Stage Race Nutrition
Words by Lori Nedescu, MS RDN LD
Founder of Cadence Kitchen
I recently raced the women’s PRO1/2 Cascade Cycling Classic. It was my first time competing at that level (read about my experience), not only that, it was my first time racing for more than 2 days in a row. Why does that matter? Well other than increasing leg fatigue, the dietitian in me immediately thought: how do I fuel for 5 days of long, intense racing?!
Over fuel and you’re left feeling sluggish, weighed down and potentially dealing with GI problems. Under fuel and you’ll be running out of energy and watching the peloton ride away from you. Not consuming enough will also promote poor recovery and increased risk of injury.
Priorities are to FUEL + REPLENISH + RESTORE + HYDRATE:
Fuel your body’s energy needs for the current day’s race.
Refuel your body to recovery from the current day’s race; replenish glycogen stores + tissue repair.
Fuel your body for normal health and metabolic functioning; balance, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients.
Prepare your body for the next day’s energy demands.
Guidelines + Suggestions:
Breakfast – The most important meal of the day. Its good to have a standard large pre-ride breakfast. Eggs + oats + fruit + toast + juice is a pretty normal go-to for cyclists, but regardless of what you choose, make sure there is an easily digestible carbohydrate to give the body usable energy along with a bit of protein and fat to keep the body satisfied and prevent tissue breakdown from the start. Try to eat a solid 3 hours prior to starting your race to give yourself time to properly digest and put those nutrients to use.
While experienced racers might have this practice down, it can be tough for new racers to hold down food due to nerves. To combat this, swap in more liquid calories such as a smoothie made with avocado, banana, almonds, oats and milk.
Pre Race – Breakfast was hours ago, while staging you should be sipping a beverage and eat a snack of banana, chews, or gel to top off your energy stores.
During Race – This depends on how long the race is, but the general rule is to start eating early and often and aim for 60-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour. Forgetting or waiting too long to take in calories on any ride is a mistake, but on a stage race, you aren’t just hurting the current race, you’re digging yourself a hole for the next day’s race. Take along more than you expect to eat and include dense sources like bars or rice cakes and quick sources like gels and chews. Stick with what you’re comfortable with and have practiced with.
Post Race – Have something immediately available to you. Getting calories in the form of carbohydrates and protein needs to happen asap to replenish lost energy, glycogen stores, muscles, and begin to rebuild torn muscle fibers.
Common problem here is races finishing at different locations than they started from; far from your car/ gear. If you don’t have a team car or finish line support to give nutrition to, carry extra fuel (a bar or recovery powder to add to water) in your jersey to consume immediately after.
Dinner – This is where focusing on your normal nutrition comes into play. Just because you’re racing for days in a row doesn’t mean you get to take in sport food or treats to get your calories. Neglecting your balanced, whole-food meals will put your body in an overly depleted, fragile state. Eat what you normally would with these two added thoughts: eat an extra portion and don’t skimp on the carbs. A nice, complete dinner might be a small salmon filet + large bowl of brown rice + a cup of stir fry veggies in coconut oil. Not able to cook a full meal due to staying in a hotel? Survey the area for healthier dining options in advance or stock up on easy to prepare items like microwavable rice burritos, oats + fruit, or bagel sandwiches.
Rest Days – If your race doesn’t include a rest day, keep fueling to ride hard. Have a rest day between stages, do not be tempted to cut back on the calories as your body still needs to replenish and prepare for the next day.
Hydration – Drink up all the time. All day whether you’re just waking, on the bike, or stretching out, you should be sipping water. The longer and hotter the races, the more you’ll need to drink. Sugary sport drinks shouldn’t be used for off bike hydration. Instead replenish electrolyte balance with non caloric tablets or a pinch of salt and citrus to mineral water. Diluted juice, milk, unsweetened tea, coconut water, and kombucha can all be good beverages to hydrate along with water.
Here’s a look at my intake during Cascade Classic: Reality + Woulda/Coulda/Shoulda