Pre-Race Nutrition Guide for Cyclists

Carbohydrates Pre-Race

The majority of studies have shown either unchanged or enhanced endurance exercise performance after eating carbohydrates in the hours leading up to exercise. These same studies have not shown detrimental outcomes in performance due to pre-exercise carbohydrate intake. The choice is individual. Test out a routine and see if it feels good for you to eat in the last hour pre-event.

Once you have eaten your breakfast three to four hours before your event, it's possible that you may begin to get a bit hungry within 90 minutes of your race time. This is when your fuel choice should be mainly carbohydrates.

Although your breakfast will increase the carbohydrate availability in your muscles and liver, this last pre-event snack will work mainly to affect liver glycogen and increase the delivery of carbohydrates to the muscles during exercise. Low fat, lower fiber carbohydrates will be the easiest to digest and will empty out of your stomach relatively quickly. Such examples are sports drinks, potatoes, rice bars, Fig Newman not Newton cookies (it's the organic version of the original! No corn syrup!), bananas, dates, bread with jam or juices.

More: Carbohydrates: Fuel for Your Cycling

A few studies have looked at the timing of carbohydrate ingestion and plasma glucose concentrations. The general outcome seems to be that although your plasma glucose is higher if you snack 15 minutes pre-event versus 45 or 75 minutes pre-event, the difference in plasma glucose disappears within 10 minutes of exercise and no significant performance differences are seen. Timing is up to you. However, some athletes may experience what is known as "reactive hypoglycemia" when they eat within the last 75 minutes pre-event. This may feel like fatigue and low energy. For those athletes, here are a few suggestions that can be helpful:
  • Eat your pre-event carbohydrates in the last 5-10 minutes pre-race
  • OR don't eat any carbohydrates in the last 90 minutes before your event starts unless they will be in the last 5-10 minutes pre-race as noted above.
  • Try eating foods with lower glycaemic index in the last hour before an event to reduce the consequence of high plasma glucose.
  • Add a warmup pre-event to stimulate uptake of the glucose
  • Eating fructose or a combination of carbohydrates other than glucose with a lower glycaemic index.

Although the athlete may feel better and the methods may help to modify metabolic responses, none of these approaches have been shown to give any advantage in pure terms of exercise performance.

A general guideline you can follow on carbohydrate consumption leading into the last 90 minutes pre-race would be approximately 1g/kg. This can be in the form of a sports drink or solid food. A few examples for a 150-pound athlete would be approximately 68 grams of carbohydrates:

  • 1 medium banana, 1 small wrap, 1 tablespoon of honey = 65 grams
  • 1 package of Honey Stinger chews, 1 bottle of Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix = 60 grams
  • 1 medium baked potato, 1 bottle of E-load Endurance Formula = 70 grams
  • 2 large medjool dates, 1 bottle of E-load Endurance Formula = 70 grams

Within the last 90 minutes pre-event I would also suggest caffeine and beet juice intake; of course only if you have tried it first in training.

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