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Burning the candle at both ends: Nutrition in a 24-hour race.

This past weekend, Colorado Springs hosted the USA Cycling 24-Hour Mountain Bike National Championship.

Men’s overall winner, Josh Tostado, crushed the field with 18 laps in 22:12:21; he finished early and opted out of a 19th lap because his nearest competitor was 90 minutes down.

If you’ve ever wondered what these sleep-deprived riders use to fuel themselves, well, it turns out to be a mixture of a lot things and is very rider-specific. There is no holy grail.

Singletrack spoke with Seth Strickland, one of Tostado’s crewmembers in charge of nutrition at the race this weekend.

“Josh uses a combination of things. He uses Infinit Nutrition, a custom-blended drink; he runs a protein mix in his Camelbak, which he keeps only one third full. In his bottles we run electrolytes, at least until he gets sick of proteins and Gu. We typically give him something solid during the night; I think tonight he had a croissant with cheese, egg and bacon at about 4am.”

Some riders will do the entire race without any solid foods, simply because they can’t keep them down. AJ Linnell, second-place finisher in the men’s singlespeed category, took only fluids throughout the race. His parents, serving as his pit crew for the race, said “he usually asks us to save him some yams, but when he came in he just didn’t want any this time — he drank only fluids.”

One local rider we came across as we were surveying the course with race director Tim Scott, hadn’t been able to keep anything down. We saw him at 9:00 am. “This is what you look like when you don’t eat for 24 hours” he said as he rode by, looking fairly haggard.

The overall consensus is that nutrition has to be flexible during a 24-hour race. Some riders can stomach solid foods, others cannot. And it can often be race-specific as well. Some races riders will eat solids, while others, depending on the level of exertion, might not be able to.

But a sensible mixture of protein-based liquids, and electrolytes can be an effective substitute if your belly can’t handle the solid stuff. Unfortunately, whether you can handle it or not ultimately comes down to trial and error.

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