Fuelling For Success
Is it necessary to have a nutrition strategy?
The fuel demands of the Etape du Tour are HUGE - whether a professional rider or a well-trained amateur rider. Let me start by stating and it might sound obvious, but you cannot just turn up and ride the Etape du Tour and neglect nutrition, even with a high level of fitness.
The hour window
Optimal training plans and equipment unfortunately will not substitute or even offset a sub optimal fuelling strategy. When the duration of cycling exceeds 2 hours irrespective of the intensity, nutrition becomes fundamental. The Etape du Tour is an endurance event on unforgiving terrain, it is not a blast around the park, criterium or hack in the countryside. Now I mention this as any rider that has done any of these and ridden at a solid pace and found the legs wobble or head becoming light and thoughts of draining energy from the body towards the end of an hour or so, will know exactly the feeling that can occur, and it can happen very early in the Etape du Tour if ridden without fuelling effectively and / or ridden too hard.
Prior to the event
What and when should you eat prior to the Etape du Tour?
Firstly NOW should be the time to start taking a sensible approach to 'moderation' to eating and drinking.
Our diets should be 'normalized', by this I mean that we eat to train and eat for our rest / social days. Ideally it should be almost effortless. This avoids trying to adapt the week before in text book style. We are attached to food emotionally and socially. What is ideal is the week before the Etape du Tour to have a normalized diet with a layered increase in carbohydrates and adjustments in fats. I am not tied up on proteins. But the point is not to change routines or food types. (Unless there is some serious work needed)
Practice fuelling on the bike
Train and train to practice eating on the bike. Obvious as it sounds. In the Etape du Tour fuelling regularly, every 15-20minutes from onset is vital. We are creatures of habit that don’t like change. We go out training or race with a bottle in the cage filled with an electrolyte drink and a gel or bar or banana in the pocket, but it is so easy to forget or feel after all its not necessary, we justify that we will feel okay or its opportunity to shave a few calories (often which we replace later in the day anyway), this won’t work at all during an event like Marmotte or the Etape du Tour.
Learnt eating behaviours
Not only do we have our learnt behaviour to how we fuel on the bike, but we should also be allowing our gastrointestinal system the ability to metabolise what we are eating. So it's best to practice eating during training, practice eating the same foods and drinks that you will use during the Etape du Tour.
Have an understanding of substrate utilization versus power or perceived effort.
You don’t need to be sports physiologist. But it will help you to have a working grasp of substrate utilization during exercise - i.e. the energy source - and what is the fuel being used? – carbs /fats/ proteins that we utilise at different intensities can significantly alter the way we fuel.
Fuelling on power
If you ride on power, you will have a good indication of energy output or it’s not too difficult to come up with the numbers. Now the fat burning zone is known to most, but good advice is to keep in mind when riding near / at or over threshold - you are using carbohydrates predominantly as the fuel source. High octane.
For sure threshold is trainable and we can become more efficient at utilizing proteins and fats. BUT threshold = carbohydrates. Period.
Know your energy sources
We can all store plenty of FAT - at 9kcal per gram it's pretty efficient fuel source compared to carbohydrates at 4kcal per gram. BUT - Carbohydrates we can only store in the body in limited amounts - in the region of 400g – 600g depending on our build and muscle mass. We store it in the muscles and the liver. So it’s a limited supply. And so its is wrong to presume it’s always full.
Full Gas = small fuel tank
Ride full gas / threshold and above for 60-80mins and we will empty our glycogen tank (stores) completely. In terms of the Etape du Tour our ‘threshold’ our ‘FTP’ should mean a warning light. When we approach this we are nearing the red, and for short periods of time this okay, BUT it is a limited fuel source. Well – why not just replace what is lost? BUT we cannot completely replace, that is the point.
We are able to fuel during cycling effectively at 1 -1.2g /kg carbohydrate per hour, but this is the limit. So we may get a bit of extra time to exhaustion when riding on the limit but we would utilize much more then we can effectively take on.
