Monday, January 10, 2011

The What and How of Event-Day Nutrition: The "B" Word

To follow up on Boyd's post and that I heard the "B" word  ("bonk") from several cycling friends after the January 8, 2011, UWBL, I wanted to offer a few suggestions about the what and how of nutrition when competing or participating in a targeted event.

The bonking at the UWBL can be traced to the intensity of the ride combined with the extreme conditions—cold and wind. Part of proper cycling nutrition is obviously choosing the right fuels—foods, gels, and liquids. I have stated over and over when offering advice that YOUR nutritional needs are YOURS; thus, there simply is no template anyone can offer a cyclist. What works for me may or may not work for you so the Golden Rule of "what" to use for nutrition is TO EXPERIMENT FOR MONTHS BEFORE THE EVENT and to do that experimentation under conditions similar to the targeted event.

For many years, my cycling circle has ridden a hellish century leaving from Table Rock State Park, winding up Hwy 215 (wicked climb), and then rolling along the Blue Ridge Parkway to descend into Brevard before climbing the backside of Caesar's Head and dropping back to Table Rock. This ride, since the pack is often only about a dozen riders, is much more demanding in some respects that the Assault on Mt. Mitchell; it provides the exact conditions under which a rider can address fitness along with what to eat and drink.

Something people tend to ignore, however, is the HOW of proper nutrition. At the windy and cold UWBL on January 8, many riders likely—since it is early season and many are not yet as fit as they want and not quite as sharp with their large-pack handling skills—failed to eat and drink often enough because so much of their focus was on not getting dropped, not crashing, and clinching every muscle of their body unnecessarily (wasting even more energy).

This leads to a second Golden Rule about nutrition: Practice how you eat and drink under intense riding conditions.

All cyclists must be able to eat, drink, and adjust clothing while in close conditions. . .and do so safely. Fishing out food and reaching for the water bottle with heavy gloves and negotiating a vest or jacket over your jersey are challenging maneuvers in a bicycle when you are in close quarters; when the event is intense of the weather conditions extreme, the challenge is magnified.

The only solution is practice. What hand is better for you to keep on the bars, where should you keep that hand, and what is required for you to take out food or grab a bottle without dropping something important?

First, hand position on a bicycle is HUGE. You should always keep your weight evenly distributed on a bicycle (most of the distribution is best central on the frame and NOT leaning into the bars). When you leave one hand on the bars and twist your body (to grab food or look back), you tend to weight the bars on the hand remaining on the bar—and weight is how bicycles are primarily steered. IF YOU DON'T MONITOR THE WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION, YOU ARE GUARANTEED TO SWERVE.

And you want always to maintain a straight line, always avoiding any sudden movement left, right, or lurching forward/suddenly slowing.

Eating is problematic for hand position. Leave your hand on the hood, and you risk the swerve, but maintain the ability to use your brake. Place your hand toward the stem, and you achieve the weight distribution to stay straight (if you are alone on the back of a group and need to look back for a car or dropped rider, dropping back and leaving a hand near the stem is a great technique for not swerving), but lose the ability to brake.

Thus, in a tight pack going at pace, you need to learn to stay straight, keeping a hand on the hood, and grabbing food at regular intervals. The same rule applies for drinking. You must learn to drink while maintaining pedaling, pace, and line.

You can and should practice all this alone if you are new to the sport, but as you improve, this must be a part of your training, especially on intense training rides.

Nutrition, then, is about what and how—and ultimately to have the event-day performance you want, you need to be prepared, you need to be able to everything as if it is second nature, and you need above all else to be relaxed.

Practice, practice, practice.

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

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