Throughout my career I have always tried to do a lot of the little things right consistently, long before “marginal gains” were talked about so extensively around cycling and sports science!
Training so intensely day after day meant that a lot of those little things could really add up to significant gains in performance. Whether it was making sure I gave everything in the velodrome to chase every last watt, always pushing my squat PB in the gym, or doing such intense intervals I felt green coming off the indoor trainer, over the years we proved that those extra few percent in effort and preparation really added up.
That attention to every detail is what makes a successful athlete and a successful team. From a sports science point of view that would mean looking at improving our physiology as much as possible in training, maximsing training adaptations by optimizing recovery with the right nutrition, getting our bikes set up correctly so they were biomechanically sound, and working with top sports psychologists to keep us focused and confidant in our abilities. We would always be open to trying new technologies to find the extra edge. Going into London 2012 we had these ‘hot pants’ developed (heated trousers) that we wore after warm up and before competing, to keep our legs at the optimum temperature for racing.
That feeling of being fully prepared when you get to race day, knowing there was nothing more you could have done, gave you that confidence and made you feel relaxed and ready to race. For all competition day had a huge amount of pressure attached to it, the real hard work had been done, you just had to pull everything together and trust that you had maximized your gains as much as possible.
In the four years working towards an Olympic Games, what I did around training had just as much impact as what I did during. From what I ate to how slept, and looking after my general health. I did everything I could to avoid illness and injury, so that meant using hand gels, not touching lift buttons or handrails and bannisters, we tried to avoid contact with anything that could potentially give you an illness, particularly in the days leading up to competition. We took our own mattresses and pillows to all major competitions to ensure we maintained consistently good quality sleep.
Nutrition was more than just a marginal gain; it was a cornerstone of my performance. Just eating enough around three training sessions a day was tough – and cost me a fortune! The diet I needed wasn’t anything spectacular, but had a lot of good basic building blocks; quality protein (particularly animal and dairy), a mix of carbohydrate sources to replenish energy levels, good fats and a range of fruits and vegetables to stay healthy. Doing a lot of indoor training often meant sweat rates so staying hydrated was key. I didn’t go anywwhere without a bottle of water and a tube of GO Hydro!
We’ve worked closely with team nutritionist Dr. James Morton to determine the best use of products according to the riders training phase and race goals, from the early season classics to the grand tour season. Each rider has a specific nutrition plan according to their goals. The riders are also well fed off the bike by the Team Sky chef and their own kitchen truck. We look at what fuelled Froome to Tour de France victory from the meals on the bus, to the gels on the bike.
When it comes to his pre-race breakfast, Froome wouldn’t have anything different to a normal diet. This includes porridge, eggs, yoghurts, fruit smoothies and fruit / vegetable juices, just in slightly larger quantities than in the off season! This would be kept consistent throughout race days, with Whey Protein available to blend with the shakes to help increase protein intake and support the maintenance of his lean muscle mass when the daily calorie expenditure was as high as 5000-8000kcal per day.
It may be a surprise to learn that the first drink consumed in Team Sky’s bidon on the bike is an Advanced Isolate+. Riders’ must take all opportunities to maintain their lean muscle mass by taking on a quality protein source, rich in BCAAs and James monitors the riders weight closely by weighing the riders before and after every day of the tour.
Race fuelling is always planned and followed strictly by each rider, having been well practiced in training camps and earlier season races such as the Criterium du Dauphine. The riders aim for three pieces of “energy” per hour, which is usually a combination of a carbohydrate-electrolyte drink, SiS GO Energy Bars, GO Isotonic Energy Gels or rice cakes. Froome would often consume more solid food during less intense sections of races, such as apple flavour rice cakes.
When the pace stepped up, Froome switched to the GO Isotonic Energy Gels. These are saved when energy is needed fast. GO Energy + Caffeine Gels are also extremely popular with the riders to help them drive the peloton up the toughest climbs and allow Chris to push to success on tough tests like Col du Galibier.
