How do you fuel for Enduro racing? We sat down with the Devinci World Enduro Team to get their best practices.
We here at Skratch Labs love sharing meals; not only because we're pretty good at cooking up delicious food, but also because we know that this is one of the best ways to fuel our bodies and minds, to keep our hearts full and our spirits hungry for adventure. Earlier this summer, we had the pleasure of hosting the Devinci Global Downhill & Enduro Racing team for dinner and we got to talking about their special discipline, what it's like to race enduro, and moreover, how to fuel for this particular type of race and any activity where the conditions bring up unexpected obstacles to fueling.
Enduro racing is different than other forms of mountain bike racing; competitions consist of a series of timed downhill sections of trail, and a number of uphill transfer stages, which are not timed, but might have time limits to complete. Competitions follow a stage-race format and the winner is the rider who accumulates that lowest combined time from the various timed sections, which sometimes takes place over several days. Typically, a one-day enduro race consists of 3-5 timed stages on technically demanding descents. "Sometimes riders can stop at aid between stages, and sometimes they can't...each race is different. So, it's nearly impossible to have a blanket strategy for fueling." says Gabe Fox - the team's director.
If you can't strategize, how do you fuel an enduro? As we filled our bellies with rice bowls, the thoughts these riders had on fueling practices came flowing out. Because many competitive cyclists are quite regimented in their approach to diet at the elite and professional levels, we were surprised to hear that intuition and real food are their secrets to success. Here are their best practices for fueling Enduro:
1. Choose real food.
Unlike other team directors in different disciplines of cycling, Gabe + the Devinci squad don't impose any diets or dietary restrictions on their riders. Instead, and because each race is different, the "fueling strategy" they employ is listening to their bodies and eating what feels good. Even amidst a hectic travel schedule, Gabe, his staff and the riders themselves make it a priority to hunt down or cook up meals that are balanced and delicious. "Basically, we demand that the riders know their bodies and eat what they want, when they're bodies ask for it. We just try to make sure they have food whenever that may be because no rider ever says 'oh, I really want an gel or an energy bar right now.' We all have real food cravings for real nutrients. " says Gabe. When they get to a race, Gabe typically sets up a camp on the course and cooks up something quick and easy that serves as a pre-load or recovery meal, and as a mid-race option if the course allows. "Typically it's a pasta dish, or fried rice...something with carbohydrates, protein and fat." says Gabe. "Most of our riders carry or share rice cookers when they travel," he adds, "they use them to make snacks or little meals between meals in their hotel rooms."
The takeaway: We all crave real food and real nutrition. And those cravings mean real things about what your body needs. Satisfy the cravings with real food, and feel real results.
2. Listen to your body.
Since every race has a different format, and different set-ups with respect to to when, where and how athletes can fuel, riders have to know what foods work well for them, prepare accordingly and then listen to their bodies on the course to be sure they're getting what they need. "I have two sandwiches in my pockets for most races and I pound them whenever I can, whenever I feel like eating during the day." says rider Luke Di Marzo. "I eat a lot." Other riders prefer eating big meals at the beginning and end of the day and nibbling minimally on Fruit Drops during the transfers or before starting a big descent if they need to. Then, they'll refuel after the race with a larger meal.
The takeaway: Different athletes in have different nutritional needs, and the nutritional needs of athletes in each sport can vary but one rule remains the same ; eat when you're hungry or feel you need calories. If you don't feel it, don't eat!
3. Fuel with what tastes GOOD.
When asking rider Damien Oton what he liked to eat during his training and racing, we were surprised that his response didn't include anything about what "worked well;" Damien was all about what tasted good. "That rice bowl we had the other day in the aid station, that was GOOD," he reported. He was talking about the day that he finished on the podium at the World Championships. This led us to another question: what's your favorite food? Rider Stu Dickson's eyes lit up at the question. "Pumpkin pie!" he said triumphantly. "I make these oat bars before races with honey and whatever I can find at the grocery store where we are. The only problem with fueling with them is that we typically eat them before the race begins. Do you think I could make a pumpkin pie oat bar to put in my pocket?" he asked.
Fueling your body for enduro - or any other discipline - is as much about what you need nutritionally as it is about what you need emotionally. If it tastes good, and makes you feel good, eat it (in moderation, of course!)
4. Ignore the fitness fad "shouldn't-s."
"I really like sugar," says Damien as his team laughs and Gabe shares an anecdote about the healthy serving of tiramisu he watched Damien eat after a recent race. Popular culture may have tried to warn him about having too many "treats," about the sugar or fat content of his dessert choices, but this didn't factor into his dessert-eating decisions. "It was everything I wanted right then!" he exclaimed! "It was SO good!" Whether he was treating himself, or merely listening to his body performing at the highest level, there was something in the tiramisu that felt right for Damien, and we think there's something to that.
The takeaway: We here at Skratch Labs don't believe in bad foods, just bad behaviors. Athletes bodies need sugar, carbohydrates, fat, and protein all in balance to perform at their peak. This doesn't mean gorging ones' self on tiramisu is a "good" nutritional choice, especially if you feel crummy afterwards. Damien didn't report feeling any sort of negative side effects of his choice, and instead went on to ride well in the next days races. Listening to your body, listening to your mind, fulfilling your cravings and choosing real food to fuel with all sound like excellent strategies for performing at peak to us.
We're sending high fives (and hopes of delicious meals) to the team as they finish up their 2016 season!