I was sitting down to write this, and I was thinking to myself, "Should I go scientific with my nutrition guidelines or keep it simple?" I had decided on breaking it down to simple rules. As I was collecting information, the first article that I came across started with, "Basically, what it comes down to is that you have to be very scientific about your nutrition." So, I am going to let that guy talk about the science, and I will talk about the simple.There are as many ideas on sports nutrition as there are coaches - and that is a lot. Many have their own "special mix" or formula as they call it. Others have a stomach of steel and eat whatever they want, whether it will help their performance or not. The No. 1 rule that all coaches will agree on is this: Do not try anything new on race day.If you have not tried a food or drink on multiple training rides, do not try it on race day.Breakfast is first. I have competed in some longer races ranging from six- to 24-hour solo mountain bike races. I will get up two or two and a half hours before these start, sometimes around 4:45 a.m. This is for two reasons. The first is that I do not drink coffee. Coffee moves your stomach quickly in the morning, so my digestion takes a little longer. I will even go on a 10-minute jog first thing to get my stomach moving. There isn't a more uncomfortable feeling as being 20 miles into your ride, knowing you will be on your bike for hours and having no restroom facilities to use. The second reason I get up so early is in the words of my wife, "that you are a dork and like to be very prepared." Touche. For breakfast I have some whole-grain toast, almond butter, banana and honey - try to eat foods that do not have a lot of processed sugar in it. I know people think they need energy and then immediately go for Pop-Tarts - for calories, not sugar. I get plenty of calories in my breakfast, but my stomach likes those foods; it does not like to digest processed sugars on a bike. Most people should add whole grain, fruit, some good fats and water together for breakfast.The calories that you need during an event all depend on length and intensity. The general rule is 200-300 calories per hour. That would be about 1 Clif Bar or 2 sports "gels." This can depend on your weight, size, intensity, heat, etc., but most people are within that range. The other two important aspects are water and electrolytes. Sweating and not replenishing electrolytes can cause as much "damage" as far as not having enough water or calories. If you are racing for less than an hour, you do not need anything else on the bike besides water. You will want some calories before, but during you should be just fine without. When you get into 1.5-plus hours is when you want to start adding calories. Before my first 12-hour solo race, my good friend said, "All you are going to want is watermelon, Lay's potato chips, avocado, peanut M&Ms and a cold Coke for your later laps."I laughed and went shopping for food. Three hours into the race, all I could think of was, watermelon, Lay's potato chips, avocado and peanut M&Ms. He is a smart guy. Another friend rides with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in his pocket in a plastic bag. Others will only get their calories from drinking a sports drink. These are huge differences in thinking, but you need to experiment and see what your stomach likes. If you are going to go on a six-plus hour ride, nothing tastes good if you eat it for six hours. Vary your choices.What do I eat? I do ok with: Hammer Nutrition, Clif Bar, and Honey Stinger products. Do I love the taste of all of them? Nope, but they work with my stomach and they are an easy, fast way to get the calories I need. Avocado soothes my stomach and is a nice break from the sports nutrition. For longer races, I eat the 100-calorie packets of Wholly Guacamole just like a sports gel. It is especially good when it is 90 degrees, you forget it is in your pocket so it gets really hot, and you don't have any water left to wash it down with. Sounds delicious, right? Brett Donelson and his wife, Tam, own Donelson Coaching, which coaches endurance athletes. Brett is also a personal trainer and cycling director at the Athletic Club at the Westin in Avon. For more information on Brett, visit www.donelsoncoaching.com.
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