The best cyclists know that your race-day plan must include a nutrition strategy, detailing the quantity and types of food that will best fuel your body for maximal performance.
In this workshop, which is Part 1 of a four-part series, How to Create a Race Day Sports Nutrition Plan, Head Coach Ryan Kohler and Coach Trevor Connor explore the overview of how to create a race-day sports nutrition plan. They share how you can gain a clear understanding of the nutrition demands of your specific event.
This Webinar includes homework! See the Forum topic Race Day Nutrition Plan Homework for your assignment.
In Part 2, Kohler and Connor dive deeper into specific nutrition metrics for a race. As a case study, Kohler explores a research paper he published about race-day nutrition for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB.
Part 3 of this series explores how to write out your nutrition Plan A, Plan B, and the Disaster Recovery Plan; how to find out what nutrition will be available at aid stations; calculation distances and estimating nutrition needs between aid stations; and more nuts-and-bolts nutrition plan execution.
Part 4 will be a discussion of how to refine your personalized nutrition plan. You’ll learn how to train your gut and find your tolerable upper limits for calorie intake, and how to keep track of your progress.
[Related Fast Talk Episode 23: How Periodization Works…for Your Sports Nutrition with Dr. John Hawley.]
Ryan Kohler 00:05
Hi, welcome Fast Talk Live Members. I’m coach Ryan Kohler here with Trevor, and today we’re going to show you how to build your race day or event-specific nutrition plan.
Ryan Kohler 00:16
So here we go, I’m going to share my screen here.
Ryan Kohler 00:30
Alright, and we’re off. So, this is part one of a four-part series that we’ll be doing, and in this one, we’re going to start off by really just setting the stage and really starting very early in the season. So, assessing your event needs and getting that stage set for what will eventually come. So, we are really trying to get out ahead of the curve on this one. I guess before we start, one of the things I always mentioned to folks when I work with them on nutrition, is to do this as early as possible. So, you know, working here in Boulder, over the years, it has been interesting, because I’d always see this huge uptick in nutrition appointments, in, you know, late April and into May, right before the Boulder IRONMAN, and I always recommend it like, next year, let’s have you come in maybe like January or February and start this process. So, that is what we are doing now, trying to get this well thought out so that when you get to your event, you have all the tools and the confidence in your plan ready to go.
Trevor Connor 01:36
I think that’s a really good point because A, it takes a while to figure out what’s the best nutrition for you. So, it’s not something you’re going to figure out in a week or single consult, consult. Just as importantly, it takes your body time to adjust. Even if you make an improvement in your nutrition, often your body’s going to react negatively for a little bit. So, changing your nutrition a week or two before an event is not a great idea.
Ryan Kohler 02:03
Yeah, you’ll have those ups and downs, and that’s part of it, but we’re gonna try to just make it as smooth as possible.
Ryan Kohler 02:10
So, there are two main topics that we’ll look at. So, one is setting up your seasonal event, or events. The second piece is starting to figure out what are those nutritional needs, what are the ones specific to the event, but also your individual needs, your likes, your dislikes, and this is where a lot of experimentation comes into play.
Setting Up Seasonal Events
Ryan Kohler 02:31
So, starting off with the season planning piece, so just figuring out events first, right? So, this is just putting your events into writing, figuring out what am I doing? When am I doing it? And just kind of what does that look like? Take a step back and look at that 30,000-foot view, right? So, assessing the time available, right? We can, you know, put our races or events in there as, like a, b, or c level events, this is pretty common practice. I like that for nutrition planning because it allows us to figure out our nutrition approach, right? So, for an A race, of course, if we want to be at our peak form, we want to make sure our nutrition is dialed in as well, and we have essentially our peak nutrition form. So, that’s usually my start is okay, let’s figure out the important races, and that helps determine how we approach our nutrition. Then the B and C races give us opportunities to train and refine things. So, that’s when we can practice, we can make mistakes, we’re not worried about the event as much, but we’re more focused on the nutrition. And then finally, once we understand that, then we can start getting to work building the nutritional training plan.
Trevor Connor 03:39
I think it’s important to point out here when you’re talking about a, b, and c races, this has nothing to do with nutrition. This is first figuring out your calendar, what are your key events? And then you build nutrition around that.
Ryan Kohler 03:51
Exactly. Yeah, it’s just so we can get the good seasonal view here. So, if we did that, and we have something like this, where we have this whole season built out and of course this is all completed, so this is just looking back. But as an example, this is an annual layout of training, and there are some events in there, you’ll see A, B, and C events, and you know, different amounts of training leading up to those. So, this is why as Trevor said, we use those A, B, and C events to delineate, you know, what our focus is when are our key training sessions to happen to get us there? But what we can really pull from that is once we design this, we have this great, this great layout for the season. Well, now we overlay the nutrition on top of it.
Ryan Kohler 04:36
So, I’m going to use this A race there in the middle, in the orange, the tall one and say, okay, we’ve got a C race there, and then that A race is the one where I want to have things pretty dialed in. So, I look at that roughly and I say okay, that’s about six months before my A race. So great, I have now six months to figure things out. And then I can look ahead and say okay, there is another race in late June and then another one in July, so if I want to make sure that by the time I get to July, everything is really settled and I feel good about my plan, then I have another six weeks, and there’s a B race coming up, so I can now refine things even further. So, just to give you a way to start looking at your season on a macro level, to figure out how to lay things out nutritionally.
Ryan Kohler 05:22
So, looking at this, and really, I just cut off the June and July pieces, so we can break this down piece by piece. So, when I look at this, there’s a couple of different steps that I like to have people take. There’s this first phase, where we established a very strong baseline of general good eating habits, and we started to lay the foundation for how we’re going to start thinking about our nutrition as fuel and fueling the upcoming training sessions.
