You Are What You Eat – Performance Nutrition for Riders

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As a rider, you’ll know that balancing your body weight and strength is key to optimising your performance. You need to maximise functional strength without carrying unnecessary weight – but getting your nutrition right pays off beyond this, too. Get your diet right, and hit the jackpot with better energy and stamina, enhanced mental clarity and an improved immune system – making it easier for you to train harder and longer, and handle whatever your ride throws at you.

You’ve invested a lot of time in fine tuning your bike – now is the time to make sure your own physical performance is just as braap!

Nutrition for Performance

There’s a reason that elite athletes turn to nutritionists to beat a plateau or sharpen their natural skills – typical western diets fail to provide all of the nutrition needed for optimal sporting performance. If you’re looking to take your riding to another level, then you need to pay as much attention to the fuel you put into yourself, as you do to the fuel going into your precious bike.

If you’re carrying extra weight, feeling lethargic, or struggling to recover after a heavy training session, your diet is the place to start. Extreme changes rarely work, so don’t be tempted to leap into anything radical. Great nutrition is not about pills or potions, but built over time, and the human body is a master at converting great fuel into great performance. Start with these basic building blocks of your everyday diet:

  • Don’t skip meals – some forward planning might be necessary, but it is well worth the pay off in physical condition. Have healthy snacks in your armoury to stop you reaching for the nearest chocolate bar in a pinch.
  • Avoid empty calories – be honest about your weakness, whether it’s fizzy drinks, candy, or other foods that deliver energy without nutrients. Try to limit these empty foods, which should be treats, not staples.
  • Look for slow energy release foods, complex carbohydrates and whole grains, to avoid peak and crashes in your blood sugars. If you’re training hard, you need more carbs than your average Joe – but think quality as well as quantity!
  • Cut out as many processed foods as you can, instead, try to eat plenty of colourful fruit and vegetables for vitamins, antioxidants and fibre.
  • Keep properly hydrated. Step away from the coffee, soda and booze, though – and focus on water taken in steadily through the day.
  • Consider taking a quality vitamin supplement – at least until you are happy that your diet is delivering everything you need for perfect health. If you’re training hard, add protein shakes into your regimen, to help speed recovery and build lean muscle mass.

Each of us has a unique physique, and tailoring your nutrition should be a priority if you want to ride at your best. Start small, but don’t be afraid to seek out professional nutritional advice if you hit a wall.

Racing Fuel – Preparation

Motocross or enduro racing is going to push your fitness to the limit. If you’ve ever sat on the start line, you’ll know that the physical demands on race day are similar to those placed on any other professional athlete. Expect to prepare accordingly.

Fuelling for a race starts in the days running up to the event itself. Make sure you’re properly hydrated, build your carb stores with a few days of increased complex carbohydrate intake, and don’t risk any foods that might cause negative effects. Nerves can play havoc with your insides – and no matter how good you have been in practise, having gut-rot on the day of your race is not going to help your chances of finishing.

Whether you’re racing the biggest event of your life, or just out for a relaxed day’s ride, planning and preparation is everything. Consider the sort of riding you plan on doing, and what nutritional needs you’ll have. For example, a day of motocross or hard enduro racing will put different demands on the body than extended periods of Zone 2 training. Pack some sandwiches, fruit, and your pre and post race snacks in a cooler the night before, and don’t get caught short and find yourself picking up gas station snacks on the way to your venue.

On a race day, think about the timing of your meals. For most people, little and often is the answer, to make sure your blood sugar is stable on the start line – don’t be tempted to skip meals even if you’re in a hurry. Your body’s easiest source of energy is from carbs, so have a final light meal including carbs and protein, 30 to 60 minutes before racing – and if the timings don’t work out, then grab a decent, carb based snack before hitting the race to make sure your reactions are sharp.

During and After – Motocross vs Enduro

Whether you’re taking part in a motocross or enduro race, you need to keep feeding your body if you don’t want to find yourself at the back of the pack.

Take in 30-60g of easy to digest carbs, through a sports drink, energy bar or gel, either in between motocross races, or every hour in a longer enduro event. The Rabaconda team use Isostar, Nutrend and SIS products to get them through a heavy day. There’s nothing magic about these sports formulations – but their convenient form makes them a winner on race day.

Your body will thank you for some extra protein as soon as you can, too – in the form of a quick shake or bar – to start the recovery process as soon as possible. Don’t worry about finding variety in these snacks – find something that works, and replicate it as many times as you need, to keep your body in fuel.

Consider the conditions on race day when you are planning your nutrition. For example, if it is a particularly warm day, or a long and challenging course, as well as upping your liquid intake, magnesium supplements might be a smart addition to relieve muscle aches and spasms.

After the race, it is essential to get protein and carbs into your body as soon as possible to replenish your glycogen stores and support muscle recovery. What you do in the first half hour across the line will determine how long it takes you to bounce back after pushing your body to its limits. Go for complex carbs and protein, like a sandwich of lean meat on wholemeal bread or a bagel – and don’t shy away from sports supplements, drinks and bars – they’re just as convenient, and a whole lot better than reaching for a bag of chips. Tõnu, Rabaconda cofounder and bike nut, goes for a handful of raisins or a banana right after racing, followed by a solid meal an hour or so after to restore energy levels.

The best riders know that preparing their bikes for race day is only half the story. Through your training, you’ve built the base fitness to handle the course – but while that’ll make sure you see the finish line, you’ll only be in a state to really crush it if you’re properly fuelled. You wouldn’t buy your ride anything but the best to keep it in top form. Treat yourself the same, and you’ll not go far wrong.

Over to you. Are you sporting a six-pack, or more of a barrel? What’s your favourite race day fuel? Sign up for our newsletter, to read more about how to optimise for peak performance with Rabaconda.

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by rauno