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5 Steps for Endurance Nutrition


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Usually when I tell people that I am planning on doing a 24 hour race the first question they ask “Are you going to ride the entire time?”  I usually reply “that is the goal”, but their second question is either “are you crazy” or “what do you eat?”  We already know the answer to one of those…yes…so I thought I would share my nutritional strategy that has served me well over the last few years of endurance racing.  I am by no means a nutritionist or expert, however my wife and I have been going the distance since 2012 and I have learned a few things along the way.  The most certain thing I’ve learned is that nutritional plans are personal and can vary widely so I plan on giving a top-level plan while throwing in bits that have or haven’t worked well for me.

 

  1. Find Your Calorie Limits

I’ve read that most athletes can intake 200-300 calories per hour at an endurance pace.  Some people can go above that, but not me.  I aim for the 250-275 cal/hr mark when racing.  This is an important metric to find.  If you aim too low on the scale you won’t be able to replenish your glycogen stores fast enough and you’ll hit the dreaded wall.  Ideally, you’ve adapted your body to burn fat for endurance racing (a good coach can help with that and Racelab’s coaching has years of success in this arena), but even the best endurance athletes still use glycogen and need to restock the tank to avoid bonking.  If you aim too high on the scale you will end up with gastrointestinal (GI) distress.  Your gut can only process so much and if you try to force it to do more things usually don’t go well.  In order to digest more, it requires more blood flow which is diverted away from your muscles that ultimately need the oxygen rich blood.  On the extreme end you will get a backlog of calories sitting in your stomach and if it gets bad enough your body will pull in water to your gut from your muscles to flush the blockage…not pleasant.  This limit is found over time during those long training rides and races.

  1. Variety Is the Spice of Life

In parallel to Step 1 it’s important to find what products you like and work well with your stomach.  Do you prefer solid food, or do you prefer drink mixes with calories?  Those long training rides are great to experiment and find what works.  Be sure to find a variety of things that both you and your stomach enjoy.  One of my first endurance races I only took one flavor of GU to take every half hour.  Mid-way through the race I couldn’t stand the thought of eating another one, it was a miserable experience, even though my stomach had no issues.  Thankfully that was a relatively short race.  And don’t be shy about trying real foods.  I found I enjoy a mix of real food in addition to the sports specific drink mixes and gels like CarboRocket, HumaGels, and others especially for really long races.  When looking at foods from the market aim for high glycemic index foods like rice, potatoes, raisins and even bacon.  Protein sources should be kept to a minimal, although the really long races a bit of protein can help, but don’t overdo it on the bacon.  The high glycemic foods are much easier on your body to convert to sugars and to replenish your glycogen stores.  Things I personally like to eat include ProBars, Fig Newtons, Nutter Butters, and blueberry rice cakes from Skratch Labs.  These all work well with my gut and help keep the engine going.

  1. Read the Labels and Do Your Research

I’ve heard it said garbage in equals garbage out so be sure to watch what you eat and try to eat clean.  I don’t follow that as well as I should, but for nutrition during racing I do pay closer attention, especially since I learned the hard way.  I’ve always been told that electrolytes are important so I started using First Endurance EFS drink mix.  I chose it for the higher calorie content but also for its high electrolyte content.  I figured more is better so why not.  All my longer training rides went well using it, but my longest ride was around 6 hours.  When I did my first 10 hour race I used EFS primarily and things went well, till right after the race when I was running to the port-o-john.  After some research, I found out the high magnesium levels in the mix can act like a laxative.  Not a pleasant experience but it taught me to do my research and pay attention to what and how much I consume during races…more isn’t always better when it comes to electrolytes.  So it’s important to understand what ingredients are in products and how they can impact your performance.

  1. Form a Plan

Having a plan is important when it comes to racing.  Proper nutrition strategy will play a big role in your results.  I try to simplify the plan as much as possible.  For lap based races I break it down to what I need to consume per lap.  For 24 hours in the Old Pueblo I kept it very simple with one bottle of CarboRocket and one pre-packaged snack bag of food (cookies, gel, rice cake, etc).  Not only is it simple it allows you to easily track your consumption and if you are diverting from the plan.  For races with one big loop or point-to-point style races it’s a bit more difficult to keep it simple.  For these style races I recommend setting pre-planned nutritional goals between the aid stations, like 2 bottles between aid station 1 & 2.  These races take a bit more mental effort to track your progress, so I usually tape the aid station mileage marker notes to my bars.  I also tend to carry a few extra calories with me just in case my pace falls off the mark.  If the race allows it drop bag services can really help, use them.

