Mountain biking is your passion. You like to ride as often as possible and you are starting to reach a level where an edge of a few hundredths of a second makes the difference between the podium and 4th place.
Or you just like to ride once in a while but without performance goals.
In both cases, apart from training more and better, what can you do to start the race with an advantage over your opponents or your performance yesterday?
One thing: eat better!
It sounds simple, but when your bike, your mind and your physical preparation are under control, nutrition is where you’ll get the edge.
Needs vary greatly depending on the training period and the type of race you are doing. Cross country riders will want to eat to decrease their fat percentage and increase their power to weight ratio to climb hills more easily. Downhill riders will especially want to maximize their muscle mass to be more powerful in races. In general, however, the ideal diet for these two types of riders is similar:
- Nutrient-rich carbohydrates: whole-grain bread and cereals, fruits, vegetables, etc.
- Lean meats for protein and iron: fish, chicken, eggs, legumes, etc.
- And sources of calcium for strong bones: dairy products, fortified soymilk, etc.
The more intense the training days, the more frequent protein and carbohydrate-rich snacks should be.
BREFORE THE RACE
Carbohydrates are what your body prefers to use during exercise. Your carbohydrate stores are what allow you to give your 110% longer than the one next to you. Maximize your carbohydrate reserves with a meal (3-4 hours before the race) and/or a snack (1-2 hours before the race). The foods you eat should be high in carbohydrates but low in fibre. For example: :
- White pasta with tomato sauce and some chicken 3-4 hrs before + glass of fruit juice 1-2 hrs before the race
- Sandwich with 2 slices of white bread + peanut butter and jam 3-4 h before + banana 1-2 h before
- Oatmeal with maple syrup 3-4 hrs before + 1 orange 1-2 hrs before
- Sports bar 3-4 hrs before + 1 small handful of sweet cereals 1-2 hrs before
Also, if you have a winning pre-race recipe, keep it. The best time to try new things is in training, not in competition.
DURING THE RACE
If your run is intense but short, a mouthwash with a sports drink or half a sports drink will be enough to maintain your energy level.
If your run is longer than 60-90 minutes, you need to help your body if you want it to give you its 110% all the way to the end. 30 to 60 g of carbohydrates per hour of running will do the job. In concrete terms, 30 g looks like…
- 1 banana
- 1 sports gel
- 1 cereal bar
- 500 ml sports drink
I’ll let you do the math to get to 60 g 😉
AFTER THE RACE
During the race, your muscles have suffered micro-damage, your liver has emptied of the carbohydrates it has stored for you, and your entire body is dehydrated. How can you help it recover and be even better the next day? By giving it nutrient-rich foods (spoiler: not poutine).
To repair your muscles, we want protein: lean meats, dairy products, legumes.
To replenish your liver, we want carbohydrates: whole grain products, fruits, vegetables.
To rehydrate you, you need liquids: water, juice, milk, flavoured milk.
In concrete terms, a meal could look like…
- Whole wheat wrap with chicken and grilled vegetables
- Omelet au gratin with whole wheat toast
- Whole wheat pasta with salmon and Asian sauce
If you don’t have an appetite, a smoothie (e.g. 2 eggs, 1 banana, 1 cup of frozen fruit, milk, all well blended in a blender) will provide you with all these good nutrients and will be quickly absorbed.
To perform at your best, hydration is essential at all times.
4 hours before the race, take 2 large glasses of water, and 1 large glass 2 hours before the race. Your urine should be a light lemonade color, without necessarily having to go to the bathroom every 5 minutes.
During the race, especially in enduro or when the ride lasts more than 1 hour, drink when you are thirsty. It is not essential to make up 100% of your losses, but if possible, always keep a drink (water or sports drink) available and drink often enough to stay hydrated.
After the race, drink at least 1.5 L of fluid for every kilogram of weight you lost during the race.
You deserve the little post-race beer, right? Yes, you deserve it, but you’re not helping your body by using alcohol as a rehydration fluid. Alcohol has certain undesirable effects after an effort:
- Decreases muscle protein synthesis
- Delays rehydration
- Alters sleep
- Promotes the gain of adipose mass
Start with a bottle of water, juice or chocolate milk, and you’ll already be one step ahead of your opponent (or your hangover) the next day.
In conclusion, if you plan your snacks and drinks ahead of time and choose real nutritious foods, you’ll have everything you need to win your race.
Nicolas Leduc-Savard, Dt.P., M.Sc., Sports Nutritionist
- SDA – Sports Dieticians Australia. Mountain biking [ONLINE] (page consulted July 13, 2018)
- Ledoux, Lacombe, & St-Martin. (2009). Nutrition Sport And Performance (IInd edition). Quebec: Collection Géo Plein Air.