I was padding my glycogen stores so enthusiastically because I have recently taken to listening to a Colby Pearce podcast about fueling for Unbound Gravel that he made traveling back from the race. Colby is a Boulder legend, an Olympian turned coaching and bike fitting guru who never stays in his lane and injects all his podcasts with unmistakable militant hippie swagger. The bias isn’t subtle, nor is it easy to stop listening.
Something he said caught my ear, “You should turn up to the start of a race heavy.”
Most cyclists are neurotic about their weight because weight is speed, and if you weigh less, you go faster. Thus, many cyclists do everything in their power to eat in a way that forces their bodies to catabolize most of their flesh so they have all the gravitational resistance of an angel and have a superior power-to-weight ratio.
In theory, that’s a great strategy. In practice, it leads to most cyclists privileging weight over glycogen stores and chronically underfueling during training and racing.
As Colby pointed out, every gram of carbohydrate requires 4 grams of water to metabolize, so a cyclist who has properly topped up on their glycogen stores before a race can expect to weigh 2-4 pounds over their normal weight, and that’s not even considering preloading sodium.
Anyway, I’m not small to begin with – no stranger has ever bought me a sandwich out of pity – so I adopted Colby’s advice enthusiastically, maybe too enthusiastically, because as I rolled up to the line, my bibs were visibly distressed, trying to keep my stomach from falling out.
As disgusting and unfit as I felt to move, much less race, as the hours ticked by during Ned Gravel, I felt something only the genie from Aladdin has ever felt – Indomitable, Cosmic POWER!
I never felt like bonking. I could push hard, right under my threshold for long periods, well beyond where I usually would explode, and start looking behind me nervously to see who would murder me as I faded.
That’s right – I did something right. Doing things right makes shit comedy, but I’m a coach, not a clown, and I have a deep interest in my athletes succeeding using what they learn from my failures or successes!
So the first lesson you can take from Ned Gravel is: Show up to the line heavy. You don’t need to be on the verge of needing to be rolled there, but if you want to do well in a gravel race, you need the energy to make dem watts, and you’re a human, not a tree – you have to eat enough before and during your race.
And yeah, I’m not going to pretend I coasted on Walnut Cafés cinnamon rolls for four hours – every hour on the hour, I knocked out a 90-gram gel. Yes, 90 grams of smooth-swallowing sugar with a citrusy aftertaste. You gotta mainline to redline.
I say all this, but many of you have clicked away or thought, ‘I already do this.”
You don’t. I’m willing to be 90% of racers do not eat enough when they race to fuel correctly. Here’s a challenge – at a gravel race you don’t care about that much, overdo it. Show up to the line a little bloated. Push yourself to eat AT LEAST 90 grams an hour of carbohydrates. Really make your gut work for its supper and see what happens.
Maybe you’ll yak. Perhaps you’ll have to call in an emergency portapotty. Or, maybe you’ll have bottomless energy and have God Legs all day. Only one way to find out…