You’ve registered for an event, followed a regimented training plan, mentally and physically prepared for the race, but have you considered fuel? For optimal performance, we need to provide our bodies with the energy and nutrients it needs to support movement and recovery, immune function and prevention of early fatigue.
Leading up to the event
Carbohydrate is converted to glucose and stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. As muscle glycogen stores deplete so does capacity for high intensity activity, eventually leading to exhaustion. Starting with a high muscle glycogen content is known to postpone fatigue by up to 20% in endurance events lasting more than 90 minutes.
Carbohydrate loading’ helps to maximise muscle glycogen stores :
- 7 days prior to the event reduce exercise intensity and frequency.
- Consume carbohydrate as 50% total energy intake for 3 days.
- 3-4 days before the event increase to 70% total energy intake.
- To ensure adequate hydration, slowly drink 5-7ml/kg body weight 4 hours before the event.
- If urine is dark in colour, slowly drink a further 3-5ml/kg 2 hours before the event.
- Adding sodium or consuming sodium rich foods can stimulate thirst and aid fluid absorption.
Consuming carbohydrate 3-4 hours before exercise has been shown to improve performance, trials show large amounts (~300g) to reduce time to exhaustion by 15% . However, consumption should be based on individual preferences and body weight. For some, consuming a large amount of carbohydrate before a race can cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Avoid consuming too much fibre before a race as this can also cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Aim for foods with a low glycaemic index (GI) such as oats and pasta. Low GI foods are known to increase fat oxidation and reduce carbohydrate oxidation, preserving glycogen reserves).
- 3-4 hours before race start, consume a low GI carbohydrate meal, aim for 2.5g carbohydrate/kg body weight.
- Good sources include white bagels with jam (64g Carbohydrate) or porridge oats (80g) made with skimmed (0% fat) milk (63g Carbohydrate).
During the race
Ensure adequate hydration, requirements are highly individual and subject to environmental conditions. Requirements range from 0.5-2l/hour of exercise, hydration strategies should be trialled during training before the event.
- Adding sodium will stimulate absorption, try adding a pinch of salt to your drink, using a sports drink or diluted fruit juice with electrolytes.
During exercise, carbohydrate is expended at a rate of 2.5-3g/minute, until glycogen stores are depleted and exercise intensity cannot be maintained. During exercise the body can metabolise only 1g/minute, consuming more during your race will have no added benefit.
- Aim for 30–60 g/hour carbohydrate from high or moderate GI foods for a rapid increase in blood glucose and therefore energy .
- Good sources include bananas, dates, energy bars and energy gels. You can also use a sports drink to increase your carbohydrate intake.
- On average, 1 medium banana will provide 20g of carbohydrate.
After the race
After race nutrition is sometimes neglected but refuelling with the right foods will ensure energy reserves are refilled, muscles have the building blocks required for recovery and your immune system if fully supported to protect against infection. Refuelling is particularly important for performance in a multi stage event.
- Consume high GI carbohydrates within 15-30 minutes to refill depleted carbohydrate stores.
- Consume 1.2g/kg body weight carbohydrate, plus 0.2-0.4g/kg body weight protein per hour for 4-6 hours after each stage.
- Good sources include: meal replacement drinks, chocolate milk, milk with fresh fruit, bread and/or rice cakes with peanut butter.
Avoid dehydration, required fluid intake can range from 0.5-5l per day. Check your urine colour throughout the day as an indicator of hydration status, dark yellow urine is an indicator of dehydration.
Ensure adequate energy intake throughout the day, with balanced protein, carbohydrate and fat sources. A balanced diet is needed to support muscle tissue recovery and renewal of glycogen stores in preparation for the next stage. Aim to consume 60-70% total energy intake from carbohydrate, 20-35% from fat (less than 10% from saturated fats), 20% from protein.
Each cyclist has individual requirements. Nutritional strategies both on and off the bike should be tried and tested by the athlete prior to an event.
Getting your race nutrition right will support the bodies needs and enable optimal performance when it counts.
 Lanham-New SA, Stear SJ, Shirreffs SM, Collins AL, (2011): Sports and Exercise Nutrition: The Nutrition Society.
 Hawley JA, Schabort EJ, Noakes TD, Dennis SC. (1997) Carbohydrate-loading and exercise performance. An update. Sports Med. 24(2), 73-81.
 Stellingwerff T, Cox GR (2014), Systematic review: Carbohydrate supplementation on exercise performance or capacity of varying durations. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 39(9), 998-1011.
 Bean (2006) The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition. 5th Edition. London: A&C Black.
 Environmental Health New South Wales Government (2015) Urine Colour Chart, [Chart] available at: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/beattheheat/Pages/urine-colour-chart.aspx [Accessed 30th November, 2016].
 ACSM (2016) Nutrition and Athletic Performance Joint Position Statement, Med Sci Sports Exerc 48(3), 543–568.