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Leadville Preview: Nutrition Tips From The Pros

"If you've put in the training and are fit, I don't care if you are doing a race in Morocco where all you can eat is ant larvae, you'll make it work. The training is the key." – Dave Wiens, six-time Leadville 100 champion

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“If you’ve put in the training and are fit, I don’t care if you are doing a race in Morocco where all you can eat is ant larvae, you’ll make it work. The training is the key.” – Dave Wiens, six-time Leadville 100 champion

OK, so Wiens may be exaggerating a tiny bit, but the point he’s making is clear: The worst thing you can do is worry too much. Trust yourself, trust your instincts, and get your butt across the finish line.

That said, there are certainly some nutrition tips worth heeding, and it all starts a few days before the race.

“Starting about a week out, make sure you are taking in enough carbohydrates because this is not the time you should be trying to lose weight,” recommends Dr. John Heiss, Ph.D. and lead scientist of the Herbalife24 product line, which includes Prolong, the official on-course drink of this year’s Leadville 100. “You especially want to ramp up your intake two nights before the race. That’s the most important. The night before, on the other hand, don’t go too crazy. If you have a giant pasta dinner, it can leave you feeling heavy and bloated. So go a little more modest the night before.”

On race morning, you should follow a similar protocol, says Heiss. Ideally, you’d want to eat three hours before race start. But since that comes at an ungodly 6:30 a.m., Heiss advises that it’s better to get a good night’s sleep than to awaken at 3:30 in the morning and wolf down a lumberjack breakfast.

“Keep it relatively light,” recommends Heiss, who will be contesting his first Leadville 100 this year. “Something like a wheat bagel with peanut butter or Nutella and a protein shake should work. You want to make sure whatever you eat has a low glycemic index, and is not overly sugary. So think whole grains or try something like the Herbalife24 Formula 1 shake.”

Once racing commences, the key is to stay ahead of the game. If you wait until you’re hungry to eat, things can get ugly quick — or put another way, you’ll BONK!

Instead, remember that during a 10-hour race, you’ll burn roughly 5,000 calories, meaning regular consumption is key. “In a long race like this, I am eating right away,” said Cannondale pro Jeremiah Bishop. “A lot of people don’t eat until it’s too late. Instead think about taking in something every 30 minutes.”

What that something is is a distinctly personal choice. What tastes great to one rider is gruel of the grossest degree to another. The key, of course, is figuring that out before August 13th, because as the wise-racer’s mantra goes: No experimenting on race day.

Bishops says he can’t do just gels all day, lest he get a nasty case of “sugar stomach.” Instead he mixes in at least one peanut butter and honey sandwich sprinkled with a little extra salt for good measure.

Wiens is a PB&J bagel man himself; he always gobbles one down at the Twin Lakes aid station after he’s completed the Columbine climb. “I also have three gels on me between each aid station,” he said. “I don’t always eat them all, but I have them and I’ll almost always take in at least two gels between aid stations.”

Todd Wells, last year’s third place finisher, says he tried mixing in sandwiches and pastries last year, but found the race too fast to have adequate time for such luxuries. This year, it’s all business. “I’m planning on gels, blocks and bars,” he said. “And I’ll try to eat whenever there is a lull.”

Another option is to forgo solid food all together. Two-time defending champion Rebecca Rusch survives on an enhanced liquid diet, ingesting all her necessary calories, carbs, protein and electrolytes via Hammer Nutrition’s Perpetuem product, which is essentially a liquid meal designed for endurance racing.

Herbalife24’s Prolong serves a similar purpose, and will be available at all the Leadville 100 aid stations.

“The idea is to be a one-source fuel,” explained Nate Whitman, director of the Herbalife24 Basecamp in Leadville, and a nine-time Leadville finisher with multiple sub-8-hour times. “Some people need solid food, and that’s something you need to figure out in advance. Whatever you choose, the critical metric is achieving a total calorie consumption of somewhere between 250-350 calories an hour. And don’t overdo it. Otherwise your stomach may go haywire.”

Note: If you’re in Leadville this week and have additional nutrition questions, stop by the Herbalife24 Basecamp located a block east of Harrison Street on Third. (Look for the Herbalife flags in front of the old wooden house.) Basecamp director Nate Whitman, product line scientist Dr. John Heiss, Ph.D., and members of the Herbalife24 elite team will be there to get you pointed in the right direction. You can also sample Herbalife products and get free samples. And if you’re not in Leadville, but still have questions, contact the Herbalife team via its twitter feed, @Herbalife24HQ.

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