Nutrition …

There’s a big day coming and I have been studying Dr Stephen Lanes advice on how to prepare for it. He tells me that I should by now have settled on a feeding strategy and have rehearsed it thoroughly. I haven’t.

Here’s his video on the subject. No need to watch it unless you have a specific interest …

There is nothing in it that violates cycling orthodoxy which concentrates very heavily on carbohydrates. Most of what’s on the table is going with you on the ride – I’ll need a trailer!

I’m thinking this through with you as my sounding board. Please let me know in the comments what mistakes I’m about to make.

What are the requirements?

  • Hydration
  • Electrolytes
  • Energy
  • Supplements?

Hydration is clearly a must. I’ll put a second 750ml water bottle on the shopping list straight away.

There is a clue there as to my normal routine. Generally I drink before setting off and will not drink again in the next hour. I then start to sip occasionally rationing a 750ml bottle over about 4 hrs. I don’t bother to take a second bottle unless I intend to be out for longer than that. I arrive home under-hydrated and drink a liter fairly promptly. Not good enough, Robert.

There will be opportunity to refill the bottles at stops along the way and whilst stopped it’s a good opportunity to drink a bit extra. If you don’t need a pee from time to time or your urine is very orange you need to drink more water. The need is clear. The solution is straight forward. Drink little and often – it will be absorbed better. The aim should be to lose no more than 2% body weight. (Scales in the trailer?) It’s all about discipline.

Electrolytes. Salt is lost as you sweat. Sodium chloride is present in the sorts of things cyclists eat and drink and aids absorption of both water and carbohydrates. Back in my marathoning youth (30’s actually) Staminade was offered at the drink stations and actually started to be palatable after about the half way mark. Overall, though, electrolyte replacement is way oversold. So forget the potassium and magnesium. A chocolate milk at three stops and a couple after the event and a gel or two here and there will take care of the sodium and help with rehydration.

Energy is the big one. Looking at the Calories that Strava thinks I’ve used for a couple of my toughest rides leads me to believe that I’ll need about 460Cals/hr. The physiologically average guy has about 80g of glycogen in his liver and 500g in his muscles on the starting line, say 600g equal to about 3,000Cals. This is increased in the trained athlete and boosted by carbo-loading but remember that muscle glycogen can only be used in the muscle that it’s stored in. The spare glycogen in my impressive lats can’t be borrowed by my exhausted quads. Once your leg muscles are empty you’re knackered, once your liver is empty you’re comatose by the side of the road. Bonking is the cyclist’s nightmare.

I could be in the saddle for 12 hours or more so the total Calorie requirement is about 5,520 equivalent to 1.1kg of carbohydrate (a deficit in the order of 500g – 600g COH – if I can get that amount in I can be comatose at the finish line clutching my finishers jersey).

The line of reasoning so far is well known to cyclists but things are not as bad as they seem because there are two other sources of energy – fat (by β-Oxidation of fatty acids), which I have plenty of and protein (by gluconeogenesis) which I would rather not use. I’m on a low carb high fat diet. It has helped me slim down considerably. I usually train fasted or with a low carb biscuit for breakfast. I commonly allow myself a banana a couple of hours into a long ride (>100km). This is supposed to have brought about some fat adaptation. I will be able to mobilise fat for some of the energy needed.

There is absolutely no doubt that the consumption of carbs during an event delays the onset of fatigue and that post event carbs aid in recovery. I will be consuming carbs during and after the ride.

This approach is sometimes referred to as a “train low race high” strategy.

The coma can wait until I’ve had a few beers.

The athlete can absorb about 60g of glucose per hour. Fructose is absorbed by a different pathway so another 30g can make it to the bloodstream. One molecule of common or garden table sugar breaks down readily into a molecule of glucose and a molecule of fructose. So 60g of sucrose plus 30g of glucose per hour is as much as you can do to offset the energy expended cutting the deficit in my case to just 10Cals/hr.

If you’re going to drink it an 8% solution is optimal. That is 60g in a 750ml water bottle. Sports gels tend to contain about 20g per sachet – I’ve yet to try one. Dates have about 5g each, bananas have about 20 – 30g but can become inedible after traveling too far in the back pocket. Jam sandwiches anyone?

Supplements. Welcome to the Essendon Cycling Club. Caffeine, good stuff, well known to enhance fat utilisation and enhance athletic and cognitive function. The effect is greatest in the naive and almost too small to measure in people who consume it daily. I’ll almost certainly have two long blacks before setting off – it’s what I do everyday. I don’t expect it will benefit me much during the ride.

Beetroot concentrate is a new one to me. According to Sports Dieticians Australia it works because it’s loaded with nitrates which are converted to nitric oxide (by oral bacteria no less) which cause some vasodilation. There is a Training Peaks article <HERE> as well. The main benefits claimed are a delayed onset of fatigue and better performance at altitude. A concentrate taken 2 to 3 hours prior to the event might be the go or you can juice a whole bunch of beetroots. Don’t clean your teeth though – just turn up at the start line looking like Dracula. Viagra works by the same mechanism, it would be way more convenient – could be the new wave.

Analgesics are also on Dr Lane’s list. I can’t imagine they will give enough benefit to be worth taking.

There you have it, eat drink and be merry – it ain’t an exact science.

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