Fueling for Shorter Cycling Races

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Fueling for Shorter Cycling Races

Postby Jeff » Mon Jul 09, 2012 12:58 pm

When fueling for shorter cycling events (e.g.- crits), should I take into account the warm-up (which can last as long as the event and be quite intense) when deciding how to fuel?

This would seem to impact two issues in particular:

(1) How soon before the event should I stop eating (3-4 hours, as is your guidance for events lasting more than 90-minutes, or 1-hour, as is your guidance for shorter events where a sudden burst of energy may be beneficial)?

(2) Using the same 90-minute rule, should I begin fueling during the warm-up or wait until the actual event, and does this decision impact whether I'd be best served by using Hammer Gel/HEED or Perpetuem?

Thanks very much.

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Re: Fueling for Shorter Cycling Races

Postby steve-born » Mon Jul 09, 2012 2:26 pm

Hello Jeff -

First, before I address your questions - and I ask this with no disrespect intended - if you're doing a shorter cycling event (such as a 40k TT or a criterium) - is it really necessary for the warmup to be as long and intense of the actual race? The reason I ask this is because, at least to me, it seems illogical to "burn a lot of matches" in your warmup that you could/should be saving for the race. As you may know, while I've done some shorter races, the overwhelming majority of my training and racing was in the ultra cycling realm (my "warmup" was literally the first 40-70 miles of the race), so I'm keenly interested in the rationale for warming up so long and intensely for a shorter-duration event.

All that said, if the warmup is within a very short time period between its completion and the start of your shorter-duration race (and in my opinion it should be), then yes, the warmup counts in terms of timing when it comes to completion of your pre-race meal. You'll be burning glycogen at that time so you will want to time the completion of your pre-race meal at the start of your warmup period.

If the combination of your warmup and race is over 90 minutes long, then you would want to finish your pre-race meal 3 hours prior... doing so will allow you to use your body's finite stores of muscle glycogen more efficiently.

If the combination of your warmup and race is around 90 minutes long (perhaps slightly longer), and most definitely if it's shorter than that, the "no calories 3 hours prior" recommendation isn't really crucial. In fact, I think it's beneficial to be consuming some easily digested prior to the warmup and during these shorter-duration races. If it were me doing such a race, I would be sipping on a bottle of HEED prior to the warmup, during the warmup, and would use HEED during this shorter-duration, high-intensity race. I'd also take a dose of Endurolytes about 30 minutes or so prior to the warmup and, if I felt it necessary, about 10-or-so minutes prior to the actual race.

In the article Proper Fueling - Pre-workout & race suggestions there's a section entitled "Are there any exceptions to the three-hour rule?" In this section I wrote:

When you’re engaged in training sessions or races in the 90-minute range or shorter (personally, I prefer an hour limit), fasting three hours prior to the start is not necessary. Consuming some easily digested calories an hour or two prior to the start will not negatively affect performance, and may actually enhance it. Here’s why:

As we’ve discussed earlier, when you consume calories sooner than three hours prior to the start of a workout or race, you accelerate the rate at which your body burns its finite amounts of muscle glycogen stores. In events lasting longer than 60-90 minutes, refraining from calorie consumption for the three-hour period prior to the start is crucial because you want to preserve your glycogen stores, not accelerate their depletion. Muscle glycogen is the first fuel that the body will use when exercise commences, and your body only has a limited supply of this premium fuel. If your workout or race goes beyond the 60-90 minute mark, you don't want to do anything that will accelerate muscle glycogen utilization.

However, when you consume calories within three hours of a race, that's exactly what will happen; you'll increase the rate at which your glycogen is burned.

During shorter distance races, however, accelerated rates of glycogen depletion/utilization are not problematic. You don’t need the calories for energy, but the presence of carbohydrates will elevate glycogen utilization. In a short race, that’s what you want.

Dr. Misner explains that prior to shorter-duration bouts of exercise, “& consuming a few easily digested carbohydrates [such as a serving or two of HEED or Hammer Gel] will advance performance, because carbohydrates consumed prior to exercise make the body super-expend its glycogen stores like a flood gate wide open." In other words, if you eat something 1-2 hours prior to the start of a short-duration training session or race, thus causing the insulin "flood gates" to open, yes, you will be depleting your glycogen stores at maximum rates. However, at this distance it’s a beneficial effect, as glycogen depletion is not an issue when the workout or race is over within at most 90 minutes. [STEVE'S NOTE: Again, there are a few people, Dr. Bill Misner amongst them, that believe you can go slightly beyond 90 minutes].

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I hope this helps answer your question to your satisfaction, Jeff. If I've forgotten anything, or if you need more clarification on anything I've written, please let me know.

Sincerely -

Steve Born
Fueling Expert
Event Sponsorship Coordinator
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Re: Fueling for Shorter Cycling Races

Postby Jeff » Tue Jul 10, 2012 10:25 am

Thanks very much. This answers my question perfectly.

To respond to your concern, the long, intense warm-ups for short races seemed counterintuitive to me, too. After trying these types of warm-ups, however, I found that they really do work. Longer races allow one to warm up for the first part the race, as you know well. During long rides I typically feel the worst for the first 20 (at least) miles as my body attempts to adjust and find a sustainable zone. Then, all of a sudden I find the zone and feel great.

In a short race lasting 30-60 minutes, my body does not have time to adjust; such races are a hammer-fest (no pun intended) from the start, so I have no ease into the effort. An intense 30-60 warm-up, if done properly, allows my body to go though its zones and adjust accordingly before the race, so I am more likely to role to the starting line in peak form (as if I’m on mile 21 of a longer ride).

I am still new to racing after doing longer, randonneuring rides in prior years, but this is what the substantial balance of the race literature and my teammates suggest, and I have found it to work so far. The times it did not work as well were when I waited until the actual race to start fueling, and your response confirms my suspicions as to why that occurred.

Combining the warm-up advice with Hammer’s fueling guidance, the takeaway seems to be that for cycling, at least, one will rarely encounter a “short” event from a fueling perspective since the shorter the event, the longer the warm-up.
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