Sports nutrition? Think it’s not for you? Read our guide
Enduro21 introduces you to the world of sports nutrition. A dark art? A pointless exercise because bacon rolls taste better? We’ve taken a look at some of the reasons why eating and drinking the right things can help you the next time you ride.
Enduro has come a long way in the past 10 years; speeds have increased, races are more demanding and the level of competition has changed as events have got harder and crucially that means riders are working harder.
Pro off-road riders have always been prime athletes as super-fit as any sportsperson competing in any sport on the planet. But the rest of us are getting healthier too it seems. The bikes are more capable and the events some of us do are getting tougher. At Enduro21 we know from friends and riders we know of all levels that people are training on and off the bike more to match that steady up-turn.
This short and sweet guide to nutrition and hydration is all about understanding the facts better to try and make sense of it better. It is not a nerdy, science-heavy ‘how to’ guide, just a realistic look at why sports nutrition makes a difference and why people use it.
We’re going to go further and also put it into practice with two Enduro21 riders to see, in simple terms, if it makes a difference (more on that below).
We know not everybody has the desire to take things as seriously as Steve Holcombe or Manuel Lettenbichler. But what if just by doing a couple of things differently you could ride better and have more energy?
Three key nutritional factors to be aware of when working hard while riding:
1. You need carbohydrates to fuel your muscles
2. Fluids and electrolytes to keep you hydrated
3. Protein for muscle growth and repair
Your body can gain energy from two main sources, fats and carbohydrates. Fat fuel is the “low power diesel engine”. It is not designed for performance and so it is slow to function but it’s unlikely to run out of gas.
Carbohydrate is your “Speed Engine”, which provides quick release energy to boost your endurance performance. The key is to ensure you have sufficient stores of carbohydrate to fuel your sport.
Sports supplements have evolved from athletes pushing their bodies to the limit and a lot of the science behind it comes from triathletes and cyclists putting themselves through some of the world’s most gruelling events. Are we following the cycling trend? Get fitter go faster, eat smarter, last longer?
90 minutes, it’s all you got
Your body has a limited store of carbohydrates, enough to last around 90 minutes of strenuous exercise. This means during longer endurance races you need to top up your carbohydrate stores to stay at your best and maintain your performance.
Staying hydrated is very important too, you can lose more than one litre of fluid for every hour that you exercise, and if not replaced, you will feel yourself become lazy and start to fade.
Replace what you sweat out
When you sweat as you ride your body is losing both water and electrolytes. Both need to be replaced to retain performance levels and avoid cramp. Using sports drinks in your hydration pack or carrying gels for that extra boost mid-race could help you stay mentally sharp and avoid cramping.
Riders like Graham Jarvis carry Energy Gels on their handlebars or on hydration pack straps. This isn’t because he’s old and unfit, quite the opposite. He knows how to read his body, he knows when he needs the energy boost to stay at 100% and I’m sure he wants to avoid cramping like the rest of us.
If you were to look inside the hydration packs of riders like Steve Holcombe you’d find the fluid pouch has tabs added to the water to boost the electrolyte content and provide magnesium to reduce cramp.
If you prefer to have something that feels more like real food, then Energy Bars are right for you and these days are readily available in supermarkets and sports shops. Rich in carbohydrates, these will help to fuel your engine.
They can be hard to chew on the move or at a fuel stop though. This is where gels come in handy because they are easily consumed. It depends on your preference.
Recovery is key especially if you’re doing multiple days riding or events like Romaniacs or the ISDE. Muscles become sore and stiff after a long day in the saddle. The depletion of muscle glycogen (muscle carb stores) can impair muscle function resulting in fatigue and reduced performance.
Post-ride nutrition is necessary to reduce the damage left to muscles and improve the recovery process by building your muscles stronger.
There are many protein shakes on the market, again some are available in the supermarket. Studies have shown that one incredibly cheap and easy, yet complete recovery drinks is basic chocolate milk shake. It’s got it all in there.
Supplementing that post-ride shake with substantial protein and carbohydrates-filled meal as quickly as possible will provide the building blocks to recover your muscles, and ensure you can get back on the bike in shape the next day.
Putting it to the test
This is the theory and we wouldn’t be publishing it on Enduro21 if we did not believe it to be true. But there’s only one way to find out how it works in the real world and that is to put it into practice.
Over the next few months we will be racing and working our way through two different approaches to body nutrition while we ride.
One of us will strictly follow the High-5 mountain bike training nutrition guide. We've chosen that one because it fits with enduro. The tester will be Jordan Scott who is 29, fit and races Pro class in some of the biggest events in British Enduro plus selected Extreme and Hard Enduros in Europe including the Hard Enduro World Championship.
The other tester is editor Jon Pearson who’s well into the second half of his ‘40s (ahem!) and, though he keeps fit with MTB and the odd run, he rides for the crack and takes training less seriously. The real world test will be to just try and eat better, hydrate better while riding and basically try to do the right thing while being realistic.
We’ll let you know how we get on and how thinking more about what we consume has helped us. Maybe we might even quit the bacon baps!
Words Credit: Jordan Scott
Photo Credit: Enduro21