We’ve been racing bikes collectively for 25 years, and during that time we’ve learned the importance of fueling our bodies for endurance exercise and a few key strategies to help stay strong through training sessions. When preparing for a bike race (or any endurance event), we spend anywhere from 15-21 hours a week training. This usually includes a few 4+ hour bike rides. We’ve learned the hard way what our bodies need and when. If we don’t fuel properly, it can lead to all sorts of not-fun experiences and the benefits of all that hard training can go to waste. Here are a few tips that have helped us fuel our bodies for endurance exercise:
Tip 1: Make it easy on your stomach!
The morning before a big workout, eat a breakfast with easily digestible carbohydrates. Some protein and fat will help keep you full for longer, but make carbohydrates your priority. And don’t forget to give your body enough time to digest breakfast before heading out the door—typically 2-3 hours.
Tip 2: Make it easy on your taste buds!
Our favorite pre-ride breakfast is Kodiak Cake flapjacks, specifically Whole Wheat Oat and Honey Flapjack & Waffle Mix with chunks of banana mixed in. We usually put some nut-butter, maple syrup, and berries on top too. This is also our favorite pre-race meal. The cakes stick with you, are easy to digest, and are always appetizing.
Tip 3: Longer training efforts
For longer rides, our effort is a bit lower (slow enough to have conversation) and it’s easier to enjoy more whole foods during training. Some of our favorites include: Bear Bites, Crunchy Bars, a banana, or leftover pancakes with peanut butter and jelly.
Tip 4: High-intensity training
When training gets more intense, food needs to be easier to get down and quick to digest so your body can get the carbohydrates to working muscles ASAP. For these types of workouts, we typically reach for a gel or drink mix for the calories we need to go hard.
Tip 5: Maintenance
For key training days or events, it’s not only important to start with enough fuel in the tank, but also to keep topping the tank off. This means eating a solid pre-training meal and continuing to consume calories throughout your workout. We aim to eat something every 30-45 minutes. Just like your car starts to sputter and struggle on an empty fuel tank, your body can’t perform at is best when it doesn’t have enough energy to keep going.
Tip 6: Eat to train, and train to eat
Just like you have to train your muscles to pedal, run, paddle, etc. you have to train your stomach to digest food while your muscles are active. Practice eating while you are training for an event, and don’t be afraid to try different foods so you and your stomach know what and when to eat to keep those muscles going!
About the Author
Andrew and Erin are professional mountain bike racers living in Boulder, Colorado. Andrew is a former D1 nordic ski racer, turned UCI professional road racer, who converted to mountain biking when he met Erin and realized how cool it was. Erin has been racing mountain bikes at the international level since 2012 and has 4 National Championships, 1 Pan American championship, and several big international wins to her name. She is currently on the Long List for Tokyo 2020 Olympics and hoping to solidify her spot next spring. When Andrew and Erin aren’t racing bikes, they enjoy hiking, camping and hanging out with their Vizsla Callie.
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