Breck Epic Basics: Nutrition for the long haul
Editor’s note: The 2018 Breck Epic mountain bike race is underway, running August 5-10, and we sent Spencer Powlison up to Breckenridge, Colorado, to cover the event from a rider’s eye view. In addition to daily updates from the race, this series of “Breck Epic Basics” will offer tips on how to handle the challenges of an event like Breck Epic — or any multi-day cycling trip or event you might plan to do.
Over the course of six days, the typical Breck Epic rider will race 25 hours on trails above 9,000 feet in elevation, covering close to 240 miles. Just writing that makes me hungry. So, naturally, the task of completing the week of racing requires careful nutrition planning and attention to detail.
For tips on how to stay fueled during long, tough, multi-day cycling events, we turned to multi-time national champion and three-time Breck Epic winner Jeremiah Bishop (Canyon-Topeak) as well as Amy Beisel (Orange Seal), who was fourth overall last year.
“If you look at the best products out there that are scientifically engineered they have multiple carbohydrates — Cytomax, GU. You basically have a higher rate of absorption. And that makes a pretty big difference for both gastric emptying and maintain endurance for long events. Breck is fairly taxing with short, fairly hard climbs. It’s in the middle — it’s not quite as short as the BC Bike Race stages. You’re really dumping some glycogen. Having 1/3 carb in your sports drink and practicing in training what you want to do in racing is hugely important no matter what you’re doing. The day before. … three days before, don’t change anything. It’s super important to feel that your prep is done.
“I usually have a treat for a really long race like Leadville — it’s more just psychological.
“It’s also pretty important to have a finish line bag as well. Even if you’re not a pro doesn’t mean you can’t treat your body like one — coke or recovery drink, getting fluid and calories in after makes a big difference. There used to be a pretty big push for recovery drinks to have antioxidants. But more recently the science has shown part of the benefit from exercise is the shock response you get from inflammation that you get from oxidative stress — then you get faster. Having good antioxidants with your food is enough — have your broccoli, eat your kale, have your blueberries with your breakfast. That should be enough. During racing though I think having more antioxidants is extremely important.”
“Eat and drink early and often. If you get depleted if you get dehydrated while you’re out there at altitude, its super hard to bounce back. I try to drink at least one full bottle of liquid before the race even starts and just try to keep it topped off as I race and just recovery drink when you’re done. Because the stages are fairly hard and you have to do it for six days, I’ll even have two recovery drinks after I’m finished.
“I’ll eat gels mainly. It’s really hard for me to eat solid food while I’m racing. I might give Enduro Bites a shot this year. We use GU product and I really like it. Roctane [drink] has a ton of calories and sodium and amino acids. They say you don’t really need to eat anything, but I still eat because I’m working so hard that I’ll have some gels along with Roctane. The amino acids help my muscles get less fatigued. I feel a huge diff with those amino acids. They also have amino capsules I’ll pop a few of those before the race. Also, Enduro Bites, they make this drink, Beta Red. I’ll drink that 40 minutes before a race. That’s also packed with a lot of amino acids the beets they help with fatigue.
“I’m typically more of a bonker than I am a cramper, so the salt content isn’t something that I think about as much but the amino acids. Man, I don’t know how they work on the cellular level but they help.
“Caffeine is always good but in a stage race when you’re done you want to recover and fall asleep. It helps me stay more focused on a bike.”
“I’ll definitely have GU Roctane drink mix in my bottles every day, like Amy. This product has been my nutrition revelation of 2018. With my coverage of the Epic Rides mountain bike series, I needed a high-calorie drink mix, and at 250 calories a bottle, Roctane works wonders for me. It’s pretty easy to drink too.
“Although I generally don’t like energy gels, that’s what I’ll primarily eat on the bike, in part because I find it is harder to digest at altitude. It helps if you have multiple flavors to break up the monotony. But my secret weapon is Untapped maple syrup shots. They look like normal gel packets but they’re just straight-up delicious maple syrup. I look forward to those, always. (Probably because I grew up in Vermont.)
“Lastly, I’ll pack a few tubes of Nuun Immunity tablets. These came out earlier this year, and I like that they rely on natural ingredients like turmeric, echinacea, and ginger to fend off the sniffles, rather than a super-dose of vitamin C.”