What’s in your Bottle: Part 3: Factors affecting your choices

What fuels you best depends on several factors

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  • You should be training like you intend to race; that counts for nutrition, too
  • Are you a “sugar burner” or a “fat burner?”
  • The length of the event, the intensity of the event, your fitness, and your weight are the factors that determine your race nutrition
  • You can’t process what you can’t tolerate
  • Without carbs, you bonk. Without water, well, it’s more dire than that.
  • During-event nutrition isn’t the only thing to think about: pre-event and post-event are critical considerations, too

There is no one-size-fits-all. Fuel each body for each event.

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There is no quick and easy answer


for the question, “I have a race this weekend. What food should I bring?” You can’t grab a packet of Miracle Energy Whatever that someone else is using to great effect right before a race and expect it to up your speed or watts. There are many factors to consider if you really want to develop a performance nutrition protocol that really works for you.

However, there are some straightforward guidelines you can use to help you hone your own repeatable nutrition habits.

Let’s look at those factors, and consider a case study.

  • Your regular day-to-day diet (which we’ve already looked at)
  • Your pre, during, and post-workout nutrition habits
  • Your weight, metabolism, and current fitness
  • The length and intensity of the race

Let’s consider a sugar burner who weighs 175 pounds, who is a new racer, signed up for a 35-mile road race.

[callout icon=”hb-moon-bike”]Races are always more intense than training rides. Factor this in when considering your on-board fueling experiments.[/callout]

A general range for carbohydrate fueling is 30–60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. That’s a big range, so, we look to intensity and time as a guide to determine how much to carry on board. This will be a race, not just a group ride. That tells us we’re going to be at the 50–60 gram per hour side based on intensity. As to time, we know this rider has been able to average 19.5 mph on faster group rides over that distance.

So, 35 miles divided by 19.5 is nearly 1.8 hours. (That’s 107 minutes, or an hour and 47 minutes.)

As a side note, races are always more intense than training rides. Our 175 pound sugar burner will most likely be going harder than he’s averaged in training.

If we go to the conservative side of the high range, 50 grams an hour, and multiply that by 1.8 hours, we get 90 grams of carbohydrate for the during-race effort.

Why did I base this on the “conservative side?” Because of the concept of tolerance, which we’ll tackle in the next installment. When you’re going hard, your body will have a tougher time breaking the glucose in the food into usable energy. That’s why fat burners have an edge, and why pre-event fueling timing and proportion is so important. 

Regardless, to combat an upset stomach, we’ll consider the lower end of the range.

So, what does this mean in real terms?

  • Most carbohydrate sports gels contain around 25 grams of carbs each. I’d suggest our racer start with two. That’s 50 of our 90 grams.
  • For the remaining 40 grams, powdered race mixes can be adjusted to whatever concentration you wish. Just look at how many grams of carbs you get per scoop, or teaspoon, or whatever, as listed on the packaging.

How do we know if this will work for our racer? Well, we don’t. The fact that our example racer is a sugar burner, as determined by his normal day-to-day diet, means that he might struggle with hunger even at the high end of the suggested range. That’s also why, next time, we’re going to talk about what your body can tolerate during efforts, as well as a guide to how many calories you’re taking in.

[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”]Question: If you’ve arrived at a during-effort mixture of carbs (or other elements, such as proteins and fats) that work for you, what is it, and how did you go about determining it? [/icon_box]

Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.

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