If there is one element that can make or break an ultra-cycling event, it is the food. On the other hand, ultra cycling often reduces life to the essentials: drink, eat, breathe, sweat, sleep, survive. That’s why if there is one subject that fascinates all cyclists, it’s food!
Before: the basics of healthy eating, should you lose weight before an event?
The basis of a healthy diet is :
- good carbohydrates (seasonal vegetables and fruit) & good cereals (millet, quinoa, wheat, rice…)
- quality proteins (animal or vegetable)
- good fat with quality oils (olive, rapeseed, etc.) and nuts (cashew, hazelnut, etc.), but also butter, avocado, cheese, etc., to make “good fat” before the event, because you will inevitably be in a caloric deficit (we’ll come back to this later).
Then season it with sprouted seeds, gomasio (sesame salt), fresh herbs etc…
There are thousands of recipes on the internet but personally I love the insta account @lefoodbol because it’s full of vegan seasonal ideas and his book is great!
For a healthy plate, we remember the good food associations:
- We eat fruits outside of meals (1h to 30 mn before if possible to avoid creating fermentations in the intestine)
- Cereals + dried vegetables
- Cereals + fresh vegetables
- Fresh vegetables + animal or vegetable proteins
If you don’t feel well after a meal (tiredness, acidity, flatulence), there is a digestion problem, so listen to your body!
And above all, what you should see most in your plate are vegetables ;))
Finally, when preparing for ultra events, don’t try to lose weight. That’s not the point. If you eat correctly and feel good on your bike and in your daily life (top energy levels, mental acuity etc)… It’s because it’s your right weight.
It may not be the one you’d like to see on the scales, but it’s the one that allows that fantastic machine that is your body to perform, so do it justice 😉
By the way great post by Emily Chappell (1st woman on the TCE in 2016) about this: https://www.instagram.com/p/CPQdkl0h6DP/
The day before the race
During the effort, digestion stops: the blood redistribution means that blood is first sent to the organs used during the race, while intestinal digestion is put on hold. This is why when you run with a full stomach, you often feel nauseous or heavy: the body tries to get rid of the excess weight in order to concentrate on the effort required of it.
During intense sports activity, the porosity of the intestine increases. The intestinal membrane no longer functions properly and no longer plays its role as a “sieve”, which can sometimes lead to burning sensations that follow a strong urge to go to the toilet.
- Knowing when to eat
In my experience, if you prefer to eat before running, you should eat at least 1 hour before the start of the effort.
As far as snacks are concerned: a piece of fresh fruit (ideally an apple, very digestible) or some dried fruit, to be eaten 15 to 30 minutes before the start.
Some people prefer to train on an empty stomach, but every body is different! It is particularly recommended that women always eat before training because the hormonal response to food deprivation is not the same as for men, and this creates stress on the body.
- A real protein and carbohydrate meal?
The focus should be on protein and carbohydrates: this is what the body needs most during exercise.
In general, a 3:1 ratio is recommended: 3 portions of carbohydrates for 1 portion of protein.
As far as carbohydrates are concerned, each person has their own choice: I prefer white rice or gluten-free bread (more digestible).
For proteins: a little fish or an egg, for example. But also quinoa, legumes and lentils.
You have to take into account your own specificities!
- Fast and slow sugars
Simple sugars are those that are easily absorbed by the body: fruits such as bananas, apples or dates give an immediate boost to the body.
Complex sugars or slow sugars: these are the ones contained in cereals, starches, potatoes, etc. They take longer to digest and provide a delayed energy boost, a few hours after consumption. These are the ones we will be looking for in the plate just before!
- Fat & fibre
Fats (9 calories per gram) take a long time to be digested by the body. Eating too much butter, oil or even avocado just before a race can make your stomach feel heavy.
Fibre is the opposite: it speeds up digestion. And believe me, you really don’t want that while you’re riding. So avoid large quantities of salad and of course too many raw vegetables.
- Load up on electrolytes
Electrolytes are the minerals you lose through sweat during exercise (mainly sodium & potassium).
There are two ways to counteract this loss: eat salty food the day before (in moderation, otherwise you will be very thirsty), or drink coconut water, which is very rich in potassium. You can also make your own recovery drink by adding lemon, strawberry or orange to your coconut water.
During: recommendations + our respective feedback
During exercise, our body burns everything we give it, so we have to give it calories. Point.
The first thing to estimate is the daily energy expenditure. On an ultra event it is quickly around 8000 to 10 000 calories / day.
A gel = 150 and 200 calories. And frankly the idea of eating 50 gels in a day makes you want to cry.
So you have to eat real food during the effort: sandwiches, tabbouleh, makis, chips… a lot of ultra athletes have their little guilty pleasures!
After: managing the metabolic window for muscle recovery
We won’t go into the subject today but the metabolic window is shorter for men (about 4 hours after the effort) than for women (about 30 minutes after the effort), but here is a recommendation for everyone!
Fill up on protein (complete protein source with the amino acid leucine) within 30 minutes after the session, then eat a complete breakfast (mix of carbohydrates, proteins and fats).
Example: If you are an omnivore, choose whey protein and cow’s milk as they have a higher leucine content, but if you are vegan or veggie, you can have pea protein of course!
Protein powder – a spoonful of whey protein with oats/porridge, add it to a smoothie or make pancakes!
Eggs – hard boiled, pre-cooked omelette with toast.
Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese with oats.
In conclusion: Your body is your engine. Fill up on good fuel, if you have to look at a number, let it be the number of miles run this year rather than some silly number on the scale!
Enjoy and have a great ultras season everyone 🙂