The fueling at Gravel races is again somewhat more difficult than the fueling at “normal” bicycle races. This is because it is not uncommon for such races to go on for several days and they are therefore particularly demanding on the body. In addition, gravel races often include challenging terrain with mountains, sand and gravel.
But with the right tips and tricks from our pros, you’ll master that too!
Paul Voß is a former World Tour professional cyclist, has participated in numerous Grand Tours, and is a successful cross rider and gravel bike professional.
In this blog, together with nutrition expert Robert Gorgos, he tells you how to properly prepare for a gravel bike race and how to keep yourself well-fed during the race.
Paul has been in top-level cycling for a very long time and therefore has many hard training phases and competitions in his system – so he already has very good basic endurance and correspondingly good prerequisites.
In preparation for the new challenge of the Gravel, Paul has therefore tried to set certain stimuli via specific training.
VO2max: The engine size of the endurance athlete
An important parameter for the endurance performance of an athlete and therefore also for Paul’s training is the maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max). It is partly genetic and organic (lung volume) determined, but also to a large extent trainable.
VO2max is thus a measure for the aerobic performance of an athlete. In training science, VO2max is simplified as the “engine size”.
VLamax: The motor efficiency of the endurance athlete
In contrast, the lactate formation rate VLamax corresponds to the anaerobic performance. More specifically, it is the ability to produce maximum energy by metabolizing carbohydrates in an anaerobic state (without oxygen supply).
In training science, the VLamax is simplified as the “engine efficiency”, it decides how fast power is available and what the fuel consumption (carbohydrate consumption) looks like during the process.
It is important to note that a high value does not mean higher performance. The intensity of each sport and the distance to be covered place different demands on the VLamax.
A sprinter would be much higher, i.e. produce more lactate per second, but would not be able to maintain a steady pace for as long as an endurance runner.
Riding close to your power limit while consuming as few carbohydrates as possible is important in endurance races. Therefore, a low lactate formation rate is beneficial.
In fact, the higher the VLamax, the higher the carbohydrate consumption. Since carbohydrate stores are limited, this obviously plays a big role. Paul has found out that he has between 350 and 400 grams of carbohydrates available through his carbohydrate storage.
(If you want to know more about how to calculate such data, we recommend our blog article on the metabolic profile)
Since the mentioned amount of KH would never be enough to sustain such a long race on a gravel bike and unlimited carbohydrate supply from outside is not possible, efficient use of energy as well as energy supply via fats are crucial.
To get there, the so-called threshold training is extremely important.
Threshold training takes place at the border of the anaerobic threshold. That means, in the area where your body switches from aerobic to anaerobic energy provision. This is the point at which your body breaks down lactate as fast as it is formed (also called lactate steady state).
Working at this threshold is a very effective form of training for endurance athletes. You optimize your energy supply (less carbohydrate consumption and more fat for energy) and increase your performance by “improving” your anaerobic threshold.
A threshold training for Paul looks like this, for: He rides a total of about 4 hours, incorporating 4×20 minute intervals around 340 – 360 watts. In this area, an extremely high amount of carbohydrates are consumed, which is why a workout like this is a good way to train your carbohydrate intake.
In total, Paul consumes 573 – 634 g of carbohydrates and 139 – 166 g of fat during this workout. The goal of this unit was to test whether an intake of 120 g of carbohydrates per hour is possible for Paul.
For this purpose Paul uses RACE CARB X from MoN Sports ,which he divided into two bottles and diluted with water. In addition, he kept stopping and refilling some water into the bottles.
RACE CARB X is a carbohydrate drink specially designed for long-term endurance competitions. The special mixture of different carbohydrate sources (rice syrup, fructose, tapioca starch) makes it possible to use 120g of carbohydrates/h, drinking RACE CARB X .
To make your threshold training the best it can be, you have a lot of options. For example, there are threshold intervals with hard starts.
These target the ability to sustain high intensities for extended periods of time and “fight” muscular fatigue. For this, you could ride for 90 minutes, incorporating five 9-minute intervals.
For the first 30 seconds of the intervals, you will ride at 130-140% of your functional threshold power (=the power in watts that you can pedal at a maximum over an hour). For the remaining 8 ½ minutes, you pedal at 95% of your functional threshold power.
There are five minutes of recovery between intervals.
During these workouts, as you saw with Paul, you consume quite a bit of carbohydrates. This is why these sessions are so good for training carbohydrate intake.
Because in order to consume such high amounts of carbohydrates, it is important to train the intake in advance: “Train the gut”. In no case should try to supply this amount of carbohydrates for the first time at a competition. On the day of the race, you should have already found your strategy for optimal fueling.
The maximum carbohydrate intake and processing varies greatly from individual to individual and must be tested out in advance. The more problems you have with carbohydrate absorption, the more frequently you should train carbohydrate intake.
If carbohydrates are well tolerated, it is sufficient to integrate “train the well” units 1 – 2x per month. If the supply is rather problematic, this should be practiced 1 – 2x per week. The units should also be used to try out the different products and also various combinations of the products to find the best solution for yourself.
