How to fuel better when Racing Off Road

Getting your energy intake right during a race can make or break your day. This article will take you through the what, how much, when and how of fueling to ensure you enjoy your race!

The main source of energy for working muscles comes from carbohydrate. Carbohydrate is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen and also a small amount in the bloodstream as glucose. But there isn’t an unlimited supply, so replacing these stores during racing, particularly during long endurance events such as cross triathlon is essential to prevent fatigue.

Fueling for an off road triathlon, isn’t all that different to a road triathlon, but there are a few extra things that you will need to think about. I’ve put together some tips below to help you plan your nutrition for your next race.

 

What to take

There are lots of nutrition products out there so you have a lot of choice as to what to take with you. The most commonly used products are energy drinks, energy gels and energy bars. Whilst carbohydrate is your main source of energy, it is also important to stay hydrated so if you are not using an energy drink you should still take water. You should also pay attention to whether or not your energy products contain electrolytes and/or caffeine. You need electrolytes to replace salts lost through body fluid when you sweat, so if your energy products do not contain electrolytes consider adding an electrolyte tablet to your drink. Caffeine can have a positive effect on performance but some gels contain as much caffeine as a cup of coffee! Consuming the equivalent of 5 or 6 cups of coffee during a race can be detrimental to performance, especially if you are not used to it. Even if you love your caffeine, perhaps just have one caffeine gel 30-60 minutes before the start.

What you choose to use is very much down to personal preference so try a few combinations out in training and see what you and your stomach get on with. You will find that your effort level is much higher and sporadic during an off road triathlon than a road based triathlon, so it is particularly important that you try to replicate the effort that you will be working at in a race when trying out your nutrition strategy. What you might be able to stomach on a steady ride, you might struggle to keep down at race pace!

 

How much to take

This will very much depend on how long the race will take you, the intensity that you are working at and the weather conditions. Due to the nature of cross triathlon and the differences in race courses, this can be anywhere between 2 and 5 hours. As a general rule though you want to aim for around 50-70g of carbohydrate per hour or approximately 1g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight per hour. This is the equivalent of 2-3 gels per hour. Now if the race is going to take you 4-5 hours, that is a lot of gels so you may want to consider using a combination of gels, bars and energy drink. As a rough guide, depending on the size and brand of product, 1 gel contains 20-30g of carbohydrate, 1 energy bar contains 25 – 30g carbohydrate and 500ml of energy drink contains 25 – 30g of carbohydrate.

Here are some examples of combinations you can try

  • 1 ½ bars & 500ml of energy drink per hour
  • 1 gel, ½ bar & 500ml of energy drink per hour
  • 2 gels & 500ml of water per hour (you could even mix the gels in with your water to save time!)

 

When to take

Timing when to take on your nutrition often requires a little more planning in off road racing. Make sure you look at the course carefully beforehand, particularly for the bike, and plan when you can eat and drink. There is no point setting a timer on your watch to alert you when to take on fuel as you won’t be able to if you are in the middle of a technical decent or are breathing hard up a long climb. Road sections and the top of gradual descents are good places to plan to take on your nutrition.

Making sure you are taking on energy and fluids regularly is important, not only to ensure you have a regular supply of energy but also to help with gastric emptying and prevent stomach upsets. To help with this, make sure you are taking small sips of fluid regularly rather than lots in one go. Carbohydrate also slows gastric emptying so try to drink some water when you take on a gel. If you are carrying energy drink rather than water, plan to take a gel or energy bar before you reach an aid station so you can also take on some water.

If you are going with a nutrition strategy of energy bars and energy gels, you may want to consider eating solid food on the bike and then switching to gels for the run. There isn’t a difference in energy uptake between solid and liquids but it is a lot easier to chew and swallow bars on the bike than when running.

How to take

You will need to carry your nutrition with you on the bike and run. Aid stations are generally well stocked but it is always better to be as self-sufficient possible in case something isn’t available. You are also unlikely to have used the energy products provided at the aid stations and it is always best not to try something new on race day!

On the bike you can take your energy drink or water in a bottle cage mounted to your bike or you can carry a camelback. If the bike course is technical a camelback can be a good option as you don’t need to take your hands off the bars to take a drink, helping you drink more regularly.

Bars and gels can be pre-opened and taped to the top tube of your bike so they are quickly and easily accessible when you want them.

On the run, again, drinks can be carried in a camel back, but generally aid stations are close enough together that you won’t need to carry water. It is often difficult to consume solid foods when running, I find the best strategy is to carry a gel in my hand and take a small amount at regular intervals. Running with an open gel in your hand is also a good way to help keep your hands and therefor upper body relaxed!

 

To summarize here are 5 key points

  1. Practice your nutrition strategy in a “race pace” training session before the race
  2. Aim for 50-70g of carbohydrate per hour. This can be in gels/bars/energy drink
  3. Aim to take on 500ml of fluid per hour
  4. Make sure you know the course and plan where you can take on your nutrition
  5. Don’t rely on aid stations, they might not always have what you need

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