Winning a grueling race and beating out tough competition is not just a matter of being in shape, having a good bike, or having technical skill. What you eat before, during, and after you race is vital. Here are 10 foods that will help you prepare, win, and recover in mountain bike racing.
In the few days before the race, you need load up on fuel and nutrition and avoid undermining your performance with excess sugar.
Doesn’t sound like a race food, does it? Foods high in carbohydrates allow your body to build glycogen stores in its muscles. Glycogen is a fuel used to sustain difficult exercise over a long period of time. If you eat a dinner of pasta on the nights before race day, you can improve your endurance substantially. This is especially recommended for long races.
For the same reason as pasta, oatmeal can help reduce your chances of collapsing on the course. Oats are very carbohydrate-heavy, and can expand your storage of glycogen. Make sure to use whole-grain oats, as heavily processed oatmeal can have reduced vitamins and added sugar. Finally, oatmeal has large amounts of fiber, which keeps you feeling full for hours after eating and reduces intestinal problems. Eating oatmeal for breakfast stabilizes your stomach and keeps you from feeling hungry while racing.
You can add bananas as a side to almost any breakfast, or chop them up and put them in your oatmeal or cereal. These fruits are packed with potassium, which is necessary for maintaining nerves and muscles. They’re also high in carbohydrates.
During the race, you want to make sure the foods you eat are lightweight and small while still high in nutrition.
A good powerbar is high in complex carbohydrates, electrolytes, and vitamins. All of these nutrients will give you a burst of power and keep you at peak performance for around an hour. However, make sure to not eat too many. Eating excess carbohydrates while exercising can cause nausea and sickness. Only eat about one or less every hour. Also, drinking sugar-high energy drinks and eating carbohydrates can cause sickness. Drink plain water with your powerbar, and wait at least fifteen minutes before drinking your energy drink.
Gels can be excellent for a shot of energy in the most intense sections of the race. Since they’re not solid, energy gels also highly digestible, which ensures that they won’t cause stomach problems. One great tip for carrying energy gels on the race: strap them to your stem or frame with duct tape. You can just rip the gels off when you need energy, and you can use the duct tape for repairs if you get desperate. If you’re in for the long haul, however, make sure to mix in solid food – too many liquid foods can cause illness in the long term, although you shouldn’t have to worry in races less than two hours long.
These are drinks mixed with a collection of carbohydrates, proteins, sodium, magnesium, and potassium. While workout formulas are not necessary for short, high-intensity races, they can become a lifesaver in seemingly endless cross-country events. They are more like a diluted protein shake than an energy drink – creamy, thick, and satisfying. The sodium replenishes salt storage after sweat, which increases your water absorption. Magnesium aids in protein synthesis. The protein itself ensures that your muscles recover during the race, preventing you from burning out. Overall, these formulas can become essential during the most strenuous, long-term races.
These blocks essentially perform the same function as a gel, but they’re more solid. It’s best to pack a mixture of gels and blocks if you’re able. The gels will provide almost instant energy when you need it, and the blocks will provide a more delayed burst. They take a little while longer to digest, which means they won’t be sloshing around in your stomach while you’re racing. Blocks should be a part of your nutrition strategy in any long race.
Surprisingly, chocolate milk is considered a highly effective recovery drink. It has a moderate amount of protein, which is necessary to rebuild damaged muscle tissue after a workout. It also is high in sugar, which can jumpstart the recovery process and refill your glycogen storage. However, keep your chocolate milk consumption to a minimum, and try to only drink it after working out. The same high-protein, high-sugar content that enhances recovery can increase your body fat ratio.
While they’re much more expensive than chocolate milk, protein shakes do have some added benefits that can make the cost worthwhile if you’re looking to recover well. They have less sugar and more vitamins, and are often fortified with amino acids and necessary recovery compounds.
After a race, going for your favorite high-protein, high-sugar, high-calorie meal can be excellent for recovery. Go out for a meal you usually restrict yourself from eating, like hamburgers, steak, or even an ice cream shake. These meals can replenish your stores and ensure that you’re ready to go the next day. However, don’t have a total feast after the race. Eating too much can make you throw up and cause extreme sickness, as your stomach has constricted during the race and your body is still in recovery mode. Reward yourself, but don’t go crazy.
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