Froome understands that to win a stage, especially in the heat, ‘pre-hydration’ is important. All riders would use GO Hydro before a race to help absorb and retain fluid so that it is used effectively during each stage. This would be coupled with fluid from juices and shakes. Riders will aim to take on at least 5-10ml of fluid, per kilo of their body mass in the 2-4 hours before each stage.
The amount of fluid taken on by Froome depends on his sweat rate. This would have been worked out before the tour, in similar conditions. Froome would aim to take in 500- 1000ml of fluid per hour. Froome wouldn’t consume just water. This would be an extra opportunity to take on energy and electrolytes. Froome would use an GO Electrolyte drink in the limited edition white and blue tipped bottles handed out by Team Sky support staff.
All Team Sky riders take recovery seriously, with often less than 24 hours until the next stage. As soon as Froome finished a stage, he would take an REGO Rapid Recovery Plus shake to help kick start protein synthesis, replace carbohydrate stores and begin his rehydration strategy.
On the bus back to the hotel, Froome would aim to re-hydrate effectively using GO Hydro. He will aim to take on 150% of the fluid lost during the stage. In addition, all riders would consume a meal containing mainly carbohydrate, moderate protein and vegetables.
When returning to the hotel, he would sit down with the rest of the Team Sky riders for an evening meal prepared by the team chef. This would include a variety of food, starting with salads and main dishes of rice, pastas, chicken, fish, potatoes and vegetables. Fruits and flans would also be available for desert.
Before going to sleep, he would take a slow-releasing protein shake to slowly feed his muscles with protein throughout the night, ready to race again the next day and make sure he hung on to his valuable, watt-generating lean muscle mass.
Train as you race!
No matter what distance of sportive you decide to tackle, there are certain elements you need to give serious thought to; your training and your nutrition. Don’t let those hard earned miles go to waste with poor nutritional strategies.
Your nutrition will be the make or break when it comes to not just surviving the miles in the saddle but actually enjoying the event when race day comes and being able to train without fatigue.
We’ve put together the key nutritional considerations to help you fuel your training days and chosen sportive itself.
Fueling Your Training
Key Consideration: Train as you race!
Testing nutrition strategies before race day is essential for the following reasons:
- Morning fuel: Your breakfast will be one of the most important meals you consume and will set you up for the first bout on the bike, so make sure you are comfortable with it and it works for you.
- On the go feeding: Fuelling on the bike is key, so get confident at consuming food and fluid whilst cycling at speed.
- Carbohydrate intake: Since your body can only store enough carbohydrate for up to 90-120 minutes you will need to intake up to 60-90g of carbohydrate per hour during prolonged exercise (over 90 minutes) to maintain carbohydrate supply to your muscles(1). If you’re not used to consuming this much carbohydrate during exercise it is a good idea to test it out to ensure the body is capable.
- Sweat rate: How much you sweat will dictate how much fluid you need to take-in. Aim to not lose any more than 2-3 % of your body mass to maintain hydration and be ready to train the next day(2).
