Optimal Nutrition in the build-up to The Big One
Sometime before last year’s Cape Epic MTB race, a lean mean racing machine appeared on the scene. As a founder and director of Fast Fuel, Elton Holland was well known to everybody on the SA sports scene, but few had seen him looking quite this lithe, and riding this long or fast. Dominique le Roux quizzed him, and got in the advice of the experts.
Some years back, I joined the Fast Fuel boys on that 500km Quest adventure race that turned into a nightmare of snow and suffering. Unlike his partner Tim Osrin, Elton Holland and I were both on the chubby side, though we had the endurance to just keep on slogging at a moderate pace. Now I’m sitting in his airy, streamlined apartment questioning him on how I too can get in shape for this year’s Cape Epic. I absolutely must shed those extra kilos – no ways I want to haul them up the mountain, like rocks in my rucksack. But I’m also confused about how to consume sufficient kilojoules to meet my body’s needs as it trains 15 to 20 hours a week. And of course I need to boost my immune system so that I don’t get ill before the event.
First-up, Holland reinforces the fact that not all meals are equal. Are you preparing for a ride that day, or a race in a week’s time? Are you eating to recover? He outlines his own eating plans to illustrate:
“At dinner, I like to balance my carb and protein content, whilst sticking to a relatively lean meal in terms of fat. This would mean something like a 250-300g fillet or seared tuna, which I would balance with some carbs in the form of pasta, potatoes or rice, and of course some vegetables.
“Brekkie is high in complex carb, but something that is easily digestible – I enjoy All Bran, cooked oats or toast with honey.” (When Holland mentions that a strong cup of coffee will help mobilise fat, he makes my day.)
During the ride
“Consume something regularly - this helps maintain consistent sugar levels and will eliminate the chances of glycogen depletion. I generally use Fast Fuel Sports Fuel as an energy source in my CamelBak to sip on regularly, and a caffeinated Rocket Gel sachet every hour. I also take one to two energy bars to snack on, though during long offroad training rides I like to pack some solid foods like sandwiches, muffins, nuts and raisins, etc.”
“This is the most important time to eat properly - within 30 minutes of finishing - due to your body’s metabolic engine being charged up, nutrition absorption is accelerated. I recommend a meal replacement type product like FastFuel Rebuild, which has a balanced carbohydrate, protein and vitamin blend. A product like this will fuel you to recover at an optimum level and enable you to have a stronger training session the following day. If you are doing long sessions I would also recommend a second Rebuild shake three to five hours later.”
As I alternate sips of white wine and chocolate Rebuild (no, not the ideal combination), I make a mental note to start eating better. Holland stresses that gains in fitness are the result of how well I can recover. “Eating properly,” he insists, “means recovering properly.”
This is a message that Amanda Claassen had driven home a few weeks previously at a Cape Epic rider info evening at Cape Union Mart. A registered nutritionist, she is particularly interested in “carbohydrate, protein and creatine phosphate metabolism during endurance exercise, and how manipulating the intake of these affects endurance performance.” An expert, in other words.
At her talk, one thing really stuck out: carbs, carbs, carbs. I’m sure I’m not the only one that had begun to think of these as rather old-school, with so much emphasis placed on almost everything else these days. But Claassen fed us stats and graphs that illustrated that the only thing that would keep us going after a few hours of hard training or racing would by the fuel stored in our muscles as glycogen. A fuel our bodies produce from carbohydrates.
Lance Armstrong’s coach, Chris Carmichael agrees: “A balanced diet for endurance athletes draws 60-65% of its calories from carbohydrates. This portion of your food intake will serve as your primary fuel source during exercise.”
In his brilliant book The Lance Armstrong Performance Program (Rodale), he explains: “Carbohydrates regulate fat and protein metabolism and help your nervous system work properly. In addition, your body converts carbohydrates into glucose to meet energy demands and stores the excess in the muscles and liver as glycogen. It’s the availability of this glycogen in your muscles that ultimately determines your ability to function as an athlete.”
Of course, protein is vital too. Neither Holland, Claassen nor Carmichael recommends you OD on the carbs to the neglect of the other ingredients. It’s simply a matter of finding the balance, it seems: enough carb to fuel us up, enough protein to fix our bodies training or racing.
“Not a major source of energy,” explains Carmichael, “protein is essential for the growth, repair and maintenance of body tissues. In addition, haemoglobin, antibodies, enzymes and many hormones are produced from it.” He advises that during times of heavy training or racing stress, we may need to bump up the protein portion of our diets. When he outlines Armstrong’s daily diet, it’s very much like the one Holland suggested: complex carbs with steamed vegetables and some lean meat or fish. Even breakfast contains a little bit of protein to “break down carbohydrates and replenish and maintain carbohydrate storage.” Put like that, it seems so simple.
I take a last sip of my wine (carbs, vitamins…), bid Holland farewell and stumble out into a dark and deserted Adderley Street. All this talk of food, and there’s a McDonalds only a block away…
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