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Race Day Nutrition – How to Do It Right

By Jiri Kaloc

Did you start eating healthily to perform better on the bike? Did you go low-carb in the off-season to improve your ability to burn fat for energy? That’s great! You will have a very solid foundation. But if you want to go fast while racing, you’ll benefit from some external sugar too. Let’s look at how to set up a good race day nutrition strategy.

The point of fuelling on the bike while racing is to maintain carbohydrate supply to the muscle and reduce reliance on stored liver and muscle glycogen. Carbs also have a direct effect on the central nervous system and reduce the perceived effort during exercise. Now the question is when and how many carbs you should take in.

Eat on a schedule

There’s one thing you should know about fuelling on the bike – once you get hungry, you can never eat enough to catch up, not even with the best energy gels on the market. That’s why it’s essential to start fuelling about 20-30 minutes after the race starts and then continue fuelling on a schedule. Never wait till you get hungry.

Marcel Kittel of Quick-Step Floors eating a banana before the start of the sixteenth stage of the 104th edition of the Tour de France.

It helps to have a trigger that reminds you to eat. You can set an alarm on your phone every hour or think about eating at every town sign or landmark. Don’t rely just on your memory, when the going gets tough and fatigue settles in, it’s easy to forget. There’s one exception, for races around 60 minutes and shorter, you won’t need any external fuel.

Aim for 60 g of carbs per hour

When it comes to quantity, most people need something between 0,5-1 g of carbs per 1 kg of body weight per hour to perform at race pace. But keep in mind that the average athlete can safely digest only around 60 g of carbs per hour. Anything over that and digestive issues are almost certain. You might be able to get in up to 90 g per hour with a multi-source energy gel. There will be more info on how to buy gels in the following articles, but as a general rule, make sure to look at the labels of all your bars and gels and don’t forget to calculate the carbs in your drinks to avoid digestive issues.

Hydrate correctly

Hydration is a huge part of a race day nutrition. You should drink between 500 to 1000 ml of fluid per hour of riding to stay at peak performance. Just like with eating, you should start drinking about 30 minutes into the race. Make sure that you also get some electrolytes and carbs in your water bottle as they can accelerate rehydration and keep your body working even when you sweat a lot. There are several types of drinks to choose from, and we will take a look at those in the following articles.

Next up in Race Day Nutrition series