Below is an example nutrition guide to follow around your training:
|Pre-Training||During your rides||Post-Training|
|Hydration||Ensure you are fully hydrated. Drink 500 – 1000ml of fluid at least 4 hours prior to your training ride. Use GO Electrolyte or GO Hydro to increase fluid retention||Work out how much you are sweating (per hour). Try not to lose more than 2-3% of your body mass through sweating. This usually means drinking 500 ml of GO Electrolyte per hour depending on temperature. For shorter rides, use GO Hydro to focus on replacing electrolytes lost through sweat||To ensure that you are fully recovered to train again, aim to replace 150% of the fluid volume lost through sweating(3). Always make sure to weigh yourself before and after your training rides.|
|Energy||Fuel for the work required throughout your training weeks(4). During short or low intense sessions, reduce carbohydrate intake. However, it’s important to practice your race-day fuelling plan during longer sessions, so that your body adapts to the work. Here, have a carbohydrate-based snack 3-4 hours before such as porridge, breads and yogurts. A GO Energy Bar 30 minutes before can help top up your energy stores||For shorter training rides, focus on electrolyte and fluid intake. For longer rides, aim to take on 60-90g of carbohydrate per hour using a combination GO Isotonic Energy gels/GO Immune Gels and GO Electrolyte. Find out the combination that works for you during training.||If you’ve had a tough session, replenish your carbohydrate stores with 1.2 g/kg of carbohydrates, starting within 30 minutes of finishing your ride.|
|Recovery||Ensure that you rest well between rides as this is where adaptations take place. Overtraining is common in endurance athletes. Aim to get the same amount of sleep throughout your training period.||N/A||Post-training recovery starts within 30 minutes of finishing your ride. Take REGO Rapid Recovery or REGO Rapid Recovery Plus to replace glycogen and electrolyte stores and rebuild lean muscle. Finally, ensure that your post training meal contains a mix of carbohydrates, protein and vegetables.|
|Caffeine||A pre training GO Caffeine Shot can help decrease your perception of fatigue and increase concentration during your rides. Take 30 minutes before your session||N/A||N/A|
Key Consideration 1: Build up Strategies; the Importance of carbohydrate
Our muscles can store up to 400-500 g or around 2000 kcal of glycogen to be used as energy. Glycogen is the main fuel you will use during your race and is stored when you eat carbohydrate. To make sure these stores are fully loaded, reducing the onset of fatigue, you can step up your overall carbohydrate intake in the 48 hours before the event(5).
To do this, increase your carbohydrate portions at meal times, including foods such as rice, potatoes, pasta and cereals and add carbohydrate snacks in-between, such as cereal bars, fruit, or carbohydrate drinks such as GO Electrolyte. Aim for 8-10g of carbohydrate per kilo of your body mass, per day.
Below is an example plan for a typical 70kg cyclist providing 3500kcal, loading with 600g carbohydrates- great the day before a race:
|Breakfast||3 Cups Granola with milk; 1 medium banana; 250ml fruit juice|
|Snack||Blueberry muffin; 500ml GO Electrolyte|
|Lunch||2x Panini (choice of filling); low fat yogurt|
|Snack||Smoothie: Banana; yogurt; honey; granola|
|Dinner||3 cups brown pasta with tomato sauce; 3 slices garlic bread|
|Snack||Toasted muffin with peanut butter; 500ml GO Electrolyte|
Key Consideration 2: Pre-Race
Breakfast: Have breakfast 3 hours before the race. This should be mainly carbohydrate based as our liver glycogen stores decrease over night. Don’t leave breakfast too late as this could cause stomach cramps once you jump on the bike. This should involve normal breakfast foods that you’re accustomed to such as toast, cereals and juices.
Hydration: Pre race hydration is key. Aim to drink 500ml-1000ml of fluid in the build up to the race, ideally 500ml 2-3 hours at breakfast and 500ml in the build up to the event. Don’t drink just water, GO Electrolyte or GO Hydro can increase fluid absorption and retention, meaning there will be less stops for the toilet during the race(5).
Snacking: A pre race snack is perfect to ensure we don’t eat everything at once for breakfast, which could cause stomach discomfort. A GO Energy Bar or GO Energy Bar Plus Caffeine, 30 minutes before you start will help ‘top up’ your energy stores.
Key Consideration 3: During the Race
- For shorter rides less than 90 minutes, focus on hydration and electrolyte intake. If you have trained using a caffeine product such as GO Hydro + Caffeine, this should be taken just before the ride to kick in and last you short length of the race.
- For longer rides over 90 minutes, focus on hydration and carbohydrate intake. Our bodies can absorb around 60-90g of carbohydrate per hour so know how long you’ll be riding and pack enough nutrition to see you through to the end(5). Here, caffeine should be taken towards the end of your race to give you increased mental stimulation.
