of Winter Training
The main focus of the base phase of training can almost be summarized into one goal: to improve aerobic fitness and efficiency. In layman’s terms, this means making your body better at using oxygen + fat to fuel you and improving your ability to accomplish work in an aerobic state. If you can stay in an aerobic state for longer and harder effort, you push that anaerobic line higher. To get a little more nerdy, this comes in many improvements to your body; namely:
Main Focuses of Base Training
This is the lynchpin of base training. It is usually defined by slogging through lots of hours on the bike at a Zone 1-2 effort level and can be monotonous. Your gaol is to keep the body in an aerobic state and avoid excessive effort/volume in an anaerobic (without oxygen, aka. hard) state. IF you have the time, then building volume over a 12 week period is ideal. However, many do not and have to accommodate jobs during the course of the week in addition to waning daylight. In that common case, utilize your week days for time-efficient structured rides and strength training and then open up the weekend days for big adventure days!
I’m a huge advocate of strength training for all athletes, disciplines, and ages (especially masters level). I wrote an article focused solely on this topic earlier in the year and you can see that here. Contrary to belief, strength training actually serves both the endurance and strength aspects of our training. Not only does a proper strength plan make a stronger muscle, it makes a more “durable” one. Don’t think of the two (endurance and strength) as separable. Additionally, as you rack up miles, get into race season, or are aging, your body will thank you for the “insulation you have packed in the walls” to avoid injury and deterioration.
An unsung hero of the base phase is the neuromuscular + power development work on the bike. This comes predominantly in the form of pedaling efficiency drills and PCr sprint work. I use both of these in the early season phase to help prepare athlete’s for the work to come. The cadence drills (both high and low) help to train your efficiency and “cleanliness” in the pedal stroke. The short, neuromuscular level sprints improve the body’s reaction + response to the call for effort (quite literally the brain-to-legs connection).
The base phase can be daunting to look at, but work within your means and keep it simple. This is one of the most beneficial periods of your year and can set you up for success. Ride “long and slow” when you can, keep strength training in the plan, and add in some specific intervals along with it all. A little structure goes a long way – contact me for coaching services or more information!
Hughes, D. C., Ellefsen, S., & Baar, K. (2017). Adaptations to endurance and strength training. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, 8(6). https://doi.org/10.1101/cshperspect.a029769
Stone, Michael H., et al. "Maximum Strength and Strength Training-A Relationship to Endurance?" Strength and Conditioning Journal, vol. 28, no. 3, 2006, pp. 44-53. ProQuest, https://login.proxy020.nclive.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/maximum-strength-training-relationship-endurance/docview/212586439/se-2?accountid=9715.
Carson Beckett, 22 // UCI MTB Racer // Coach // // Student // Outdoor Enthusiast