  1. Be Flexible

Having a good plan is important,but it’s more important to be able to adapt when needed.  Don’t be so chained to your plan that you stick to it no matter what, even if your race has changed.  What if the race day temperatures are going to be high?  It would be wise to back off the calorie consumption rate a bit.  Because more bloodflow is required for maintaining your body temperature which leaves less resources for your digestive system to function properly.  Racing is also unpredictable so you need to be prepared to handle nutritional changes based on your effort.  If the pace is higher than you expected be sure to dial back your intake.  Cramming in the same number of calories in a shorter time you may overload your stomach and cause GI issues.  Learning how to adjust takes time and experience.  If something didn’t work out quite right make a note of it and readjust the plan you made in Step 4.  I am always adjusting and trying new things and keeping the things that work.

 

Here are my go-to nutritional plans for different durations:

0-2 Hr race

Water only with a gel or two to provide some quick sugar.  You should enter the race properly hydrated and fueled and you should only require minimal calories during the race to get you to the finish.

2-6 Hr Race

~250 calories per hour from liquid nutrition, no solid food.  I prefer CarboRocket Half Evil (especially the Black Cherry flavor…try it just trust me).

6+ Hr Race

~150 calories per hour from liquid nutrition (CarboRocket) and

~100 calories per hour from solid food (cookies, rice cakes, ProBars, etc).  I like to add in solid food during the long races for variety as well as a small source of protein (but not too much).

Bikepacking

Camping Alone: My First Solo Bikepacking Trip


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“The more time I spend alone the more I feel comfortable being alone.” – Lael Wilcox

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That quote really resonated with me as I watched Fast Forward, the short film about Lael Wilcox’s AZT attempt, for a second or third time at the Banff Mountain Film Festival.  Not only did it resonate with me but it shocked me.  You see, I have a tendency of putting other endurance athletes up on pedestal and projecting super human qualities onto them, in the process I often ignore the fact that they are regular people just like me.  While their accomplishments are impressive they do not achieve such accomplishments without facing the challenges that I face myself.  When I actually listened to Lael say those words instead of just hearing them I knew it was time to stop making excuses.  If I really wanted to get into ultra-endurance racing I needed to start making myself uncomfortable. (more…)

Race Reports

#CrossIsHere


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This past weekend marked the start of the AZ Cyclocross season so Danielle and I made the trek to the small town of Globe, AZ for the Flat Tire Cross Race presented by the “World Famous” Flat Tire Bike Shop.  While we entered the CX scene late in the season last year, we were immediately hooked, especially Danielle.  She couldn’t get enough and we even made a trip to Sea Otter Classic in April so she could race in the off-season.  So needless to say the first race of the season was circled in red ink on her calendar. (more…)

National Parks

Riding the Towpath in Cuyahoga Valley National Park


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I grew up about twenty miles from Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I went on field trips to Hale Farms and the Ohio and Erie Canal, concerts at Blossom and learned to snowboard at Brandywine & Boston Mills Ski Resort.  So it was almost funny when I realized that Cuyahoga Valley National Park existed; granted I was kind of a late bloomer when it comes to being an outdoor enthusiast and National Park buff.  Two years ago when we traveled to Cleveland for my best friend’s wedding, Ryan and I stopped at the park to check it off our list.  The entire park was covered in snow then, we even built a snowman on a walk to Brandywine Falls.  Last weekend Ryan and I went back to Cuyahoga Valley National Park to ride bikes along the Towpath.  There aren’t many safe places to ride near my parent’s house and there is a serious lack of bike shops in Northeast Ohio so we ended up on the Towpath by default – Century Cycles in Peninsula is the only shop that rents bikes on Sunday mornings.  It worked out well as the shop is located right on the path, and given our love for National Parks Ryan and I weren’t complaining at the chance to spend some time in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

As some of you know I have a distinct fear of falling, I often describe it as a fear of heights, but it’s really not that.  It is actually a fear of falling off of an edge.  Things like hiking trails on exposed ridge lines, descending steep switchbacks and crossing tall bridges tend to make my palms sweat and stomach tie up in knots.  I have a few vivid memories from my childhood where I can recall my fear of falling being triggered.  The first was a repeat offender, crossing the bridge to get from the parking garage to the Gund Arena (now “The Q”).  I always walked quickly and as far away from the glass windows as possible, this was quite ridiculous since the bridge is a solid enclosed structure.  The other fear I had was that I was going to fall into the Ohio and Erie Canal.  I know this fear was instilled in me when I went on a field trip to the canal in elementary school.  The adults that were giving the demonstration and explaining how the locks worked weren’t super enthusiastic, despite their stunning early 1800’s attire.  In fact, I don’t really remember anything about how the canal worked or the history of the area, which is unusual given I have a great memory.  The only thing I remember is the strict warning we received, if we weren’t careful and behaving we might fall in the canal and get trapped in one of the locks.  I was terrified, and have been coping with a fear of falling ever since.  Years later I remember my Dad asking me if I wanted to go ride bikes on the Towpath, which paralleled the canal.  I refused because I was categorically convinced that I would fall off the path and into the canal.  I’m sure my Dad thought I was being a teenage brat, because that must have seemed like the most illegitimate fear imaginable. So regrettably, I didn’t spend much time on the Towpath growing up, which is a shame because it is an incredible path for running and cycling that travels 81 miles from Bolivar to Cleveland.