Trying and Refining Nutrition
Ryan Kohler 05:49
So phase two, I like to call trying and refining, right? So, this could be, you know, any number of months or weeks, this would vary for every individual somewhat. But this is the time where we make mistakes, we see some successes, and we test out a lot of things to see what doesn’t work, what do I like? What don’t I like? And this is where we really start to shape our plan. So, then when we think we have a plan in place that works, well now let’s go give it a shot. So, we can pick out a lower-level event, maybe a C-level race, and take that as our dry run, and this is just where our focus isn’t so much on the racing, but it’s more on, did I follow the plan? How did things work? Did my gut tolerate it? Things like that.
Finalizing and Executing the Nutrition Plan
Ryan Kohler 06:31
Finally, the last phase, is we finalize things, and then we execute. The goal here is to take what we learned from the first couple of phases, take that race experience from the dry run, and figure out okay, what tweaks do I need to make in order to come into this A race feeling very confident about my plan? And you know, really, I think that confidence is a big piece of it, where, you know, if you don’t feel like you have a good plan, or you just don’t have that confidence going into it, then I think that really impacts your ability to execute it. So, part of going through this over and over again, just like we do with the physical part of training day after day, is to develop a certain level of confidence to say, oh, yeah, I know I could always eat this kind of food, and I’m good, and when I eat this kind of food, it doesn’t sit so well. So, I think it helps us build that confidence throughout the season.
Setting Up Strong Baseline Habits
Ryan Kohler 07:22
So, breaking these down a little bit, starting off with that first piece, set up strong baseline habits, right? So, this is where I look at the goal being just establishing your needs for day-to-day training, day-to-day recovery, and generally good eating habits. So, we’ve talked in past episodes about, you know, how to figure out how much you need, there’s testing that you can do to figure this out, or you can, you know, trial and error it again to or just go off with past habits and say, oh, yeah, well, I’ve been feeling really, really good eating like this, so I’m performing well and recovering well, so I think this generally supports me. What we need to do is make sure that as that training volume builds, we’re just adjusting our nutrition to meet those needs. So, but then really supporting the exercise, supporting performance, and then this other third piece is supporting life, just day to day life, because there are other stressors that come out, and we need to make sure that those are, you know, those are part of it. So, we look at things like daily energy needs, you know, how much do we need to get in to do all of this? So, this is just basically a 24-hour energy intake, right? Then we look at the general needs for carbs, protein, fat, around training, during training, outside of training, just one in general, how would we characterize our eating habits? You know, and do our current habits seem to support what we’re doing? Or do we need to tweak those? And this isn’t something where we need to, you know, dive deep right away and say, oh, we need to go and record seven days and figure out exactly which distribution of macronutrients we need, but this could be very simply starting off saying, okay, how do I characterize my diet? And I can just write some things down. We can look at general quality, we can look at some quantities of foods, certain types of foods, and talk about how that supports you, and then say, okay, well if we’re going from four to five hours of training a week to now six to eight hours of training week, let’s talk about the nutrients starter and help support that, and then we can take the approach of building that in to support it. So, we’re focusing on the quality and the quantity.
Quality vs. Quantity of Food
Ryan Kohler 09:30
So, I always want to bring up these two pieces, because I found over the years when we have this focus on quality, we have to strike a balance. I have seen a lot of athletes that are very heavily focused on the quality and they miss a little bit of the quantity you know, they might be eating too much salad and you know, not enough other nutrients are coming in to really round out that 24-hour energy need. So, they end up eating a little bit less. So, we’re always talking about okay, well, let’s take for, for example, that salad and just tune that up a little bit, can we add some things to it to help give you the energy you need throughout the day? You know, if you are missing things like protein, can we add a little bit of protein in there, for example? So, really just figuring out how do we strike that balance, and like we said already, this takes time to figure out. So, that is why we want to start this nice and early.
Trevor Connor 10:22
But one thing I’m going to add to this is just going back to the quality component, which is, to me very important, because I saw in the old days of cycling, which is simply changing now, that’s really what they looked at. You need this many carbohydrates per day, you need this much protein per day, you need this much fat, and they did not care that much about the source, and you talk to some of the older pros from the 90s and early 2000s, they’ll tell you, they didn’t really eat a healthy diet, but they were getting the ratios they wanted. I think that is one of the important changes that has occurred, and now they’re realizing you need to make sure you’re getting your ratios, and getting sufficient calories, but you need to be getting it with healthier foods. So, not all proteins are made the same. If you just use an app and say I need x grams of protein, I don’t care what it comes from, I think you’re going to make a mistake and find that it’s going to be very hard to sustain over the long run. So, try to get the protein you need, to try to get the carbs you need, to try to get the fat you need, but also be thinking about the sources of those foods, especially for that sustainability over time.
Ryan Kohler 11:33
Trevor Connor 11:34
That energy needs. You’re right. So, when we’re talking about energy needs, we’re really just talking about calories. Remember that if you’re trying to lose weight, you have to cut back in calories, but eating a diet that’s too low in calories, where you have too much of a caloric deficit that also affects your recovery from training. So, right when you’re trying to get ready for a big event is not when you want to be cutting a lot of calories, because it’s going to impact your training, it’s going to impact you’re being ready for the race. So, that’s a particular place whereas Ryan was saying, you don’t want to be thinking about this in May, you want to be thinking about this in November and December and doing it very gradually so that you can still train optimally as well.
Ryan Kohler 12:19
Excellent. All right. So, once we have those plans in place, and we have that nice strong baseline, now it’s time to get into trying different things and refining those habits, right? Or ultimately, we want to come up with a plan A, not to confuse this with our A, B, C races, but you know, a couple ABC references in here, but this is our nutritional plan A, and this is our ideal scenario.
