What’s in your Bottle: Part 1 — Get Specific

Burn the right fuel in the right amount at the right times

Nutrition for athletic performance is an absolutely HUGE and hotly-debated topic. In short, it’s highly individualized. Humans are very different, and what works for one won’t necessarily work for others. This six-part series aims to demystify the subject and give you an overview of the pre, during, and post-event nutrition process. Please recognize that you’ll need to do significant experimentation with your nutrition during training before you arrive at what works for you in competition. Note: I’m not affiliated or endorsed by Hammer Nutrition in any way, despite the image. Their products do the trick for me, although any number of other commercially-available supplements work well — as does “real food” in the right proportions.

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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
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Beginning racers want to measure


everything — except the foods they eat.“What was your speed?” “What was your heart rate up that climb?” And yet, watch any group of racers, new or otherwise, gathered around a start line, and you may hear them asking, “What’s in your bottle,” but not, “what’s the concentration,” or, “is that all carbs or do you have a little protein?”

If your body is an engine — and a high-performance racing engine, at that — doesn’t it make sense to be extremely mindful of what kind of fuel it’s burning? I mean, if you owned a Lamborghini, would you pour just any kind of gas or oil into that highly-tuned machine?

Of course not. But as beginners, we often leave our race nutrition to our gut perception, our sense of taste, or worse, to chance.

[callout icon=”hb-moon-bike”] If your body is an engine, doesn’t it make sense to be extremely mindful of what kind of fuel it’s burning?[/callout]

This series of six posts will very quickly try to give you some guidance regarding how to fuel up for your big efforts. If you really want to get serious about eating right for racing, I urge you to find a local sports nutritionist. Even if you can’t afford to use their services in an ongoing way, engaging them to perform an initial evaluation of your body composition and current diet will go a long, long way towards helping you design a comprehensive, effective diet that will absolutely have far-reaching effects into your life.

Fueling up, pre-event

  • 1–1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight
  • 2 to 3 hours before exercise is highly preferable
  • The longer you have before exercise means you can have carbs on the higher end of the scale


Keep the Carbs Topped

  • Workouts or races less than an hour: plain water
  • Over 75 minutes: 30 – 60 grams per hour modified per body weight and intensity


Recover Smart with LOTS of Water, Carbs, and a little Protein

  • Make sure you hydrate enough to replenish most of your lost bodyweight due to sweat — if not more
  • Start replenishing carbs and protein within 30 minutes of a hard effort. Sooner if possible.
  • Take advantage of your body’s openness to carbs after a hard effort: 1.5 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight, and at least 30 grams of protein
  • That’s a lot of food: complete ingestion within as much time as you spent exercising


You start and stop your lap timer to do intervals, from hill repeats to sprint intervals. You also attempt to reach specific levels of intensity, time, or speed while you do those intervals. Your pre, during, and post-event nutrition needs the same level of attention as the physical efforts you put out on the bike. After all, it’s a very powerful component of your performance.

[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”] Question: Cycling nutrition is a huge — and unnecessarily mysterious — subject. Ask away! What questions do you have about getting the most out of your cycling nutrition?

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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