The Ultimate Century Nutrition Plan
Our guest article today is from, Kimberly Mueller, MS, RD, CSSD, the founder and owner of Fuel Factor Nutrition, is a Registered Dietitian, Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and competitive athlete who provides custom meal planning, nutrition coaching, and event-nutrition guidance to athletes worldwide. More information on Fuel Factor services can be found at www.Fuel-Factor.com. Kim can be reached at kim@Fuel-Factor.com .
Whether you are professional cyclist pushing some serious wattage to win a race or a cycle-newbie excited to explore the countryside, implementation of a sound nutrition plan will be a huge determining factor in how your body will respond to the century challenge. Fueling peak cycling performance involves a trio of steps including: 1) tapered training and carbohydrate loading the 2 weeks leading up to the ride, 2) eating a meal the morning of the ride, and 3) consuming foods and fluids during the ride itself. Here’s a nutritional countdown to help your century preparation:
Two weeks and counting….
Many athletes actually dread the taper leading up to a big event, such as a century ride, but from a nutritional standpoint, when you complete your peak training volume about 2 weeks out from race day, muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores are about 30% lower than capacity, not an ideal place to be at for peak performance. Therefore, a two-week taper is appropriate before a century ride as means to allow your muscles to nutritionally reload.
In the first week of your taper, training volume should be reduced by 40% with the cutback being reflected on all your normal weekly rides. On race week, not only will training volume be reduced by another 40% but carbohydrate concentration in your diet should increase approximately 25% representing about 80% of your total caloric intake. However, while increases in carbohydrate are necessary, this is not an invite to blindly pile on the pasta till your pant button explodes. Calorie intake needs to match output so if you find yourself gaining more than 2% of your pre-load weight, you are consuming too much. Most athletes require ~15 calories per pound of body mass to support basic metabolic needs and tapered daily activities.
One day and counting…
While you may be eager to explore the pre-race scene, it is important that you maintain a ‘taper focus’, keeping your activity and time on foot to a minimal the day prior to a century. Make sure to stay hydrated, sipping on fluids until your urine maintains a pale yellow appearance. Continue your carbohydrate-focus but keep your diet low residue, meaning fiber content should be reduced a bit in favor of ‘easier-to-digest’ options (e.g., banana instead of an apple; white pasta over whole wheat pasta). In addition, fat and protein at your evening meal should be kept minimal as these nutrients take longer to clear the gut and can cause nausea on race morning, especially if the meal is eaten after 6pm. Make sure to stick with familiar foods, saving the more exotic local cuisine for post-ride.
While a training taper and coordinated increase in carbohydrate intake is proven to prime your muscles for peak cycling performance, a carbohydrate-focused meal on ride morning will help restock your depleted liver glycogen stores, ultimately giving you that mental boost to perform at peak during the initial stages of the century ride. Our liver has the capacity to store approximately 100 grams (400 calories) of carbohydrate making this the target for consumption in the 2 hours leading up to race start. Much like your carbo-loading regimen, limit dietary fiber intake and instead use up to 25 grams of protein (e.g., egg, yogurt, soy milk) to help stabilize energy levels. Small amounts of fat (up to 20 grams), like that found in a couple tablespoons of peanut butter, can provide additional satiation value. Finally, aim at drinking ½-1 liter of fluid or enough that your urine runs pale yellow in the hours leading up to event start. For those vulnerable to cramping or premature muscle fatigue, consuming up to a gram of salt as part of your pre-ride fuel, whether found naturally in your food or added like that in a sports drink, has been shown to help mute the onset by a good 20% during endurance events such as a century ride.
Meals on Wheels
All the nutritional work during your taper and carbo-loading regimen and pre-ride meal is not enough to carry you through a century ride making ‘meals on wheels’ essential for protection against the mental ‘bonk’ and muscle wrenching ‘wall’. Because both pedaling and digestion of food require oxygen nourishment, it is impossible to replace 100% of cycling output, which falls at 500-1000 calories/hour for most endurance cyclists, but, while a 30-40% replacement rate is optimal for most, the goal is to test that limit as means to mute the fatigue seen with depleted glycogen stores.
Note that with increases wattage, effort, and/or heart rate, there will be increases in calorie output yet the ability to absorb nutrients will decrease making the onset of muscle fatigue more probable. Therefore, cyclists who are racing a century should focus primarily on easier-to-absorb liquid carbohydrates (e.g, sport drink, gels with water), utilizing multiple carbohydrate sources (e.g., maltodextrin + 1-2 simple sugars) to help improve rate of uptake and accommodate their higher calorie outputs. All cyclists should avoid piling on the calories at sag stations as this will only divert blood/oxygen/water to the belly increasing the likelihood of cramping and/or nausea post-feeding. Ultimately, experimentation with different products during training is key to help create a plan that will work best for you on event day.
Want help creating an ultimate cycling nutrition plan? Kimberly Mueller, MS, RD, CSSD founder and owner of Fuel Factor Nutrition, is a Registered Dietitian, Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and competitive athlete who provides custom meal planning, nutrition coaching, and event-nutrition guidance to athletes worldwide. More information on Fuel Factor services can be found at www.Fuel-Factor.com. Kim can be reached at kim@Fuel-Factor.com .