An endurance mountain biker's fueling plan for ultra success
By Rich Maines
It started in 1993, when I witnessed my first 24-hour race as part of a support crew for 24 Hours of Canaan in West Virginia. Watching them, I thought that riding all over the mountainous terrain during the daylight hours seemed pretty crazy, but when darkness fell, I began to grasp the complete insanity of their pursuits. How could they ride so fast, in the dark, over technical terrain?! The beauty of the darkness and specks of light racing through the night left me spellbound. It would be years until I would experience mountain biking at night for myself, but when I finally did, I was hooked.
Although I've been racing since the '90s, I began competing as a soloist in 12- and 24-hour events in 2009, with a focus on singlespeed since 2011. After building up my first singlespeed mountain bike to help improve my climbing, I soon found that singlespeed makes me a better rider overall. It's just the bike and your legs - so your mind is free to experience the trail in a new way. I ended up parting out my race bike and building up a second singlespeed that was more race ready, and the rest is history. So far this season, I've stood at the top of the podium once (12 Hours in the Wild West), placed 2nd twice (Grand Canyon Alpine 100 and 12 Hours in the Papago), and finished 4th and 10th in two other events. For me, endurance racing is a testament to overcoming self-imposed limits. Here's what works for me.
Race Week Preparation
Eat smart - My first rule for race week: Make no major changes to the normal diet of lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits, and veggies. The night before the race, skip the heavy pasta dinner offered at most events and fuel smart! Excess carbs are only going to be eliminated or stored as body fat (dead weight).
Take it easy - I try to keep the mood light, spend time with my family, and rest. Overthinking the race never leads to good results. Workouts consist of light strength training, some short hill intervals, and a mellow ride or two to get my head straight. The most important ride of the week is the "shakedown ride:" three nights prior to the race, I put in an hour at race pace to ensure my lighting systems are dialed in and the bike is functioning properly. The weekend before the race, I pack clothing and equipment and portion out my nutrition and supplements for the race.
Race Day Fueling
Prerace - Most 24 hour races start at noon, which allows me to consume around 300 calories of high-quality foods and finish three hours before the race start. I top off my glycogen stores 15 minutes before the start with 1 serving of my favorite Hammer Gel flavor, Nocciola!
Calories: During a race, your body goes into "survival mode" by routing blood to working muscles and oxygen to the brain, heart, and other internal organs. It is NOT focused on replacing all of the calories, fluids, and electrolytes lost, and attempting to do so will cause bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, and a poor finish. I consume roughly 180 calories per hour during a race.
I prefer liquid fuel for the first 12-16 hours, supplemented by Hammer Gel every few hours. I find solid foods harder to digest at race pace and more difficult to gauge for calorie consumption. The night before the event, I portion out multiple three-hour bottles of Sustained Energy powder. During the race, my crew mixes a new bottle with water when I'm ready for a fresh one. After 16 hours, I usually switch to Hammer Bars, eating half a bar every hour.
Hydration: I drink 16-24 ounces of plain water per hour, depending on conditions, and supplement with 2-3 Endurolytes per hour for electrolyte replenishment. I also take Hammer Nutrition's Endurance Amino, Anti-Fatigue Caps, and Race Caps Supreme hourly.
Staying on top of nutrition and hydration is the biggest thing you can do to achieve success in an ultra MTB race. Monitor your fuel and hydration every 15 minutes, and keep at it to the very end of the race. Also, remember to keep it fun. That's why you're doing this in the first place!