Essential Etape Nutrition - Road Cycling UK

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Essential Etape Nutrition

For anybody attempting this year’s Etape (or any big ride this summer), a nutrition strategy is crucial. Running out of energy or worse, bonking, half way through a long ride is not going to make for a good day in the saddle.

We’ve enlisted the expert advice of Tim Lawson from from SIS (Science in Sport) to give us some top tips for nutrition before, during and after the Etape.

1. Plan your nutritional strategy before you go. Think about where you are going to eat the evening before and for your breakfast on the day, not just what you will take during the race.

2. Have a back-up plan. O.K, ideally you will have a high carbohydrate meal (200g of pasta or rice) with a reasonable amount of protein the evening before, but what if you can’t get in the restaurant because there are 10,000 cyclists in town preparing for a long bike ride the following day? If you can, book your restaurant and order your meal before you go.

But just in case you still end up short of carbohydrate have a plan B. Oat cakes, rice cakes and porridge oats can be useful regular foods to top up the energy stores if you don’t want to be eating into your GO bar and PSP22 supply prior to the event itself. A supply of fine cut oats can be quite a useful carbohydrate supply that can also be used for breakfast, if you find you have been beaten in the first race of the day and the buffet is a little scarce. Mix the oats with some REGO and pour some hot water in, leave for a few minutes and you’ve got yourself a suitable breakfast – right in your hotel room/tent.

3. Have a strategy based on bars, gels and electrolyte drink; this will give flexibility to cope with varying weather conditions as well as add variety.

4. Try to eat 60-80g of carbohydrate every hour; little but often is the key. The body can only process so much carbohydrate every hour so if you miss a few feeds you can’t catch up by eating more in the next hour. Your only real chance to catch up is to stop or perhaps while on a long descent. Remember with this year’s route there will be 4 hours or so of hard riding before there is a significant descent.

5. Pace yourself: When you set out it will be tempting to get carried away racing in the big groups, perhaps missing feeds, but also going a little harder than you should. There is a lot to be gained from taking the shelter of a group, but if this group is going faster than your ability level it could be very costly in carbohydrate energy that could be really useful to you at the steep bits of climbing later in the day. A good question to ask yourself would be – is this a pace I can maintain for 4 hours and still be strong enough to climb well?

6. It can be a useful strategy to make bottles up to 8% (80g per litre) with GO electrolyte and add a further 8-10% with PSP22. This will mean that you will get some electrolyte but it will still be possible to drink the concentrated solution and you could just pick up water from the water stations. Ideally you would have the right concentration of GO handed up from your team car just when you want it, but sometimes you have to make compromises according to the logistical challenge of the event.

7. Just put powder in some of your bottles. A litre of water is another kilo you will have to carry up the climbs. If you make up just more than enough to get you to the next drinks station you could just run powder in extra bottles to which you can just add water and go. People have even used under saddle bottles for this purpose. This could save a little time at crowded drinks stations if you are really going for a time. Go electrolyte is now available in sachets which are a convenient way to carry extra carbohydrate electrolyte – alternatively, weigh out a bottles worth of powder and put into small bags (and think of a good explanation for the customs officers) before you go.

8. Go isotonic gels can be a great way of getting a significant energy boost at the bottom or on a climb, bars can be a great reward at the top of a climb when the body has time to digest them on the way down.

9. The closer you are to your physiological limits the more you will need to rely on the high tech energy drinks and bars. If you are miles fitter than the group you are riding with it might be easily possible to do the Etape from what you have stolen from the breakfast buffet and what you can find on the route. If you are going for a time or are a weaker rider in a group then you will need to rely more on the scientific energy products.

10. Expect to loose some weight during the ride. Carbohydrate stored in the body is bound to water; as you use this carbohydrate (glycogen) store, the water is released. Typically a 500g carbohydrate store would release 1500g of water so if you start with a full store and finish depleted (and it would be surprising if you weren’t pretty empty at the top) you will loose 2Kg. There have been cases in organised sports events where there are many water stations, like cycle-sportives but especially marathons, of people finishing heavier than they started. In cases like this hyponatremia – water intoxication – is a significant risk. Hyponatremia is literally ‘low sodium level’, and is caused by over consumption of water. It is particularly dangerous because the symptoms look a lot like dehydration. It is best therefore not to go into an event with a pre-planned drinking regimen but to gauge your consumption according to the weather and how hard you are working. Remember it is an early start and the event is high in the Pyrennees so extremes of heat and cold are both possible even on the same day.

Check out for info on all SIS products.


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