Refining Baseline Habits
Ryan Kohler 12:43
So hopefully, you know, by the end of this, we know, all right, every hour, roughly, I’m going to take this, this and this, this is my beverage, and this is what I’m going to plan to rely on, and I know I’m going to have that accessible, and that’s perfect, great. But we also need to make sure we establish a backup plan because this is it’s racing, you know, I think in particular with the longer events, more ultra-distance things, there’s always unexpected things that happen. So, I always tell people come up with your plan A based on the stuff that you know you will have, you will have access to, and you can bring with you. But we also need to come up with a plan B as well, and that is where we’re going to look more specifically at, okay, what’s on the course? Let us have you try some of that in training to know that, hey, you know, if you’re out there, and, you know, you drop a few gels on the side of the trail, and you’re empty-handed now, you know, there’s gonna be stuff at the next aid station that you can grab.
Ryan Kohler 13:43
So, another piece is travel, you know, just traveling to other countries for events, you know, what if your normal foods that your go to foods aren’t available? Are there things that you can bring from home? And this even holds true and just travel within the country. I remember, you know, driving, how many days it took, we drove from Colorado to California for Mountain Bike Nationals, you know, you are on the road for at least two or three days that it took us to get out there. But that’s two or three days of, you know, when you are used to having access to a certain amount of food or certain types of food at home, now when we’re on the road, can you access the grocery stores? Or are you living off you know, gas station food? You know what, and how much can you bring in store, so you have what you need? We’re gonna look at likes and dislikes, and this could be a whole talk in and of itself I think, what are your go-to foods that you like? And it’s not just what do you like to eat while you’re training or racing, but in the event of long distance events, what happens to those likes, after three hours, six hours, nine hours or more? You know, same thing dislikes, what things are you just absolutely turned off by that you just will not consume it? Well, let’s cross-check that with base station fuels and make sure that okay if that’s there, we know that’s out. So, we have to make sure we plan for that.
Ryan Kohler 15:08
Course profiles, we know that we can, we can pretty much look up any course profile on the internet now. So, we can start to as we’re trying these things out, we can mimic this a little bit and say, oh, well, if there’s this much climbing, I’m going to go and do that much climbing at a good effort and see how my body responds to intake of X amount of calories per hour, for example.
Ryan Kohler 15:31
Environmental conditions, we have to think about what’s it going to be like on race day, and tailor our needs to that, and basically how lots of trial and error. So, this is why we want to give ourselves a big block of time for this. So many times, I’ll have athletes do things like, you know, long, long key workouts on the weekends, we might do like two long weekend days, and we’ll say, hey, you can go ride for five hours, I know you because you’ve done it before, but I want to have you go ride for five hours again, or six hours, and, you know, it’s almost mindless at this point where you can go and turn the pedals for that long, but the focus isn’t on turning the pedals, this is more of a nutritional challenge to say, okay, here’s our plan that we’re moving forward with you go turn the pedals and the bike will be moving down the road, but all I want you to focus on is not the power or anything else, but just focus on, you know, just getting food in, you know, and the foods that we identified as taking in, that’s your focus, and maybe it’s eating to or drinking to a certain schedule, but we’d have a certain nutritional focus. I think, Trevor, you mentioned this earlier, do not do something new or different on race day. I think he already said that, but we’ve heard that a lot because it can really, can really run into problems with that.
Trevor Connor 16:41
That is probably the biggest golden rule about nutrition is never really 24 hours before target race, don’t eat anything you’re unfamiliar with. I would say what are the biggest nutritional mistakes I see athletes make all the time is they read about what you should do this, this and this, and this for your race day food, which is not what they normally do, so they get very used to a particular routine, and then they get to a target race and do all this stuff that they read or been told to do, which is different from what they’re used to, and they get a bad reaction. I have asked several athletes about this, they go “Well, that’s what I’m supposed to do.” You go, “Have you ever done that before?” No. So, “Why would you try that on race day?” The conversation I frequently actually have with athletes is a lot of them will do something like a Saturday morning group ride, and I’ll ask them, “How do you do at the group ride? Do you ever bomb?” “No, not really.” “You feel pretty good at the group ride?” “Yeah.” “What do you do on that day?” “Well, I did this, but I can’t do that race day.” “Why not?” “Well, because that race day, this is just my normal Saturday” I go, “but you went to a three four-hour group ride, and you were pretty successful, you didn’t bog, you had good energy, you were able to race, why wouldn’t you do that on race day because you know that works for you?” So, you want to find that routine, and you want to repeat it that you know works for you. You do not want to show up and race day and go okay, now let us try something different, which is a big unknown. That of course, we’ll get into this, but I say all that. If you are traveling to event, sometimes you do not have a choice. I traveled there was a 2017 I went to Cascades, my flight, we sat on the tarmac for three hours, everything got delayed. I landed at midnight, two days before the race, everything was closed, the supermarkets were closed, so my dinner consisted of gas station food, and sometimes you just got to do what you got to do.
Ryan Kohler 18:48
Ryan Kohler 18:50
Yeah. Yeah. To add to that, yeah, there is one example of not trying something new or different but having a plan A and knowing your likes or dislikes. When I lived in Colorado Springs, there was a running group called the Incline Club I would do a lot of running with and Matt Carpenter ran that, that club and he was, of course, an internationally known mountain runner, amazing, absolutely amazing athlete. I was doing a bike fit on him one day where we just were able to chitchat a lot, and I asked him about his nutrition during that time, because we would always see him out running like you go on any trail in the Springs, and you would just happen to run into him somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, and he’s running along at his pace, and he has one of those tall Gatorade bottles tucked under his arm, and you would always see him with that, and I asked him about it, he told me the story about like when he was doing Leadville and a lot of other ultra-marathons in past years, and he would figure out basically like to the ounce how much he would need to get from this aid station to that aid station, it’s X amount of miles, I know I need exactly this much and he carries that with them. So, really leaves very little room for error, but it was a pretty fascinating story to see, you know, you can really get it down for him to the milliliter, for me, I can’t do that, most of us we’re not going to do that, but it can be done. It was a really cool story just to hear about that where he’s totally confident and that he just says that one bottle for a certain length run, he’s good.
