Race Workshop: Fuel

Fuelling during an ultra-distance race is key to ensuring that you can perform at your best, but, fundamentally it is also a key part of maintaining comfort whilst on the bike, as anyone who has succumb to a mismanagement of fuel can attest to.

 

In the context of an ultra-distance race, where re-supply is often infrequent, unreliable, or even non-existent, there is much more to consider than on a long day ride, or even a simple overnighter. In this article we’ll explore how to fuel efficiently to make sure you hit your racing goals and stay comfortable during what at times may seem as much of a eating contest as it does a bike race.

Reading time: 3 min
Cyclist walking around shop

 

The Basics

Any extended time in the saddle requires frequent calorie intake to ensure your body has enough energy to maintain your ride. Whilst simply intaking calories may keep the legs spinning, being mindful of what your body needs, particularly when faced with the questionable choices offered by a petrol station in the early hours of the morning can make the difference between an enjoyable stretch to the next resupply, or, having to negotiate the physical and mental impact that comes with fuel mismanagement.

The key thing to consider here is that there no one-size fits all approach to fuelling. Whilst some riders can happily perform with a large supply of gels and other specialist sports nutrition, others may experience flavour fatigue, or, digestion issues, the knock-on of which is an inability to consume enough fuel, leading to a major decline in performance. Conversely, some riders can happily raid the sugar-laden aisles of a petrol station with abandon and continue to ride at pace with a feedbag full of sweets, a pocket full of chocolate, all chased down with an energy drink chaser.

Apples on a bench with Apidura Hip Pack

 

Strategy

Before arriving at any kind of fuelling strategy, it’s important to know what your body reacts well to, as well as the types of foods you can happily eat without experiencing flavour fatigue, and those which require a more nuanced approach. Simply testing on big day rides won’t give you the same insights as a multi-day race situation, so it’s important to test any fuelling strategy out over a multi-day pre-race ride.

Whatever your strategy, the most important consideration for race-day is availability. If you’ve decided a homemade savoury flapjack is your race fuel of choice, what happens when that runs out and your options are limited to the slim offerings of a 24-hour petrol station?

Whatever route you choose it’s a good idea to know which of the most commonly available foodstuffs will work for you when the choices are limited. This may be as simple of knowing you should choose an energy drink over coffee, or a chocolate bar over baked goods. but when venturing into remote territory in an unfamiliar country may mean choices are limited.

Cyclist stopping with full Backcountry setup at shop

Frequency

For any long bike ride, keeping on top of fuelling is important, however, it is essential in an ultra-distance race situation. Staying consistently fuelled requires the intake of food at a steady rate, so little and often is the best practice. Having food close at hand is a simple way to ensure you keep on top of fuelling.

Food pouches such as the Backcountry Food Pouch are a go-to choice for a lot of riders, as any solid food stuff can be easily decanted, with lots of riders mixing up sweet and savoury snacks to help avoid flavour fatigue. Some GPS devices can set a reminder for eating, which may sound extreme, but after many hours in the saddle, it’s easy to misjudge the frequency of food intake.

 

Backcountry Food Pouch

Hydration

Hydration is a key aspect of fuelling that can be easily overlooked. A lack of water intake can severely hamper performance, whilst dehydration is a frequent cause of scratches from events like Badlands, which traverses Europe’s only desert and, in some editions, has had temperatures exceed 40 degrees.

Fluid intake doesn’t need to be limited to water, with electrocyte and carb mixes a simple and effective way to get more fuel during your ride, or to ensure your hydration stay optimal. Our Racing Hydration Vest has been a staple at long distance gravel races and ultra races alike, with it’s 2L capacity the equivalent of carrying 4 regular 500ml bottles.

For those not keen on wearing an on-body piece, some riders opt for a Full Frame Pack, combined with a Frame Pack Hydration Bladder, keeping the additional weight low on the frame for neutral handling (1 litre of water is the equivalent to 1kg of weight).

 

Whatever your plan, or your ability to execute, fuelling for ultra-distance races is often a journey of discovery, with continuous testing and refinement required. As such it’s not something that any one rider executes perfectly every race, so don’t worry if things don’t quite go to plan – take the learnings and evolve your approach for the next race.