The tables below provide an example nutrition plan during the race. Most importantly, don’t try this nutrition plan on race day for first time.
Shorter Races (<90min)
|Event Day (<90min)||During Race|
Longer Races (>90 min)
|Event Day (>90min)||During Race|
After training or racing the body will be in a state of depletion; to reduce fatigue, the risk of injury and promote physiological adaptations it is important to recover well by refuelling and getting enough rest. Consider these three key points for the ultimate post-ride recovery:
- Refuel: The capacity of your muscles to absorb and store nutrients is increased 30-60 minutes post-exercise, so it is important to replace carbohydrates and provide protein and electrolytes within this time. This can be done with “real food” such as carbohydrate (e.g. rice, pasta, breads etc) and protein options (e.g. greek yogurt, chicken, fish etc), however this is not always possible or palatable immediately after training or a race. REGO Rapid Recovery provides the body with 23g of carbohydrate, 20g of protein and 1 gram of salt, which is what the body needs to begin the adaptation and recovery process after training and competition.
- Food: Take on a full carbohydrate based meal within 1 hour of finishing a tough training ride or race. This should also include a source of protein and plenty of vegetables.
- Always plan ahead: Pre-planning your meals or snacks after training ensures that you can take advantage of the 30-60 minute recovery window. If you have to drive back from a race or are heading out to training straight after work, ensure you have the appropriate meals with you. Have REGO Rapid Recovery pre-mixed in your kitbag for when you finish training and competition.
- Don’t forget protein before sleep: Sleep is one of the most important aspects of recovery. During sleep, it is also important to have the muscles to have a supply of protein (i.e. amino acids) to help the muscle recovery. Consuming 40 g of Overnight Protein prior to sleep can help to deliver a sustained supply of amino acids during the overnight period. Mixing with milk (as opposed to water) can also deliver more carbohydrates to help with recovery of glycogen stores.
- Jeukendrup, A. (2014). A step towards personalized sports nutrition: carbohydrate intake during exercise. Sports Medicine, 44(1), 25-33.
- Casa, D. J., DeMartini, J. K., Bergeron, M. F., Csillan, D., Eichner, E. R., Lopez, R. M. & Yeargin, S. W. (2015). National Athletic Trainers' Association position statement: exertional heat illnesses. Journal of Athletic Training, 50(9), 986-1000.
- Baker, L. B., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2014). Optimal composition of fluid‐replacement beverages. Comprehensive Physiology, 4, 575-630
- Impey, S. G., Hammond, K. M., Shepherd, S. O., Sharples, A. P., Stewart, C., Limb, M., ... & Close, G. L. (2016). Fuel for the work required: a practical approach to amalgamating train‐low paradigms for endurance athletes. Physiological reports, 4(10), e12803.
- Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). Position of the academy of nutrition and dietetics, dietitians of canada, and the american college of sports medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(3), 501-528.
Demands of the Event
The 2017 Tour of California represents a 7-day stage race beginning in Sacramento on Sunday 14th May and ending in Pasadena on Saturday 20th May. The race will consist of approximately 950km raced over 2 mountain top finish stages, 1 mountain descent stage, 3 flat stages and 1 time trial. While the race may appear shorter than other stage races, the shorter stages will often present as more intense racing. Additionally, although the time trial on stage 6 will only be raced over 24km, it takes place at 2000m above sea level! When considered together, the Tour of California will provide an exciting 7 days of racing!
Challenge of Heat Stress and Altitude
By far the biggest challenge in California will be the higher ambient temperatures than that which has recently been experienced in other World Tour races in Europe. Indeed, we can expect temperatures in excess of 86 degrees Fahrenheit, very different from the rain and snow in the Tour of Romandie! In non-acclimatized riders, such heat stress carries the obvious risk of dehydration which can increase riders’ heart rate, ratings of perceived exertion and even increase the rate that our muscles use carbohydrate as a fuel(1,2). Furthermore, exercise at altitude also increases carbohydrate use(3) and hence the combined demands of heat stress and altitude will ensure this race will present as a significant nutritional challenge!