Trevor Connor 18:50
Trevor Connor 20:22
Ryan Kohler 20:23
Trevor Connor 20:25
The other trick that I’ll offer, particularly for the travel, certainly when I was traveling a lot to races, I was probably on the road as much as I was home. I always had a food bag that I took with me everywhere to every race, and it sounds really sophisticated and it was not, it was just a grocery bag. I had it absolutely loaded up with the foods that I knew I could get by on, it was foods that didn’t need to be refrigerated because sometimes it would sit for 15 hours in the team van. It had food that I could stack on, it had food that I could eat before a race, it had food that I could eat after a race, and I always had that as a backup in case we just couldn’t find a supermarket or anything that I would normally need.
Ryan Kohler 21:12
Yeah, yeah, we need those backups.
Dry Run Races
Ryan Kohler 21:16
All right, so the dry run part. So, once we think we have a plan figured out that we want to try, now we can take this dry run. So, this might be a training race, like we said, maybe a B or C level event, or just something low key that we are not too stressed about the physical part of it, we’re focused on the nutrition. So, the stress of finishing or performance is pretty low, so we just focus again on the feeling piece of it. With this one, this is where I would put this as an assignment, essentially, to athletes to keep track of what comes in, right? You can write it all down or keep your wrappers. So, this photo on the side here is from one of my rides where I came back, and I just emptied my pockets out, and that was what came in during the ride. So, I can go back, and I can say oh, yeah, here’s how much came in, go back and look at the ride, how did it go? How did it feel? Were there places where energy was low? Or did I do all right? And then now I can start to get a sense for okay, like even a visual sense of just looking at how much food is coming in, and applying that to this length duration, you know, or time, or intensity of a ride and say, okay, this seems good, you know, and then I start to get a feel for like, well, how much? Even like, how much does that feel like in my pocket when I stuffed all this, all that fuel in there what does that feel like? You know, things like that. So, this is the time to try something new and make mistakes, in particular, I think it’s very important to allow yourself to make mistakes, and you know, review what worked and didn’t work. So, one of the things I will even challenge athletes with is like, try something and fail, like find failure. So, if we, if somebody has a plan, and you know, they are like, yeah, this is what I’m having, this is what I seem to have luck consuming, then I say, “Okay, let’s try more, let’s try to find that upper limit of your tolerance.” And then if we find that, great, now we are starting to establish a range, right? And we know your tolerance is going to change, based on you know, how far into an event you are, and maybe time of day, different environmental conditions, but lets at least try to find a range to say, all right, how do you perform on slightly less? And how do you perform on slightly more? Just so we don’t get stuck into like one particular intake level, but we can now be a little bit more flexible, and then we understand, you know, one that range, but two why, you know what, what types of efforts give us those changes? And now when we’re in an event, it allows us that flexibility to really make that real-time call to say, yeah, my stomach’s feeling a little full, I know I can do better on last, I’m going to shift things up before this next aid station, and do X, Y, and Z, whatever decision we make. But it allows us the flexibility to make the call in real-time to make adjustments.
Trevor Connor 23:58
Really important thing here is that dry run needs to be as close to your target race as possible in terms of emulating it. So, similar weather, similar sort of terrain, all these things are a factor that can affect your nutrition. So, I’ll give you a few examples. One is if your target race is this big, hilly race, when you’re on those hills, you’re going to be going really hard. Digestive system tends to shut down a little bit at those times. So, you have to be careful what you have in your gut before you hit that 30-minute hill because it could sit like a rock and really affect you on that climb. So, if you use a dry run race that’s perfectly flat, where you’re generally just sitting in the field and you can eat the whole time, I think that’s going to translate well to that really hilly race, you could be in trouble. Things like weather can impact this. When it is hot out, you can dehydrate, that’s going to affect your body’s ability to absorb. There are things that you can tolerate in the cold that you can’t tolerate in the heat, forget about your body. Yeah, I have heard from several people that they love Clif Bars in the winter, they can’t stand them in the summer because they turn into gooey messes. There’s an athlete that Ryan and I both work with who, can’t remember what the candy was, but he was really in all winter, he was training with this one candy, and he used it in a hot race in the summer and put in his pocket, and it all melted, and he just had this gooey mess in his pocket that he couldn’t even get out to eat if you wanted to. So, you have to factor all these things in. So, make sure your dry run is going to be similar weather, similar conditions, as much as possible to that target race so that you can discover those things that you might not even think about.
Ryan Kohler 25:49
Yeah, and we talked a lot about the heat, but I’ll even flip it to the cold, you know, there’s a lot of competitions in the cold, you know, ski mountaineering is big here in the Rockies, and I know that’s always a challenge, you know, if you’re going to do a winter event, we even have a couple of winter events on bike that take place in February here. But regardless, yeah, that’s another one is, you know, what type of fuel can you take that’s not just gonna freeze, you know, you take some blocks or something, and suddenly they go from yeah, nice and gooey, and the warmth to now just ice cubes, now you’re not feeling so yeah, figuring out exactly what it is, and types of fuels that will handle the elements.
Trevor Connor 26:30
I actually had that yesterday. That’s what made me bring up Clif Bars, it was a cold day yesterday I was up in the mountains, I stopped at a store to quickly grab some food, they had Clif Bars on sale, I was like that will do, bought two of those, went up into the mountains, when I was finally hungry, I pulled one out of my pocket, tried to bite into it and just about took my teeth out of my mouth, they were so rock hard, I couldn’t eat them.
Ryan Kohler 26:57
Yeah, it turns into a Clif Bar lollipop.
