On the bike, proper nutrition and training go hand in hand. This summer, I had the opportunity to consult with professional cyclist Todd Wells and hone in on my race-day nutrition. Wells is sponsored by CLIF Bar, and for years he has worked to dial in an optimal eating strategy to help him race fast and win. Wells offered me a few tips on how to fuel up for mountain bike races of my own. —Amy Oberbroeckling
A lot of my races start early in the morning. What do you recommend for a pre-race meal?
You should try to eat a good breakfast about three hours before the race so you have time to digest. If your race is early in the morning and you don’t have much time, try to eat something lighter. I try not to eat more than 800 calories for my pre-race meal. I find that rice and eggs with a little something sweet mixed in works well. Consuming too much too close to the race will just give you a stomach ache.
What about hydration? How much should I be drinking during a race?
You want to go into the race hydrated, so start drinking the night before. During the race, I will usually go through one or two bottles per hour, depending on the intensity and the heat. Sometimes I’ll switch it up and fill my bottle with something other than water like CLIF Shot Electrolyte Drink. Like you always hear, you want to eat and drink before you are hungry and thirsty because if you wait until then it’s already too late.
What do you eat on the bike?
It depends on the event. For short ones like cyclocross races that are one hour or less I don’t eat anything at all. I may drink some water but don’t worry about calories. As long as I’m fueled up before and after I don’t seem to have any problems.
For races over an hour I still try to eat easily-digestible things like a CLIF SHOT Gels. I eat them every 30 minutes right from the start. Those are about 100 calories, so I consume about 200 calories per hour. For a race over three hours I try to mix in some SHOT BLOKS too.
What about longer endurance races?
If the race is over four hours long, I eat something more substantial early on. Usually I eat a bar early in the race and once I get to the later stages with two hours to go I switch to all gels. If I’m eating a bar, instead of consuming the whole thing at once, I might split it in half so I’m eating one bar over the course of an hour.
I sometimes get stomach issues while racing. What do you do to avoid feeling sick?
I eat the same things for all of my events because I have also had problems with my stomach. Like I said before, I always eat rice and eggs before the race that way my body knows once I eat that it’s time to go. For gels during the race, I like the Espresso flavor ones because I usually take them in the later part of the race. I know once I have one of those the race is almost over.
I know how important it is to eat after a race for recovery. Do you have any favorite foods you eat to refuel?
Usually I have a recovery drink with protein and I try to eat something solid like a sandwich if my stomach is feeling alright. I have a sweet tooth, too, so I sometimes go for that muffin or pastry that I have been trying to avoid all week. It’s OK to treat yourself after the race!
—Todd Wells, based in Durango, Colo., is a pro rider for Team Specialized. Amy Oberbroeckling is an assistant editor and member of Team GearJunkie/WEDALI.