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.
Carson Beckett, 22 // UCI MTB Racer // Coach // // Student // Outdoor Enthusiast