Finalizing and Executing Plan A and Plan B
Ryan Kohler 27:02
So, all right. Now, the last piece here. Once we have this plan, now it is time to hopefully we feel confident about this where we’re ready to finalize and execute. So, this is where we get that plan A going and we stick to it right from the start. We want to make sure that, you know, everything is available, both personal and eight-station, so hopefully you have got that flexibility to be able to go back and forth. You know, using a timer, I always bring this one up, you know where because it’s an easy, it’s easy to miss, you know, you did the physical work to get ready for this, you know, the course maybe pre-road the course and you have all your fitness, but once we get there, there’s all this excitement of race day, you know, when we get going, and then we kind of forget about our nutrition for a while. If this is a long event, that is where we can really dig ourselves a hole, and really find it hard to come back from. So, I have used timers in the past very successfully, you know, especially if it’s a course where you know it fairly well, well, good now, you know, you know what’s coming, just ride your bike. But the one thing that’s always on my mind is not, oh, what’s that climb? I do not care about the climb. When do I eat next? When do I drink next? And I just checked the timer to make sure I established that, and I mean, personally, I’ve had some of my best performances when I forgot about the course because the physical training was complete, and then instead of the course I focus more on the nutrition piece. So, you have to know your plan A and your plan B, right? And this other piece that comes with knowing plan B is anticipating those needs. So, I threw some questions out here. What if we get to the station and they’re out of my favorite plan B fuel? You know, how far do the next one? Do I have enough to get me there? Do I need to make some adjustments now? You know, do I eat a little bit more at this point for my personal stash and refill later? There is a lot of potential scenarios that can come up, but this is the thing we have to sort of anticipate that and try to know, but we can’t always know and sometimes we just on the fly have to go with it. I remember this was a couple of years ago now, it was during the triple bypass ride. I got excited going over a level and pass and heading over into Breckenridge, and by the time we got over there, by excited I mean just you know really felt good at that point and it’s probably because I was eating pretty well leading up to it, but got excited started going, you know, hard but it was fun, but then realized by the time I got over to the next aid station, I hardly ate anything. I was drinking a little bit, but almost cracked going over Swan Mountain, and then at the aid station that was at the top there I realized, oh, that was a huge hole I dug myself. So, really needed to really fall back on that plan B, so did a quick assessment of the aid station, and, you know, started consuming a lot, just to try to refill, and luckily, I was waiting for some teammates to come up, I think afterward I calculated, I ate about eight or 900 calories at that aid station alone, but it was one of those adjustments where it worked, but if it was a race, I wouldn’t have stayed there that long. So, it’s, you know, but it’s being able to really make those adjustments in real-time, and yeah, catch yourself. If you find out, you’re off the back on nutrition, trying to catch yourself and just not stress about it, but just say, okay, let’s just pick back up where we left off and keep this coming.
Trevor Connor 30:34
So, the couple things all add, I’m going to talk more about longer, harder events, if you’re doing a short event, anything under two hours, you can almost get away with no nutrition. So, this isn’t as big a concern. But if you are doing a gran fondo, if you’re doing a really long gravel event, I agree with everything Ryan saying about have your A plan, but the B plan is don’t be picky. Which is also why you need to experiment a little bit on rides. Sometimes you are gonna get to an aid station, they’re gonna have food that’s not your favorite or that you don’t know, you just don’t have a choice. You eat it, don’t get too picky about well, they don’t have the drink mix I want, so I can’t drink this. You need to get yourself through that event. I can’t even tell you when I was racing the professional peloton, guys on the team would kind of be like, “Well, I need this drink mix, I need that drink mix.” The team managers would be like, “You’re getting what you’re getting, shut up.” Just deal with it. So, when I was on teams, I just go, “What is your drink mix?” They would tell me I go, okay, I am gonna practice with that in my training. So, I’m not going to try to make you give me what I normally drink. I am just gonna learn to tolerate what you give me. That’s part of my plan B was always to make sure I had enough in my pockets that if everything went awry, I could get myself to the end, it was an optimal that I could get myself to the end. So, even when I was racing, in pro races with a team car behind me, I would usually start the race with a third water bottle shoved in my pocket, because most races, I could get through it with three water bottles. I would normally do the count of the calories and put enough food in my pockets, and I’d hear people ever once all go, oh, but the amount of weight you’re putting on your body, you’re not adding that much weight, it’s not going to make or break your race, having that little extra weight on you, it is going to make or break your race not having the food when you need it. I have had scenarios where our team feeder missed the feed zone. I had a race where I risked not bringing the water bottle because we had a car and one of our riders got injured, and obviously this injured rider was more important, but our team car went to the hospital. So suddenly, we had nobody feeding us the whole race, and there was no neutral support in the feed zones. So, we are begging other teams for water bottles, you never know what is going to happen. I’ve even been in a grand fondo where the feed station wasn’t ready, so everybody was anticipating I just need to get to this feed station, and lo and behold, there’s nothing there. So, fun part of Plan B is taken enough with you to hopefully get you through the event.
Ryan Kohler 33:27
Yeah, missing your nutrition could have far-reaching effects, more so than carrying a little bit too much. Yeah.
Trevor Connor 33:35
Ryan Kohler 33:36
Yeah. I remember finding some people in a race, in an adventurer is in the woods, and I completely ran out of everything, and we found people camping, and they had all they had left or like pickles or something. But everyone was stopping over at their campsite and begging for anything just to get us out of the woods. So yeah, it’s great point. Yeah, and it’s a good safety net to have, you know, you don’t want to be at that point where you’re spent and empty. Yeah.
Trevor Connor 34:05
I had a race, just this epic, really long race I do every year, and I’ve learned to take money with me, because I had a year where I fell out of the lead group. So, I was behind our race car, which meant I had no support. So, halfway through the race, I just pulled over to the local grocery store, bought some food and I kept racing.
Ryan Kohler 34:28
Self-supported, I like it.
Ryan Kohler 34:32
All right. So, getting into some next steps here. So, looking at some of the event-specific things, and then your individual needs. This is where we can do multiple talks on each one of these, but some of the considerations for the event which we already talked about, you know, length or duration, time of day or night, right? Environmental conditions, when during the year does this happen, and the course profile is going to be a big consideration as well. Then finally, your individual needs likes and dislikes, and this is where you know reviewing past experiences can help, and even just your current habits are going to be a big driver in this as well. So, for this one, I took the course profile from Leadville because as we’ll see in one of the upcoming webinars, we’ll actually use Leadville as an example of planning nutrition, because one it’s close, it’s near and dear to all of our hearts here in Colorado as an event, and it’s hard physically, it’s hard nutritionally, nutrition can certainly ruin your day out there. So, I think it is a great example to use because just a lot of people are familiar with it, or at least heard about it.
