by Lee Pickering
With only a couple of months to go before a number of major endurance races get underway, such as the Manchester to Blackpool 60-mile ride, you probably have your training regime planned to a tee. But have you given your nutrition the same attention?
While training your muscles through cycling and spinning classes is crucial to your overall success, athletes can become obsessed with their performance while neglecting other aspects of their routines that will play a decisive role come race day.
Diet is integral to race succes - our bodies are machines that need correct fuel to run properly, and this metaphor increases in relevance for major events that put our bodies through a great deal of strain. Endurance races test our speed, muscle strength and ultimately our stamina, so we need to watch what we put in our bodies to harness the energy to perform to our best.
Practise makes perfect
Your body should be accustomed to your race-day rations, so don't be tempted to try a new breakfast that might lead to uncomfortable consequences for hours; you need to ensure your stomach is happy as you line up with competitors.
Implementing a consistent diet throughout your training will also help; try different foods and portion sizes on lighter training days then integrate these into the heavier sessions, so you can test how certain foods affect your body. After some experimentation you can confidently put together the ultimate pre-race victory breakfast!
Try to eat at roughly the same time every day to aid digestion. Furthermore, races normally start early so get a feel for long it takes you to digest your food to avoid feeling bloated on the start line. Many athletes choose to eat two hours prior to the race, however some eat up to four hours before setting off.
Another crucial - if less glamorous - necessity is to make sure your digestive system is cleansed. Eat lots of fibre and drink coffee to keep yourself regular through training, but avoid these on race day to minimise bathroom breaks.
So what should you be consuming for optimum performance during an endurance race?
The importance of drinking plenty of water, both in general and prior to your race, cannot be overstated.
Ensure that you are drinking two litres of water per day and replacing all of the additional fluid that your body will lose during exercise. Dehydration causes muscles cramps and extreme discomfort, potentially slowing you down. A study by the American College of Sports Medicine (and cited in Active.com) found that athletes performed 3% faster when rehydrating to 150% of their sweat loss, compared to those who only rehydrated to 75%.
Begin to ‘carb-load’ a few weeks before your race - increase your carbohydrate intake to maximise your muscles' glycogen stores for race day.
Dedicate 70% of your daily intake to carbs, from sources such as pasta, rice, bread and potatoes. If you’ve still got a few weeks to go then stick to brown carbs which contain more fibre and will digest more slowly. If you are only a few days away from your event, stick with white carbs which will pass through your body more easily.
Training burns a high number of calories which need to be replenished. A dish such as spaghetti bolognese with tomato passata, meatballs and cheese will give an good combination of carbs, protein and fat to power your training.
Once into the week before your race, reduce your calorie intake to normal levels and wind down your training. You won't be needing the additional calories but you will want to let your body recover as much as possible. Avoid overindulging so you won't be carrying extra fat which will slow you down come race day.
Pedal to victory by fuelling yourself properly on the morning of your race. The following breakfasts should see you through:
-Peanut butter on white bread toast with a banana: Protein, carbs and healthy fats will give you energy throughout the race.
-Porridge with almonds: A good amount of carbs and some nuts for extra protein. This can be quite heavy so ensure you have enough time to digest properly before racing.
-Poached/scrambled eggs on white bread toast: This will give lots of protein, healthy fats, and carbs to provide you with energy.
-Corn Flakes with semi-skimmed milk and two bananas.
Change these breakfasts around as you see fit so that you fuel your body with something it responds well to.
Sometimes the hectic morning of race day means that you don't have time for a full meal, so prepare the night before by making a smoothie packed full of goodness that you can drink on the way. Smoothies are easily digested swiftly absorbed, so you can drink one much later than you would normally consume food. Include bananas, some protein powder and milk, as well as your favourite fruits and sneak some tasteless green veg in, such as kale, for added iron and vitamins to see you through.
Energy drinks and gels will help maintain your fluid and carb levels throughout a race. You could even have a small snack such as a cereal bar or a banana while you are riding if you are feeling the need for an energy boost!
Author Lee Pickering is a personal trainer at DW Fitness.