The Four Fundamentals of Endurance Nutrition

How to fuel for a long one-day stage race like the Old Mutual Wealth Double Century

The Double Century is a unique event for various reasons – not only is it a team race, but it’s also a time trial.

For many recreational cyclists it represents the single biggest one-day effort faced all year, and the 202-kilometre loop from Swellendam, which includes the mammoth climbs of the Tradouw Pass and Op de Tradouw, will for many be their longest day on the bike.

So, proper nutrition is absolutely vital. Here’s how to ensure you have the energy you need on race day:

  1. Don’t change your nutrition strategy on race day

“Practice what gives you energy,” says race doctor, Dr Jann Killops from Mediclinic. “That would be in terms of food and hydration”. As a part of this strategy, Dr Killops recommends that all riders measure their sweat rate. “Weigh yourself naked before your ride and then again when you get back,” she explains. “Every half a kilogram deficit is equal to 500ml, so you can determine how much you sweat that way.”

To radically paraphrase the science: you weigh 60kgs before a two-hour ride and 59kgs when you get back, you’re a litre behind. This means you have to take whatever you drank and add a litre. “If you drink to thirst on a long ride like the DC you should be fine though,” says Dr Killops.

“In terms of food the trick is – especially with commercial ‘high-load’ products – make sure that it is something you’ve eaten before and it doesn’t give you any gastric distress,” she says. “A surprising amount of riders don’t train with gels and the like and then come race day have pockets full of them.”

In terms of a low-carb, high protein strategy, Dr Killops is quick to point out that there is more and more research available now for a low-carbohydrate strategy for race day. “Again it’s not something you should do for the first time on race day,” she warns. “You have to train your body to function on a low-carb diet, so again, if that is how you usually exercise and train, then that is what is going to work for you.”

  1. Fill the tank before you start

Glycogen stores are depleted during periods of fasting. This may occur over night or even during the day if you don’t stick to a regular meal structure, so experts all agree it’s important you start a long ride with your storage tanks well stocked.

The best options for a pre-ride meal or snack are foods that are low in fat and fibre. Carbohydrates that are high in fibre and gas-forming (bran products, legumes, and certain vegetables, such as onion, cabbage and cauliflower) are not recommended as they can cause intestinal discomfort.

It’s also important to remember that food you eat is available to your muscles only once it has been digested – a general guide is to allow about three to four hours for a big meal or one to two hours for a small meal or snack before the start.

  1. Don’t bonk

“Bonking” is the term cyclists use to refer to complete glycogen depletion, otherwise known as hypoglycemia. The phrase “if you’re hungry, it’s too late” is very true here and the best way to avoid it is to eat little and often. Some cyclists set alarms regularly during long rides to remind them to eat. “Stick to food that is not going to be a heavy load but will still provide you with calories,” Dr Killops says. A good rule of thumb is to ingest about 100-250 calories and some form of high carbs every 30 minutes, even in the first hour.

Simple carbohydrates including energy gels (just remember to drink water with these), sugar cubes, sweets and jam sandwiches are a few things to nibble on. Avoid complex carb like energy bars, as they take much longer for the body to process into glucose.

  1. Hydrate properly

Correct fluid intake is perhaps the most important nutrition element during an ultra-endurance event. As mentioned previously, the key is to drink enough fluid to match your sweat losses. This is different for each cyclist and the environmental conditions. A general guide is that cyclists should drink to thirst and strategies developed from training sessions. A more specific guideline is to drink approximately 0.5-2L per hour in small volumes (150ml-200ml) every five to 20 minutes.

So if it’s a hot, windless day out on the undulating R317 towards Bonnievale sweat rate will increase and so should intake.