Trevor Connor 35:44
For those who don’t, this is a 100-mile mountain bike race and for your typical rider, how long does this take?
Ryan Kohler 35:50
Well, it is, you know, you have your sub-eight-hour riders for the fastest people, and then a lot of people I think the 12-hour time limit is one cut off to still get a belt buckle, but yeah, it’s a very long race, plenty of people finish after the 12-hour mark, so it’s a big day on the bike.
Trevor Connor 36:08
Example of a Refueling Plan
Ryan Kohler 36:09
Yeah. And it’s in Leadville, which sits around 10,000 feet. So, you know, we add that to the mix, and you can see here, even on this graph, a lot of the race is spent at above 10,000, and not a minute below 9000. So, you have the altitude component to deal with as well. So, for this one, you know, thinking about first length or duration, right? So how do we want to break this up? How long do you plan to be out there based on the distance and your past experience? How far is it between aid stations, if you’re using those, depending on the event? And then how much do you need per hour? So, you know, one way to look at this is, you know, break this up into a couple, you know, 20-mile sections that gets you out to this huge climb. Do you want to look at it this way? Or look at it more as you know, aid station to aid station? Or you know, depending on your pace, what makes the most sense for you to figure out your fueling? So, we can look at it that way. You can say okay, well, let me do shorter segments, you know, 10 miles at a time, because that’s going to take me X amount of minutes roughly based on what I expect to happen, and then oh, now we’ve got this long, you know, quote-unquote, flat, you know, section compared to everything else, this 20-mile rolling section to get me out to the big climb. So, you know, in my experience with this race in particular, mainly what we do is look at the aid station to aid station, but there are tons of ways that you can break this up to figure out your fueling between refuels.
Ryan Kohler 37:38
So, talking about your individual needs, likes, dislikes. This is where, you know, testing, trial and error come into play. So, some of the questions that come up, like what do you crave, right? Just the simple, what do you like? What do you like to eat? But also, what do you crave two, five hours into this, or in the middle of the night in the case of very, very long ultra-distance events? And, you know, how do your tastes and preferences change, you know, based on fatigue, time of day, things like that? We see a lot of this occurring. There was one athlete I’ve worked with in the past who is doing 24-hour ski mountaineering events, and we were doing nutrition planning for that. I think we only planned out, like maybe six to eight hours of fuel for him, because at that point, you know, we figured, hey, by this point, you’re going to be getting into the night, and we know things are gonna change, and you know, the things that you enjoy 2, 3, 4 hours into this, you know, by the time you’re on lap 13, 14, 15, you know, you’re not gonna want to eat probably the same sugary stuff you’ve been eating, we know that it’s going to be cold, because you’re out there on the snow, so you’re going to want something warm. So, what kinds of warm foods do we need to consider? So, it is thinking about all of those options, and then starting to try those. Then dislikes, you know, what fuels just do not work that you have tried in the past? Maybe you have tried them a few times, and you just know, these are definitely off the plate for me. Well, great, let us figure out other ones. Same thing, what turns you off at various points in the event? You know, if we look back at, you know, the course, like Leadville and we say well, we have, you know, this 10-mile section, we know there’s a good climb there, we have this next 10 mile section, there’s a pretty decent climb there, and then we get some flat, and then we just get this massive climb that takes us up to over 12,000 feet, so you know, well, how am I gonna handle food on different types of terrain? Right? I think Trevor, you mentioned this earlier on you know, the course profiles, where yeah, if you’re climbing hard, then you’re not going to be able to sit there and eat a bar. So, it’s going to have to be very easily digestible foods. So, in a case like this we know for Leadville in particular, the start is just madness, you know you and however many thousands or I don’t know how many thousands sign up for that now it seems to get a little bit higher every year. But yeah, it’s you and a couple thousand of your closest friends, you know, going 30 miles an hour down a paved road into dirt. So, there’s not a lot of eating those, those first, you know, 10 miles of that event, and anything that does come in, you probably want to be able to get it quickly and get your hands back on the bars. So, really tailoring that to, you know, what you can access.
Negative Experiences With Refueling During a Race
Ryan Kohler 40:23
So, you know, following up on that any negative experiences in the past with certain fuels, you know, is there GI distress or just that taste fatigue, where you know, and this happens at different points for people. My general guideline is, you know, you can, you can fake it with just about any nutrition for like, four hours, maybe five hours, after that point, it’s gonna change, you know, if you don’t have something dialed in, you’re either gonna have these negative experiences, get some GI distress, taste fatigue, whatever it is, and then you’re gonna realize at that point, yeah, I need to change this up and get a good plan going. How do you tolerate hard efforts? So, we just talked about, you know, the huge climb right after eating. So, now it’s a matter of timing our food to make it essentially useful for the body as we come to these difficult parts in the race. So, as we’re coming up to the huge climb in Leadville of Columbine, we know that’s a long, hard one, it’s going to be high altitude, you know, coming into it with a relatively flat portion to lead into it, yeah, let’s fuel up there and get more calories in, and then we know when we’re on the climb, maybe all I’m going to be able to do is drink some fluid, and I get a little bit of sugar a little bit of fluid in but maybe that’s all he can access at that time. See how you feel after that, can you know, eat half of the sandwich, and then start climbing hard? Or do we need to get that sandwich in 20-30 minutes before time to give it a better chance at digesting, so you do not have GI distress? So, all of those considerations. I guess this one, Trevor, what have you found over the years, I guess? Likes and dislikes and some of your experiences are there any that stand out.
