Whether you are a weekend warrior or an active racer, if you want to successfully hammer out long back to back big training rides or races, recovery will be an important part of the process.
Hard and smart training is just one part of the overall fitness equation -- the best riders are those that can recover quickly and fully to hard efforts. What you feed yourself can certainly help to make or break that recovery process.
For the purposes of this article I will assume that you have a good handle on your daily nutrition. By this I mean you are eating a diet composed of the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) in the right proportions.
Let's assume the athletes in this article are starting off with a full tank of glycogen stores (carbohydrates are stored in the muscle and liver as glycogen). This rider can likely store approximately 1800-2200 calories of glycogen in their muscles and liver (varies by fitness and musculature).
Let's play this out with rider A and rider B. Both riders are males weighing 160 pounds (72.7kg). Let's assume this ride or race (I will refer to this as a race for simplicity) is full gas and aggressive with tough terrain. It's a two-day race: approximately 4 1/2 hours each day. Day one, fueled up and ready to rock!
Rider A: Not OK!
Rider A feels good at first. He is drinking 500 milliliters an hour. One bottle has his sport drink the other has just water. He is 1:45 minutes into the race and hasn't started eating. By hour two he is feeling some fatigue and realizes he needs to eat.
He starts eating 30-50 grams of carbohydrates an hour (example: one e-load gel and half a package of Honey Stinger chews). By hour three he isn't feeling quite so strong and his legs are feeling a little "flat". Hour 3.5, he is feeling more like he is hanging on than being part of the race.
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Closing in on hour 4, his calves start to twitch. He takes another gel (30 grams of carbs). His focus is waning. He starts drinking more. But this bottle is water and only 500 ml. He didn't take a feed. His fuel stores are low; he is now looking at his odometer to see how much mileage is left. He is also drafting well to hang on, knowing he doesn't feel very powerful. He is low on glycogen, a feeling he knows too well.
He finishes OK. He burned 3,200 calories. He ate 520 calories, 2 gels (240 calories), one 500 ml sports drink (120 calories), one Honey Stinger chews (160 calories), plus one bottle of plain water. He has lost a few pounds due to dehydration.