Criterium racing is a type of road racing that involves doing laps on a course that is typically less than a mile in length. These races range from 30 minutes for newer racers to 90 minutes for the professional athletes. Because of the relatively short duration, many athletes do not consider how nutrition plays a role in this event.
While the race is short, the effort level in a crit is huge. These races are all out and include repetitive short power bursts and technical sections that require high mental alertness; both of which are fueled by glucose. It's true you can likely get through the event without fueling, but remember, the goal isn't to 'get through it,' the goal is to WIN--or at least do your best! To be your best, you'll need a little help from carbohydrates.
Rinse and Spit
There is some research to show that simply rinsing your mouth with a carbohydrate drink can stimulate performance benefits, so if you just can't handle the thought of consuming calories for a short race, this action might be worth trying.
Don't Race on a Full Stomach
When you're ready to step up to real fuel, there are a few factors to keep in mind. Racing all out isn't fun on a full stomach, so limit bulk leading into the event and eat your biggest meal at least three hours in advance and keep your pre-crit snack small and easy to digest. The pre-crit snack is essential for topping off your body's energy stores to use during the race effort. Consume this snack 10 to 20 minutes before starting so the energy kicks in for your final effort.
If your race is set to last 30 to 40 minutes, relying on a sports drink and a pre-crit snack will be sufficient. If your race goes an hour or longer, you might want to consider taking a gel in the first half to have enough energy for the second half of racing.
Only Pure Carbohydrates
Whether it's the pre- or mid-race fuel, it should be pure carbohydrate, as consuming fats and proteins around racing will slow the body's ability to use energy. Skip protein bars, nut butters or other mixed fuel, and rely on straight carbs like sports drinks, gels, white rice or bananas.
The final consideration for crit fueling is hydration. These races typically take place at the hottest part of the day, meaning your sweating will be high. You might consider a pre-load hydration mix, a blend specifically designed to consume prior to workouts to prep the body for holding onto more water. For the race itself, aim to add sufficient electrolytes to your bottle to prevent cramping and promote optimal recovery.
In the end, your body has enough energy stores to get through a crit without fuel. However, if you're looking to have your best performance, adding extra carbohydrates will provide a competitive edge. Try this out in your next race and see how your body and performance reacts to your updated fueling plan.
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