Ryan and I rode 12.5 miles (for a 25 miles ride) of the path this weekend and he must have said how nice the trail was five times.  We only got to go from Peninsula to Rockside Road before we had to turn around and get back to my parent’s house, but I enjoyed every minute of it.  We even got to ride past the very spot where my fear of falling was born, the Canal Exploration Center at Lock 38, where the demonstrations and history lectures are given.  I had to laugh to myself and the irrationality of my fear as we pedaled past the locks.  First of all, there are several stretches of the path where there is no visible water on either side, second the path doesn’t butt up directly on the water’s edge, there is a barrier of grass and dirt between the two, and finally the water is shallow and stagnant.  If in fact anyone ever were to fall in its not as if raging rapids would carry them away.  That’s the thing about fears though, by their very definition they are irrational.  They rob us of our intelligence and logic if we let them and manifest themselves into insurmountable and paralyzing monsters.  Once we learn how to battle and quiet our fears and overcome them we can look back and see how senseless they were to begin with.  While I can proudly say I am no longer afraid of falling in the canal, my fear of falling still gets me from time to time, especially while mountain biking, but I’ll save those stories for another post.  I had a great time facing my fear head on this past weekend and look forward to riding on the canal again someday.  I’d like to do the Towpath in its entirety, and maybe even tackle the whole Buckeye Trail, hopefully on my own bike next time.  Dad, if you are reading this it’s time for you to start training!

If you don’t know a canal lock is like an elevator for boats, it lifts or lowers the boats onto the next level of the canal.  The trail is called the Towpath because it used to be a towing trail for mules to tow the canal boats along the water. 

Race Reports

Chino Grinder Race Report: A Tale of Two Races


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The Chino Grinder was our first gravel grinder, and it was also the first race we did simultaneously.  It ended up being one epic day in the saddle for all the racers due to some crazy weather, and the race was ultimately called for those reasons. Read bellow for his and hers perspective on the race; I reached the 53 mile mark exactly one hour before Danielle, so it was interesting to compare how different our experiences were based on a mere one hour separating us! (more…)

Blog

5 Reasons to add Sea Otter Classic to your Annual Race Calendar


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Ryan and I recently got back from our first trip to Sea Otter Classic, a cycling festival, expo and race put on each year in Monterey, California.  We had a blast and look forward to returning in the future, here are the top 5 reasons you should consider attending next year!

 

  1. Monterey, California

The location of Sea Otter classic is reason enough to make the trip.  Monterey is on a beautiful peninsula on California’s rugged central coast.  There are endless activities and attractions in the area and the landscape is unreal.  Even the views from the Laguna Seca Raceway parking lot were beautiful and calming.  Not to mention the weather in April is typically 62 degrees and partly cloudy with a slight chance of rain, ideal racing conditions!

 

  1. Racing, racing and more racing

Sea Otter puts on a race for every type of cycling discipline you can imagine.  From downhill, to road and cross country mountain biking, there is a race for everyone.  The races are well organized and have great courses.  The caliber of competition is also a notch up from most local races, participating in a race at Sea Otter gives you a chance to see how you stack up against cyclists from all over the country.  Here are some of my favorite photos Ryan snapped during my race.

 

  1. Free Swag

I am normally not a big expo fan, at most expos I end up coming home with useless wristbands and cheap pens. Sea Otter, however, has what should be considered the gold standard for all expos.  We got a ton of awesome swag (Pactimo t-shirts, a Pactimo bag, a Liv Giant trucker hat, Thule socks, Salsa coozies, a Subaru buff, Hand Up gloves, beer, tons of stickers…) and it was all free!  We also got to talk with reps from some of our favorite companies.  The awesome folks at Pactimo chatted with us about our team’s custom kits, which they have been making for years, and I got to introduce Ryan to Pep (Cori), the amazing Salsa rep, that recently helped me get my new Salsa Cutthroat.

 

  1. Trials Demos

Throughout the weekend, trials demos are put on by some of the best known names in sport, such as Danny MacAskil and Ryan Leech.  I’m sure you have seen their videos on social media, I I have never really understood why people spend so much time watching these videos, but after watching the demo in person I was blown away.  I was in awe the entire time we were watching Ryan Leech and inspired to work harder at improving my bike handling.

 

  1. The Pro Cyclocross Race

This race, will by far, be the most entertaining cycling race you have ever witnessed.  Heck, it may be the most entertaining 45 minutes of your year. Watching a peleton of cyclists barrel into gravel pits like a freight train and hearing the outrageous one liners from the announcers, ‘she’s knocking on his door like a bill collector!’, will have you smiling for the entire race.

So mark your calendars, Sea Otter 2017 is April 20 – 23!