Riders will be following an individualized hydration strategy that aims to avoid dehydration greater than 3% body mass loss. In practice, riders will be aiming to drink at least 500ml of GO Electrolyte per hour though this can often increase to 1000ml per hour in conditions like California. All drinks will be maintained at a “cold” temperature in an attempt to reduce the rate of increase in core temperature during exercise and attenuate the negative effects of heat stress.
Perhaps more important is actually beginning the race in an appropriately hydrated condition. In this regard, it is essential that riders consume at least 500ml-1000ml of GO Hydro at breakfast, usually consumed 3-4 hours before the stage commences(4). The electrolytes (especially sodium) help to stimulate thirst and retain fluid before and during the stage. Additionally, riders will weigh themselves before and after each stage to provide a simple measure of fluid loss and therefore inform the post-stage hydration strategy. In general, 1.5L of fluid should be consumed for every 1kg of body mass loss during the stage.
Given the effects of heat stress and altitude on increasing carbohydrate usage, it is crucial that riders adhere to the basic principle of consuming daily carbohydrate at a rate of 8-12 g/kg body mass. From a fueling on the bike perspective, this means adhering to 90 grams per hour via a mixture of carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks, solid foods and energy gels(5). GO Energy + Electrolyte Gels are especially useful on hot stages as they simultaneously deliver 22 grams of carbohydrate per gel and additional sodium, while also remaining easy to digest and tolerate. Simultaneously adhering to hydration strategies and feeding 90 grams per hour will help to reduce the negative effects of heat stress on cardiovascular strain and maintain carbohydrate availability such that higher power outputs can be achieved.
Fueling the Time-Trial
The time trial on Stage 6 will be raced at 2000m above sea level and will be a “full gas” effort that will really challenge the riders. While fueling the evening before and pre-race meal and hydration are important, the use of pre-cooling (via ice slushies) 10-15 minutes before the warm up may also be required to lower pre-race body temperature(6). Riders will also consume additional carbohydrate during the warm-up in the form of an electrolyte gel as well as 2-3 mg/kg of caffeine at a relevant point during the warm up(7). In order to prepare for time trials, riders will also have previously loaded with beta-alanine and consume sodium bicarbonate(8) around 90 minutes prior to going down the ramp. Hopefully, after this stage Team Sky will be leading the race!
- Team Sky: Tackling The Classics
- Cycling: How to Fuel for Training vs. Race Day
- Why Carbohydrate is King for Endurance Performance
- Which Gel, When?
- Febbraio, M. A. (2001). Alterations in energy metabolism during exercise and heat stress.Sports Medicine, 31(1), 47-59.
- Galloway, S. D., & Maughan, R. J. (1997). Effects of ambient temperature on the capacity to perform prolonged cycle exercise in man.Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 29(9), 1240-1249.
- Parolin, M. L., Spriet, L. L., Hultman, E., Hollidge-Horvat, M. G., Jones, N. L., & Heigenhauser, G. J. (2000). Regulation of glycogen phosphorylase and PDH during exercise in human skeletal muscle during hypoxia.American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism, 278(3), E522-E534.
- Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance.Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 48(3), 543.
- Stellingwerff, T., Boon, H., Gijsen, A. P., Stegen, J. H., Kuipers, H., & van Loon, L. J. (2007). Carbohydrate supplementation during prolonged cycling exercise spares muscle glycogen but does not affect intramyocellular lipid use.Pflügers Archiv-European Journal of Physiology, 454(4), 635-647.
- Ross, M., Abbiss, C., Laursen, P., Martin, D., & Burke, L. (2013). Precooling methods and their effects on athletic performance.Sports Medicine, 43(3), 207-225.
