During training, practice your eating strategy for the event as there is evidence that you can train your stomach to be more tolerant to food during exercise.
Go with a little and often approach, rather than glugging down half a bottle or an entire bar in one go.
Nutrition – run up
In the run up to the event eat your normal healthy diet, 3 meals a day, each containing a protein source ( meat, fish, eggs, dairy, soya, legumes and pulses) and 3 or more different coloured vegetables with lunch and supper. Either lunch OR supper should include carbs. (choose the meal that is closest to your training session). Breakfast should also include carbs on days when it is immediately before or after training. Include some fruit with your breakfast.
Portion sizes… you do not need to eat more in the run up to the event. Just keep eating the same amount, and the reduction in training volume will allow your muscles to get loaded with glycogen.
Hydration run up …
In the 48 hours before the event, ensure that you remain hydrated, sipping drink regularly throughout the day, until you pee more regularly than normal, and it is a pale straw colour. (drink approx. 2.5-3l )
In the 48hours before the event, eat the same amount as normal, and include carbohydrate with every meal. Not masses just a portion.
In the 12- 24hours before the event choose simple carbs over complex carbs, ie white bread over wholemeal, white rice over brown etc, to minimise the fibre to stop things moving through too quickly…
Choose your pre event dinner carefully, you would be well advised to avoid shellfish, curry, super spicy foods and large portions of pulses and legumes if you are prone to reacting to these foods. Equally, if you are away from home, stick to safe choices on the menu, pre event is not the night to try something exotic for the first time. If you are abroad, select a restaurant which looks clean with good hygiene…. Avoid street food at this point too for the same reason.
The idea is to start your event feeling light, not heavy / loaded, but energised.
The morning of your event. Hopefully from your training sessions, you will have an idea of how you tolerate food before exercise. Be warned that some people need to eat up to 3 hours before exercising to avoid nausea and stomach issues. Eating in good time can also help get things moving so that you don’t get ‘caught short’ mid race. Its less practical, but not impossible for an event that starts at 7am.
I suggest something with both some simple and complex carbs, simple to get you going, and complex to provide fuel for a while. Porridge, with honey, maple syrup or jam fits the bill.
Although some people find it too heavy, and a bagel with jam might be better in that case. If you are going to be away from home, don’t wing it for this important pre event feed, take it all with you.
Hydration during the event.
Hopefully you will be starting well hydrated. The recommendations are for one 500ml bottle every hour!!! I think most of us know how much we need to drink on a ride, drink to thirst, and drink much more, much much more if it is very hot.
If you take carb drink, I would take one bottle of carb, one of water or just unflavoured electrolytes. You can carry sachets of carb powder in your pockets to top up during the day.
I would always use electrolytes in a drink ( High 5 zero or Nuun for eg) especially when it is hot. ** top tip. I buy 3 different flavours of Nuun, tip them all out and then mix them up in the tubes, so I can just take one tube with me and vary the flavours through the day.
** top tip 2 if you are cycling in France and other parts of Europe there are often water fountains en route, the water is clean and good to drink.
** top tip 3 do not drink just plain water, having electrolytes allows the osmolarity of the water to be so that it is absorbed into the cells. If there are no electrolyes it get absorbed by the stomach and small/large intestine and then filtered out by kidneys without actually doing much good.
If you are not keen on carb drink, try cloudy apple juice diluted with water, with a pinch of salt. This is a homemade carb drink! The cloudy apple juice is the first pressing of the apples, and it still contains some fibre, which means it isn’t absorbed as quickly as a sugary drink, but it does give you some extra energy. Obviously, you wont be able to top this up during the day. If you are on a long ride with access to water en route, you could take one diluted bottle, and one full strength apple juice and dilute that later on.
Drink to thirst, but do drink!
If you are a person who gets salt tide marks on their shorts, you should consider taking salt tablets, especially if you suffer from cramp, and the weather is likely to be hot.
Precision hydration https://www.precisionhydration.com/ is def worth a look, if you are an excessive or salty sweater or suffer from cramp.( or all 3)
Nutrition during the event.
Aim for around 60g of carb an hour, you can get this from a mixture of bars, gels and carb drink. Experiment in training to find what works for you.
Examples of things that have worked for other athletes.
Veloforte bars https://veloforte.cc
Stoats bars. oat bars with no yukkie additives( Waitrose )
Tribe bars, especially if you are Vegan.
Peanut butter sandwiches
Marathon bars http://lizzieloveshealthy.com/marathon-crunch-bars/
Any kind of bought bar with 40-50g carb in it. ( even a Double Decker has 40g of carb in it- you know who you are!!) But do try to choose something that will actually give you some additional phyto-nutrients rather than just sugar and fat in its purest forms…..
You do not need to have expensive sports products if you don’t want to buy them, but you might decide it is worth it when you have tried a Veloforte bar!
Thinking about savoury things is a good idea too- as you can get ‘sweeted’ out. If you are riding an event rather than racing, consider taking a cheese or ham baguette or sandwich in foil in your back pocket, and stop for 5 minutes to eat it, it will taste heavenly and satisfy you much more than endless bars, which get sickly. This eating method ( plus bars/gels) has got me round the Marmotte x2, the Maratona and countless other long rides. ( take the foil with you from home, and pinch extra bread and cheese at breakfast)
It is definitely worth carrying gels, particularly for the second half- your guts can go on strike, and stop digesting food, because most of the blood is diverted to your leg muscles to keep you moving forward. This can result in you feeling nauseous or just really full, but also a low in energy. Gels are low viscosity and very easily absorbed, usually a combination of fructose and glucose and will give you a boost when you can no longer absorb solid food. They also work more quickly than solid food to provide energy if you have a slump. There are many different brands, experiment during training to find the flavours and textures you prefer. I like to carry a selection, some thinner/ watery like High 5, which is easy to swallow and can help if you feel a bit bleugh. A thicker type would be Torq which are quite gloopy, and a bit more satisfying if you are actually hungry. Find different flavours that you like, and try to avoid getting them all in the same flavour, as your palate can get fatigued and tell you it doesnt want any more summer fruits, and if that’s all you’ve got you are in trouble.
** top tip- think about use of caffeine gels, they definitely have a place and can give you wings, but overuse can affect sleep afterwards. ( personal experience of 4 out of 8 gels I consumed during my first Marmotte were caffeine. I didn’t sleep until 10am the next day, even though I was exhausted after my 13hr+ ride! Suffice to say, I am a gel in emergencies only gal now!)
If you would like to add comments with your own experiences below, please do.