Getting the Right Nutrition and the Nutrition Right during Endurance Cycling Races

Photo by Josh Baker

By Christopher J. Draper, RD, LDN, CSCS

I was done listening to my body. During the 2011 Ultraman World Championships held on Big Island, HI, I was miserable on the ascent of the Kohala Mountain Pass. Having already cycled 160 or so miles, I was climbing against a 50+ mph headwind – and mentally, I was toast.

I got to a point where I wanted nothing to do with my nutrition; I was focused on bombing down into Hawi to conclude the Day 2 journey and looking to get ready for Day 3’s 52.4-mile jaunt from Hawi to Kona. Thankfully, my crew was doing their job even when I wasn’t doing mine. While they might have been asking themselves why I wasn’t eating or drinking, what they were doing was feeding me when I lost interest.

Not all of us have the luxury of a crew during endurance races. Here’s how to do it on your own: Simply create a system of calorie needs for yourself.

Keep it simple, and you will be successful.

What size shirt do you wear – Small, Medium, Large or Extra Large? I created the following table to determine caloric needs per hour on long rides.

Shirt Size                              Calories/HR

Small                                     100-200

Medium                               200-300

Large                                     300-400

XL                                          400-500

Find your shirt size, attach a calorie amount to it and you are on your way to “shirt-size sports nutrition success.” Just start by ingesting every 15 minutes one-fourth of the total calories per hour. Simply, you have your hourly needs for success.

Take into consideration, however, that nutrition is an art as well as a science. Thus, it will take some trial and error in training to nail down your numbers. Always start at the lower end of the calorie range and work your way up. When you’re on top, the only place to go is down. As endurance athletes, we have a tendency to think more is better. Not the case…and I promise your ‘Dow Jones Industrial Average’ will remind you to curb your enthusiasm for more.

Now that you have your calories per hour nailed down, you can move on to genres of nutrition products to use during those hours of power production. Stay tuned.

Photo by Josh Baker