- Talanian, J. L., & Spriet, L. L. (2016). Low and moderate doses of caffeine late in exercise improve performance in trained cyclists.Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 41(8), 850-855.
- Sale, C., Saunders, B., Hudson, S., Wise, J. A., Harris, R. C., & Sunderland, C. D. (2011). Effect of b-alanine plus sodium bicarbonate on highintensity cycling capacity.Med Sci Sports Exerc, 43(10), 1972-8.
Before exercise, athletes often fail to hydrate effectively (2) and begin exercise in a hypohydrated state (i.e. dehydrated), which refers to the state of being in a negative water balance. As little as a 2-3% body mass deficit is enough to adversely effect physical and mental performance during exercise, especially when the exercise is undertaken in hot conditions (1).
When you sweat you lose fluids and key electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride and calcium – crucial to maintaining performance. When racing or training, it is therefore important to replace both fluids and electrolytes if you want to avoid the affects of dehydration. When dehydrated, your total blood volume decreases, thereby causing a reduced blood flow to your skin and muscles. Collectively, these responses result in higher body temperatures, reduced sweat rates, increased muscle glycogen use, increased perception of effort and higher heart rates, all of which contribute to reduced concentration, skill and physical performance. Given the negative effects of dehydration, it is therefore crucial that you begin your training session or race already in a hydrated state.
Research has suggested that athletes may achieve euhydration prior to exercise by consuming a fluid volume equivalent to 5–10 ml per kilo of body mass in the 2 to 4 hours before exercise (1). It is recommended that an athlete should achieve urine that is pale yellow in color while allowing for sufficient time for excess fluid to be voided from the body (1,2,4).
Sodium plays a key role in hydration, helping absorb and retain fluid in the body (1,3,5). The concentration of sodium in our bloodstream is normally tightly regulated within a concentration of 135-145 mmol/L. When the blood sodium level drops below the range, this is known as hyponatremia (6). The solute content of sweat is influenced by a number of factors, including the sweating rate and acclimatization status of the individual (6). Some athletes are ‘salty’ sweaters, which is highly individual. For these athletes especially, increasing sodium levels in the diet (particularly pre-exercise) is important to maintain performance in the heat and/or for prolonged periods of time.
Follow this example plan for a 70kg athlete preparing for a competition:
- Wake up – 250-500 ml fruit juice/water with breakfast
- 3-4 hours prior – 500-750 ml SiS GO Electrolyte
- 30-60 minutes prior– 250 ml SiS GO Hydro (at this stage your urine output should have reduced and any urine passed should be pale yellow)
- Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 48(3), 543.
- Shirreffs, S. M., & Sawka, M. N. (2011). Fluid and electrolyte needs for training, competition, and recovery. Journal of sports sciences, 29(1), 39-46.
- Casa, D. J., DeMartini, J. K., Bergeron, M. F., Csillan, D., Eichner, E. R., Lopez, R. M., & Yeargin, S. W. (2015). National Athletic Trainers' Association position statement: exertional heat illnesses. Journal of Athletic Training, 50(9), 986-1000.
- Armstrong, L. E., Herrera Soto, J. A., Hacker Jr, F. T., Casa, D. J., Kavouras, S. A., & Maresh, C. M. (1998). Urinary indices during dehydration, exercise, and rehydration. International Journal of Sport Nutrition, 8(4), 345-355.
- Stachenfeld, N. S. (2014). Sodium Ingestion, Thirst and Drinking During Endurance Exercise. Sports Science Exchange, 27(122), 1-5.
- Lara, B., Gallo-Salazar, C., Puente, C., Areces, F., Salinero, J. J., & Del Coso, J. (2016). Interindividual variability in sweat electrolyte concentration in marathoners. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 13(1), 31.
As always, you should practice your pre-hydration in training before trying in competition.