5 Common Nutrition Mistakes It’s Easy To Make In An Endurance Cycling Event

Jillian Mooney
February 14, 2018

Jill here – you’ve heard me say before that when it comes to endurance nutrition it’s a case of managing deficits. The further you go the further you dip into the world of calorie deficits, hydration deficits, electrolyte deficits to name a few.

Performance can, of course, be sustained…to a point…..it’s learning how to stay on the right side of the equation for the full distance that counts.

Here are 5 common mistakes that are easy to make and easy to avoid!

1. Waiting too long to feed – crossing the start line can be nerve wracking. You have a long way to pedal and you know that you are facing a world of challenge. Your heart rate and your stress hormones will be high both the hour before you start and the hour after you start or until you settle into the race.

Know that under these conditions your muscles inevitably gobble up glucose, after all you’re getting ready to ‘fight or flight’. It means that despite what you’ve eaten for breakfast you may start using the storage form of glucose, glycogen, pretty quickly.

Simple facts about glycogen – you store it in your muscles and liver. You have limited storage capacity, usually about 650-800 grams, which equates to 2600-3200 calories. It’s one chemical reaction away to being glucose which is the most accessible fuel source under stressful conditions.

The issue is you are going to need all these glycogen stores as the race progresses. So your nutrition in the front half of the race must focus on sparing them.

You can do this very simply – start drip feeding early. Small, frequent amounts of carbohydrate (most likely liquid source) will provide the glucose that your muscles need until you settle into the race.

Fail to do this and you start the race dipping into precious stores which are hard to recover while on the move. Trust me when I say you can’t afford to start the race in deficit.

2. Getting the concentration of your bottle nutrition wrong – this one can be difficult to manage because the first sign you’re getting it wrong is gastric upset and bloating which can be very uncomfortable to ride through.

The rate at which your digestive system absorbs both fluid and solid nutrition changes the further you go, the higher your heart rate, your level of hydration – dehydration, etc.

You may find that 8 – 10 – 24 hours into an endurance race your stomach’s ability to empty and your gut’s ability to absorb the usual concentration of bottle nutrition changes. The upshot of this is nausea, bloating and an impaired ability to fuel and hydrate.

Performance will suffer.

This can catch many a rider and crew out, particularly if you’re new to endurance distances.

Always start with the manufacturer’s recommended dose but pay close attention to your hydration. The more dehydrated you become the usual manufacturer’s dose becomes more concentrated in your system which delays gastric emptying and starts the cycle of upset.

It’s a good idea once in a while to flush your system with just water. Hydration is key.

The very first sign of any gastric upset stop feeding, slow down and focus on pure hydration. Your symptoms will pass and you’ll be ready to fuel and race again soon.

3. Not carrying enough nutrition in your pockets – in endurance racing you have a crew so it’s easy for them to carry all your nutrition. After all, they can just hand it to you from the car window – right?

Bear in mind that your crew car may not be able to get up alongside you when you need to feed, particularly if you are racing on small, Irish roads.

Always carry extra bars. Every hour you miss feeding puts you further into deficit. Over time it adds up and can catch you unawares in the back half of the race when you really need to perform.

4. Not having a feeding strategy and schedule – create your plan and then have both a back-up and an alternative. What simple and complex carbs, fats, proteins are you going to use and in what proportions? Tastes change in a race so variety is important. Salty options balance out the sweeter carbohydrate drinks. Carry both.

How long are you planning to be out on course and do you have enough nutrition to cope with that plus an extra 3-5 hours if things don’t go to plan.

What part of the course are you going to do a more involved or warm food feed – look for slower downhill or flat sections. Plan ahead.

Feed 20-30 mins before significant climbs or very hilly sections. It’s too late once your heart rate hits a certain level.

5. Not having an SOS plan – if you feel you are heading towards the dreaded ‘bonk’ what are you going to do? It happens, sometimes we get it wrong, the deficit sinks too deep and you find yourself on the wrong side of the equation.

In endurance racing you have extra resources at your fingertips in the crew car. Know how to use them to reverse the slide. It’s 100% possible.

Maybe I’ll do a blog on how to avoid or reverse an endurance ‘bonk’ next. Stay tuned!

To find out more about one-on-one coaching with Joe or nutrition with Jillian please visit us on the Team Joe Barr Website.

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