Practice fuelling at ~ 1 gram/ kg / body weight during training on longer rides > 90/120mins. Easy short rides and you be over fuelling.
Practice. Fuelling at 1.2 gram / kg / body weight with multiple mixed carbohydrates, practice, from experience it does not work for everyone.
Leading up to the Etape - 7-10 days before
Taper training, less is more. (Of course only if the number of hours / training load warrant it)
Don’t start now making changes to your diet or try to lose an extra few pounds.
Understand that glycogen is your friend and we have limited capacity to store this in the liver and muscles.
Aim to have full glycogen stores by the day before the Etape at least.
Best Advice! We need 3-5 grams per kg body weight carbohydrate per day without exercising.
Check you are meeting your baseline carbohydrate requirements.
I.e 80kg - Baseline Carbohydrate Requirement = 240g-400g per day.
What is your daily output? - do you run for the bus, turbo train, train around the park, and if so how much? All activity will have energy and carbohydrate cost depending on the length and intensity.
From experience most riders in a sedentary job training 6-10hours will not go too wrong with a total carbohydrate intake of 6-8g/kg BW (body weight).
Ideally our carbohydrate intake varies from a rest or an easy day to training days.
7-10days before - Ask the question am I glycogen full or empty ? The weighing scales may provide some guidance if our weight is 1-2kg less than normal and or we have been training without a daily emphasis on carbohydrate.
What if we just have no idea? Then steer towards 7-8g CHO per kg with a tapered training.
Watch the calories!
It’s helpful to have a general understanding of macronutrient distribution and what we are eating.
A common mistake is to increase the carbohydrates and at the same time increase fats and proteins through the roof.
Let's take Pasta - An average 100g portion of pasta has 346Kcal, 68g CHO, 12grams Protein and 2 grams of Fat. Pretty good. Then it is very easy to start adding the calories (sauces, oils, cheese, bread with butter, dessert, wine / beer and so on)
What often happens is we meet our carbohydrate targets but our calorie intake is too high.
So - We we have to be prudent with our fat intake. From experience I would recommend in the region of 25% of energy intake.
Myself included , cyclists/ athletes often apply the same nutritional guidance for the population to ourselves. AND, often we don’t eat enough of the right foods at the right times and by default in the end, end-up eating more of what we didn’t want to eat.
It is helpful to think - fuelling to train and recover.
The day before the Etape du Tour
So you are there, maybe a few days before or the day before, perhaps you will put the bike together and have a small ride. But consider, will there be somewhere to eat and precisely what you want to eat? Have you booked a restaurant / hotel food (will it be appropriate or foods you are used too, or enough) / eating from the hotel room or locally?
Be prepared. No reason not to prep and take some essentials. Make a list. For example;
· Preferred cereal, cereal bars, energy bars
· Preferred sports drink and gels
· Skimmed milk powder, flavoured milk powder or recovery drink
· Long life milk more soya or alternative milks can be packed in the hold luggage if you
· Quick cook pasta / instant noodles
· Honey, Jam
· Coffee and travel coffee maker / kettle
· Tinned fruit / dry fruit (and some fresh fruit)
· Rice Cakes / rolls / bread / bagels
Don’t let poor hygiene spoil your ride.
Is food fresh, chilled buffets – how long has been about at the fridge? When unsure - avoid. That's what we do as pro bike riders
Consider sterilizing water bottles before travelling.
Keep to the plan, don't relax too much on the food and drink front. Not after all the prep.
The aim would be by now you are already glycogen loaded. This means today you don’t have to over fuel, have 3 good carbohydrate meals, 2 good carbohydrate snacks, and some fuel if you are riding and may be a small top up in the evening.
Worst case -
The worst scenario is to feel ‘full’ / ‘bloated’ = 'blocked'. Keep hydrated. Fluids all meals, couple 500mls bottles, electrolyte or hydration tablets if hot.