Nutrition - The Hidden Discipline of Spring Challenge Racing

Food and hydration can easily be forgotten in the excitement of racing - even the best laid nutrition plans can go out the window once the starting hooter goes. But without fuel you will come to a grinding halt so it’s crucial to find what works for you. Be sure to eat and drink often, during training and on race day.

You don't have to eat what your teammates are eating - everyone is different. Try out plenty of options and figure out what your body runs on the best. A good rule of thumb is to have something to eat every 30 minutes and something to drink every 15 minutes. Normally, if you wait until you are hungry or thirsty it’s too late. We want to avoid cases of hangry! Always take a bit more than you think you'll need in case you spend longer out there than planned.

Pre-Coast to Coast shopping spree.

Emily Miazga, founder of Em’s Power Cookies, former registered dietitian and experienced adventure and multisport racer, will be penning her advice on Spring Challenge nutrition next month. She’ll go into more details about how to fuel our bodies for the event.

In the meantime, I’m sharing here what I’ve learned since I discovered the world of Spring Challenge and multisport. I don’t have it all figured out, there’s a lot about nutrition that I’m yet to learn, but here’s a menu selection that works for me.

Pringle snacking while hiding from the summer sun during a MTB adventure on Banks Peninsula.

The Week Before

Avoid eating anything out of the ordinary or something that might upset the status quo of your digestive system. This can even extend to cooking all your own meals ie. not dining out or buying from the cabinet at lunch. It might sound pedantic but having a crook gut can really take the shine off the fun of competing in an event - often it’s hard enough without feeling ill!

This is something I learned the hard way before my first Coast to Coast event last year where I raced in the tandem team category. The weekend before the race, my teammate and I went for a meal out - at a proper restaurant even, not a dingy back alley establishment. Within a couple of hours we were both feeling worse for wear. We quickly narrowed down the culprit to some dodgy chicken, but the damage was done. For 3 days we didn’t leave the 20 metre radius from the bathroom. We did race, we did finish, and we did well, but it was incredibly tough. Raconting this incident to Steve Gurney at the finish line he said, “Well, you’ve just learned another lesson in racing the hard way.

Race Morning

Just have a normal breakfast and eat as much as of it possible. Race day nerves can sneak up on you and breakfast is often be difficult to stomach. Give it plenty of time to digest before your race start. I have homemade muesli with berries and coconut cream, plus some Pic’s peanut butter and banana on toast to get that full feeling.

Race or Adventure Menu

  • Baby food pouches - I like the Only Organic brand and choose the ones with most carbohydrates and/or most calories. Super easy to eat on the go and with a screw top lid you don’t have to finish the whole thing in one hit.

  • Bananas

  • Bumper Bars

  • Dried chickpea or fav-va beans (The Happy Snack Company).

  • Dried fruit - normally mango or papaya.

  • Electrolytes - if it’s hot I’ll take Nuun electrolyte tablets. No carbs or anything extra in these Nuun tablets - just electrolytes!

  • Frooz balls

  • Gels - for racing and I generally only use them when I can’t get real food down anymore. I use High5 gels - not too sweet and they’re quite “liquidy” so don’t need to water with them.

  • Gingernuts - pack a good energy punch and usually kind on the stomach. If I remember I’ll open the packet well in advance of race day to let them soften. But if I forget I’ll dunk them in water on the go to reach the desired squishyness.

  • Olives - just recently I've taken a shine to these salty little snacks.

  • Potatoes - baked the day before. Either small potatoes or cut into bite-sized chunks. A generous amount of salt added.

  • Pringles - salt and vinegar.

  • Radix freeze dried meals - great adventure food. Nutritious, the ingredients listed on the packet are all things one might find in their pantry, and full of energy.

  • Sandwiches - Pics Peanut Butter and banana.

  • Scroggin

  • Snakes - if I feel like a treat. But sometimes they’re just too sweet and one is enough!

  • Tailwind - sports drink powder. Often I’ll add a couple of teaspoons of chia seeds too.

  • Water - in a bladder in a backpack while hiking. On the bike I try to minimise the weight on my back so carry water and/or sports drink in bottles in the drink bottle cages on the bike, and any extra water (depending on conditions and water sources on the way) on my back.

Bikepacking adventure smorgasbord.

When you're hiking it's easier to eat solid foods as you will normally have both hands free and can rummage through your backpack on the move. It can be difficult to access food while on the bike. If you don't want to be stopping every time you want to grab food out of your backpack, or worse, not eating at all, think about storing your snacks where they are easily accessible. This could be in a little bag on your handlebars or top tube, in your jacket pocket, or in a pocket in your backpack that's easy to reach on the go. Anything that’s in a packet I’ll either pre-open the packet or just take right out. With things like Bumper bars I’ll break into thirds so it’s easy to just grab a mouthful-sized piece when riding.

There you have it, the summary of my adventure menu. And don’t forget the golden rule - don't try anything new on race day!

Happy adventuring!

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