When a competitive bike racer explains their training to a non-bike racer friend, it almost always comes with the same exchange:
Friend: “So, you ride your bike, what, a couple hours a week?”
Racer: *Chuckles* “A little more than that.”
Friend: “How much more?”
Racer: “I ride anywhere from two to six hours each session, depending on the day.”
Friend: “Six hours?!?! In one ride?! How much do you eat?”
And so the inevitable nutrition conversation begins. It’s one that involves a detailed review of the racer’s typical on-the-bike menu, what types of food the racer eats, when they eat them, and, the layperson’s favorite, just how much of it they eat.
Simply put: racers are exercising for a really really long time, much like any car engine on a cross-country trek, they need fuel to keep going. And at an event such as “America’s toughest stage race,” The Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, the fueling demands become especially critical.
The race has every reason to lay claim to such a title. At no point does it dip below 3,000 feet above sea level, with stages 1, 2, 5, and 6 bringing them either above or just shy of elevation 10,000 feet. The caloric demands stages such as these require prove incredibly high, even for experienced professionals accustomed to long and arduous days in the saddle.
Take a look at the Strava files of Rally Cycling’s Adam de Vos during the 2017 edition of the race, and one can begin to understand just how much the riders are burning through each day.
Adam de Vos 2017 Tour of Utah Stage Stats
|Stage||distance (km)||time (hh:mm:ss)||kJ burned|
|Stage 3||9km (ITT)||12:01||59kJ|
What does all this mean for the riders and their fueling? Coupled with basal metabolic burn rate of around 2,500kj, Stage 1 of the 2017 edition would mean that De Vos’s total calories spent would hover just below 7,000, the equivalent of 2.33 Domino’s Signature MeatZZa® Pizza, or almost 11 Subway Chicken and Bacon Ranch Melt sandwiches. Of course, few elite athletes will have pizza and subs on their menu, and instead meticulously plan nutrition to meet the demands of the event.
Jason Saltzman of Aevolo Cycling, who just finished off what was a stellar National Championship weekend for his American-registered Under-23 Continental team where riders swept the time trial, road race, and criterium titles, gave us insight about his approach to race nutrition.
“Most of the stages for this year’s Tour of Utah should hover between 3.5 and 5 hours, for which I expect the total burn will be around 2500 to 3500 calories. As a smaller rider I produce less power as many of my teammates and competitors. Because of this I burn fewer calories and unfortunately get to eat less.”
Jason’s fueling strategy normally sees him eat a Bonk Breaker Nutrition Bar–Mint Chocolate Chip is fav— an hour before the start. Once on the bike, he’ll eat one to two Bonk Breaker bars per hour during the first half of a race.
“For the second half of the race I switch to less solid foods for quicker energy, getting a large part of my calories from Energy Chews. In the last hour or so of the race I take in some caffeine; I like Strawberry Chews for this since they give a slower release of caffeine than a gel or drink. In general, my fueling goes from more solid foods to less solid foods or even drinks as the race progresses because they’re easier to digest.”
Saltzman makes clear that his nutritional game plan has been a work in progress for the year, and it’s something that takes time to work out and perfect so you feel the best when it comes time to perform.
“The biggest piece of advice I have for people thinking about nutrition for endurance athletics is to test and figure out what works best for you. Every body and everybody is different. I’m a huge proponent of the power of proper fueling: it’s generally better to eat an extra bar or Chew than bonk.”