Knowledge Level: Intermediate
Whether it’s your local club 10-mile time trial, track league, evening circuit race or even a Zwift race, fuelling and hydrating for 20-60 minutes of hard racing can be difficult. You don’t want to eat too much too close to the race and risk feeling bloated or nauseous but equally, you don’t want to under perform because you’ve consumed to little. Fortunately, Healthspan Elite, the Official Sports Nutrition Partner and Official Vitamin and Supplement Partner to the Great Britain Cycling Team and British Cycling, is here with some advice.
Although your event is still six hours away, what you have for lunch can have a significant affect on how you perform. You’re not going to be riding for long so, as long as you had a good breakfast and a healthy mid-morning snack, your body’s energy stores should be adequately stocked and you don’t need to eat vast amounts. Avoid heavy proteins such as red meat, which will sit on your stomach and the same applies to fatty foods. High fibre or highly spiced foods should also be avoided to minimise the risk of gastric distress. If you’re watching your racing waistline, excessive carbohydrates are unnecessary. An ideal lunch would be a chicken or tuna salad followed by a natural yoghurt and then make sure you’re constantly sipping water and staying hydrated throughout the day.
A mid-afternoon snack is vital to avoid a late afternoon energy crash that could leave you weak for your race or cause you to eat unhealthy sugary or fatty snacks. Make sure you have some healthy snacks to hand such as nuts, seeds, orchard fruit, a bowl of cereal, a yoghurt or an energy bar.
This is your latest window for solid food. These sort of events are high intensity efforts and you don’t want to risk them causing you to feel, or even be, sick. An energy bar or a bowl of cereal are good choices and again, especially if it’s warm, keeping drinking little and often is essential.
You’ll be at the race HQ and will have either started or just be starting your warm-up. This should be at least 20 minutes in duration and the British Cycling Warm-up is an ideal template to follow. Keep drinking and, in the hour leading up to the race, aim to consume 500-750 ml of electrolyte containing sports drink.
Fifteen minutes before the race start, you should be coming to the end of your warm-up so, with the remaining liquid in your bottle, take an energy gel. Some riders like to use a caffeinated product at this stage and, because it’s fast acting, gum can be ideal. Do be aware though that the effects of caffeine can last six hours and this could impact on your sleep. This should leave you with 5-10 minutes before the start, plenty of time for a final loo stop and then to make your way to the line.
For a 10-mile time trial, there should be no need to eat or drink for the entirety of the event. Coming out of your aero tuck to reach for a bottle or gel will lose time, break your rhythm and reduce focus.
For a typical 45-minute circuit race, your pre-race nutrition and hydration such also be adequate. If the conditions are exceptionally hot you might want a bottle of water on the bike but there’s little point in using a carbohydrate sports drink as you won’t benefit from the fuel during the race.
For a track league with multiple events over a two hour period with warm-ups and cooldowns on rollers, you’ll want to keep sipping on an electrolyte drink throughout and maybe use a gel at the midway point.
Have a protein drink made up and ready to go at the finish line or back at your car. You can sip at it while cooling down. You probably won’t feel like eating immediately after a hard race but it’s important, ideally as soon as you finish, to kick start your recovery and protein is key to this. You’ll probably be eating your dinner within a couple of hours and, in that case, there’s no need for additional carbohydrates as you won’t have depleted your body’s glycogen stores.
It’s important to remember that, although you’ve ridden hard, you haven’t ridden long and won’t have burned a large number of calories, so there’s no need for an extra large evening meal. Eat sensibly, include some quality protein and vegetables and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that an evening race gives you a nutritional free rein. You’re likely to be eating later than usual, so a lighter meal will also help you to sleep better. You might also be feeling a bit hyped up, even if your race with a few hours ago, so, a sour cherry product can help with sleep.