Our POWER CARB provides energy through a special mixture of different carbohydrates, which passes quickly into the blood – with optimal tolerance. Also our GELs are designed to provide 40 grams of carbohydrates per gel, and they weigh only 60 grams total, making them easy to carry.
That the combination of different carbohydrates and also different products (eg. POWER CARB and GELs) is so important is due, among other things, to the fact that we have two different transporters in the intestine for carbohydrate absorption (GLUT-1 and GLUT-5).
GLUT-1 primarily absorbs glucose, though it cannot do so for infinite amounts. Because at some point it is saturated and can no longer absorb glucose. However, if another carbohydrate such as fructose is used in addition to glucose, GLUT-5 can also be used.
In this way, another 60-70 g of carbohydrates can be absorbed and a total intake of up to 120 g of carbohydrates per hour becomes possible.
The intake of minerals and certain fruits also supports carbohydrate absorption and soothes the stomach. For this reason we also use e.g. ANANAS for our SLOW CARB and COCOSE WATER for our POWER CARB HEAT.
If you want to make the best out of the situation, you should not only take care of your nutrition on the day of the competition, but already the days before.
It is also important that everything should be tried out in advance. Paul Voß has developed his own strategy for carbo-loading. He starts carbo-loading two days before the competition. He tries to supply 8-10 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight. The day before the competition, he reduces his carbohydrate intake and eats “normally” again.
If you want to learn more about carbo-loading and different loading strategies you can readTHIS this article.
Breakfast on race day looks very unspectacular for Paul. Here he simply eats a bowl of oatmeal with water and honey. That’s also because the Gravel races start very early in the morning, so there’s simply little time to digest if you don’t want to get up super early.
In any case, it is more important to start the race with a good feeling than to add as many carbohydrates as possible under pressure.
In competition, Paul begins to add food relatively early. Overall, he aims for a carbohydrate intake of 90 – 100 g per hour and begins to add food after 20 minutes.
Our PORRIDGE BARs offer themselves as a solid food source on the bike. They are based on complex carbohydrates and vegetable proteins that provide long-term energy.
If you take a closer look at a gravel race – here in the example of the Unbound race – , it becomes clear how high the carbohydrate consumption and how important the proper food is.
Here you can see, that his carbohydrate consumption is 1570 – 1735 g for a race duration of about 10h. These are, of course, extremely high values that can hardly be found anywhere else.
Also in this race Paul used PORRIDGE BARs, POWER CARB and GELs. Even though Paul consistently fed himself during this race, he temporarily collapsed after about 4h because he was going a bit too fast until then.
During such tough phases, it becomes particularly difficult to eat properly. Nevertheless, it is important to continue to consume the 90 – 100g carbohydrates/h.
If you stop, there is no chance that you can recover.
Through consistent feeding, even during the hard part, Paul managed to finish a bit fitter in this race.
During BWR, Paul consumes about 968-1069 g of carbohydrates for a distance of 209 km and a duration of about 7h. To compensate for this high carbohydrate consumption, again Paul uses POWER CARB, PORRIDGE BARs and GELs.
To optimize energy intake, you need to know your complete carbohydrate consumption and glycogen storage capacity.
For the Belgian Waffle Ride, let’s calculate a carbohydrate consumption of 1000 g and a glycogen storage capacity of 350 g glycogen. With an intake of 90-100 g per hour and a competition duration of 7h, the intake would directly cover the consumption of carbohydrates.
However, it must be noted that the body needs some of the storage glycogen to function (organ functions).
If you take this into account and calculate a carbohydrate intake of 90 g/h for Paul, you will notice that it is not enough to be supplied with carbohydrates until the end of the race.
Especially because in this race Paul decided to leave the group after a certain time and ride a bit above his performance level. This causes him to consume more carbohydrates and the gap between intake and consumption becomes even wider, which inevitably leads to a drop in performance.
How can this be counteracted?
For one thing, you could consider increasing your carbohydrate intake to 120 g per hour. Of course, this must be trained regularly (“train the well” units).
Another option would be to further reduce lactate formation.
If you calculate the carbohydrate consumption of the BWR race with a slightly reduced VLamax value, you can see that the carbohydrate consumption is reduced to 855 – 946g. If Paul were to feed himself with 100 g of carbohydrates per hour (in addition to storage glycogen), he would make it to the end of the race on this amount of food.
Tips on how to train and improve your VLamax, we tell you HERE.
After the race, of course, it is important to replenish the carbohydrate stores.
Suitable for this purpose is for example our RECOVERY SHAKE. This combines carbohydrates, proteins and added amino acids, which makes the shake the optimal snack after a hard competition. To increase the amount of carbohydrates a bit, you can mix in some fruit like bananas.
After such hard loads as gravel races, it is recommended to add some time after the RECOVERY SHAKE another RECOVERY 8 drink Because this contains all 8 essential amino acids and helps your muscles to regenerate especially quickly. So that you can quickly get back on the bike 😉
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