Trevor Connor 42:02
So, I have actually gone the opposite way of some people of going for being very particular to not particular at all. I think from just practice. When I was new to cycling and bike races, there was very little I could tolerate. I had to do some races without any food, and if I did, it tended to be sports drinks, just getting those simple sugars down was all I can handle. Now, I’m like, somebody hand me a big bag be like, okay, its calories, I’ll get it down, not that I like Big Macs, just the first thing that came to mind. So, I have found over time, I can tolerate a lot more. But the one thing I have noticed, I think this is true of most people and I will just give a little bit of physiology here, remember that your body’s ability to take in nutrients taken food is going to change over the course of the race, there are a couple of important things to be aware of. One is as you go hard, your body’s going to push more blood to the working muscles, that blood has to come from somewhere, your body, its way of thinking is this is not a time to really need to be worried about getting food down. So, it takes a lot of that blood from the digestive tract to get blood to your working muscles. So, your digestive systems essentially going to shut down when you’re going hard, so that’s not the time to try to eat something complex that your digestive system has to work on. Another thing to know about your digestive tract is its primary fuel is something called glutamine. Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in your body, your body likes to conserve it, but when you start depleting your endogenous sources of fuel, so as your you start to deplete your glycogen stores, your body’s going to start using old glutamine for fuel to power your muscles, which means it’s taking the fuel away from your gut. So again, over time, your guts not even going to have its primary fuel source. Finally, hard exercise, especially a big event like this does damage to your gut, you’re going to see some opening of the tight junctions. So, your gut just does not function as well over time. So, something I’ve noticed something that I’ve heard a lot of people say that it is backed by the science is if you’re going to eat complex foods, so if you want that sandwich or whatever the more complex food that you put in your pocket, do that early on. As you get further and further into the race, most people can only tolerate more and more simple foods. So, I know when I’m doing a long event, by the end of it, all I can really handle is sports drinks or something which is simple glucose in it that I know my body can absorb really rapidly. I would not try to wolf down real food seven hours into a race.
Ryan Kohler 45:03
No Big Mac’s seven hours into the race?
Trevor Connor 45:05
Well, I have not had a Big Mac in 10 years, that was a really horrible example. You know what I mean.
Ryan Kohler 45:12
So, there is something to be said for the experience of trying out things and just years of experience of racing and, you know, stressing the gut, essentially, to feel more comfortable with different types of food, and essentially not having to worry about it as much over time, where you are like, yeah, I know what works for me, and yeah, I can take this in if I had to.
Trevor Connor 45:35
Yeah, so Ryan brought this point up, and it’s a really important point of view might go and experiment on your training rides, and if you go out in a one hour ride, and try something, you might go, hey, I like this tastes good, it goes down really well. That doesn’t mean after five hours of racing hard, you’re going to still have the same response to that.
Experimenting With Different Foods Before a Race
Ryan Kohler 45:56
Yeah, and I think a lot of the athletes that rely on things will just use like gels as an example, where yeah, they have success with gel intake. Then when we start looking at longer events, you know, bring up IRONMAN for a long event, right? Athletes training for that, say, “Oh, well, you know, yeah, I can take gels, and I’m fine.” But then they go and try this out, maybe in half IRONMAN, and they’re like, “Oh, man, you know, halfway through the bike, I didn’t want any more sugar.” So we say, “Okay, well, well, the gels work. That’s great.” I think what you said before about, yeah, later on, it’s simple sugars that are just easy, you know, they’re less offensive to the gut, and we’ll say, “Well, good, we know those gels work. So, let’s figure out you know, how we can take in more complex foods early on, and really spread those gels out.” They’re almost like, you know, the concept of like burning matches, you know, if we know we have something like a gel, or some simple sugar that works for us, let’s not burn all those matches in the first two hours, but let’s save some of them for later when we need them to.
Trevor Connor 46:58
I’m personally not a big fan of gels, but the one place I use it is in a long, hard event, especially in the heat. What I actually do is I get one of those gel flasks, I can hold about four or five, the equivalent about four or five gel packs in it, those go in my pocket, and I don’t touch those until the later part of the race, when it’s yes, that’s all I can get down. I don’t want to be doing it early, because as Ryan said, you get fatigue, when you’re under 20 a gel pack, you don’t want to see another gel. So, eat more normal foods in the first part of the race as I get to that fifth, six-hour, and I’m really starting to hurt, those gel flasks are great for two reasons. One is it’s a real simple sugar, and I can get that a whole bunch of calories really quickly, and B, there are really easy to use. I’m not sitting there trying to open up wrappers anything else, pull it out of your pocket, it’s like a water bottle, you just open it up and you can get a couple of gels in your system.
Ryan Kohler 47:59
Yeah, that’s great.
Ryan Kohler 48:02
All right. So, I can’t let you leave without taking homework with you. Since this is a multi-part series, put down five things to think about for next time, and this will be great to just go back, you know, look at look at these questions. Write down some answers for them, you know, think about them in relation to your upcoming goals or events. What, what worked and what did not work in the past? What are your go to fuels and fluids for the event currently? What fluids just don’t seem to work for you, right? What are the demands of the event? And this is again, go really deep dive there. And last, how much time do you have before your event? So, start with those questions. Write down some answers, and then as with this webinar series continues, you can evolve those answers and kind of start developing your plan as we go along. So, and also bring these to the to the forum, send us your emails for the Ask a Coach, bring it into the forum, throw some questions around there, that’s even a great place to say, you know, throw out questions of hey, what do you use? What do you prefer? And we can throw around some ideas to help everybody generate a more robust kind of fueling plan.
Trevor Connor 49:14
And on that note, we already have been hit by with a couple questions here. So, Ryan, let me ask you these. So, first question. Earlier in the webinar, you broke down nutrition into periods, similar to periodized training, will you include more on this periodized nutrition in later webinars?
Questions From Listeners
Ryan Kohler 49:34
Yes, I’m sorry, just looking at the question here, too. Yeah, more on the periodized nutrition. Yeah, so we can dive into that a little bit more, where it becomes getting more events specific, and also looking at, you know, we can talk a little bit more about essentially, higher volume and we can pull examples out, you know, it’d be would be pretty useful to pull out examples and say, yeah, this is what it looks like for this level of training, or this is something that worked for this particular event. So, in an upcoming webinar, we’ll actually have more specific plans for Leadville. As we said, we’ll use that as an example in this one. We’ll look at a paper that I wrote for that one, and we were able to do some research with people competing in that. So, we’ll be able to bring out more specifics in that. But yeah, it’s a great question, and I think one that you can definitely dive into in a lot more depth. This actually might be a great, a great thing to open up on the forums too.
Trevor Connor 50:37
Ryan Kohler 50:37
Yeah, we could dive into that a little more.
Trevor Connor 50:39
Ryan Kohler 50:40
Trevor Connor 50:41
I’ve got a bunch here. So, let’s see if we can keep up with these.
Ryan Kohler 50:44
So, we’ve got another one here. I sometimes find myself daydreaming about food during longer workouts, this is a sign that I’m under-fueled, right? Maybe. Yeah, I mean, this, this, I remember doing a nutrition talk for a bunch of triathletes, and we talked about kind of the brain and mentally where we are during events and training, and something similar to this actually came up where we noticed that when our mental status changes, in particular, when it kind of goes off the edge a little bit, then yeah, that’s probably you just need some sugar. So, you were probably just behind on your nutrition a little bit. So, I do find that, you know, in some cases, yeah, if you start thinking about it, that could be the voice telling you that you need a little bit more, and we were talking about this earlier, but one of the mountain bike races that I’ve done in the past had a bacon stop, so that’s one where I was daydreaming about that, but I don’t think it was because I was low. It is just so good.
Trevor Connor 51:48
Getting to the bacon stop.
Ryan Kohler 51:49
Trevor Connor 51:50
It is important to point out that our thirst signals actually aren’t very good. Meaning what you are racing, by the time you are thirsty, you’re already in trouble. You should be drinking before you get really thirsty, if you get to that point, our thirst signals actually aren’t very good. Hunger is not the same, hunger can be a little more proactive. So, when you get into hunger signals, that doesn’t mean oh, no, you’re in trouble, you haven’t been eating enough. So, do listen to that. Certainly, if you’re doing a long hard training ride, you’re burning a lot of calories. So, your body is going to want to replenish those calories. So, it makes sense that you’re starting to think a lot about food and trying to get the calories in. But your body, unlike when you dehydrate, you’re dehydrated, you’re in trouble, your body has huge fat stores. So, it’s not like doing a six-hour ride, you suddenly find yourself in a dangerous state, you might lose some of that ability to go really hard at high intensities, but our bodies have enough fat storage to go for about, so I think it was you could run for three weeks on the fat stores in your body. Something crazy.
Trevor Connor 53:15
Okay, so the next one. Any differences for Zwift or indoor racing?
Ryan Kohler 53:23
You know, I look at it very much the same. I mean, people are doing indoor rides, races, Zwifting, you know, short and hard, there are crits, where you’re on there for an hour. I think, you know, Trevor, you alluded to this earlier, if it’s a 45-minute crit, it’s really your nutrition leading into that is going to be the critical piece once you’re there, aside from hydration, it’s probably not going to change a whole lot, you know, you’re not going to be able to pound a bunch of sugar and noticeably change your performance, if anything, you might just feel worse. But you know, a lot of people, on the other hand are doing some extraordinarily long, Zwift sessions now. So, I look at that, as you know, we’re still applying a pretty significant load over a long time on there. So yeah, we need to keep these same considerations in mind, for indoor. I think, even more, making sure as far as hydration goes, you know, we’ve got the fans and the cooling because now we’ve just created this little environmental chamber in our houses and we run the risk of really generating a serious amount of heat, just because we’re not actually moving, you know, so we have to make sure hydration is really dialed in, and we have those fans to help keep us cool.
Trevor Connor 54:34
Remember, even if you have a good fan, you’re not getting the same cooling effect on a trainer with Zwift that you’re getting outside. So, even if you’re in a room temperature room, you really have to think about training on the trainer. Training on the trainer more like being out on a hot day, and make sure you’re hydrating enough, make sure you’re accounting for that. Just one other thing to add to this, a lot of people get really concerned about having sufficient nutrition even when they’re doing short races. So, specifically talking about Zwift, for most races are under an hour. There’s been plenty of research on this, and you can get through a race that’s under an hour in length, with absolutely no food and absolutely no impact in your performance. So, I do see people making that mistake where they’re doing a 45-minute race think they have to have five bars and three gels and all that sort of stuff. Actually, sometimes you’re hurting yourself doing that because you’re just putting a big load on your gut. Normally, short races are very intense, so now your digestive systems trying to figure out how to get the blood to digest that, which means it’s taking blood away from your legs, and that could actually hurt your performance. So, if you’re doing a short event like that, eat before, eat after, don’t worry about it during the event.
Trevor Connor 56:00
Ryan Kohler 56:03
All right. Let’s see here. Another question, will this webinar go on the website? Yes. So, you can refer to this, this will go on the website, so you can always find this and refer back to it, and as I said, we’ll have this multi-part series posted there. So yeah, check back fasttalklabs.com and you’ll find it in there.
Ryan Kohler 56:24
Any other questions that we have?
Trevor Connor 56:26
That’s it. We’re just about out of time, so that seemed to go well.
Ryan Kohler 56:30
Ryan Kohler 56:31
All right. Well, thanks for joining us, and be sure to do your homework and bring any questions to the forum. So, fasttalklabs.com. Check out the forums bring the questions in there; we’ll answer those and we’ll follow this up next time with more look at some of the research and help you continue this planning process. Thanks for joining us.
Trevor Connor 56:54
Thanks, everyone. Appreciate it.