[This article was originally published in March 2014]
The time trial, often known as the race of truth, is one of the simplest forms of cycling: just you against the clock. But that’s where the simplicity ends. In fact, time triallists are well known for their amazing attention to detail and nutrition should be no exception.
If you are new to cycling or have maybe taken part in one of the many sportives now on offer in the UK, taking part in a time trail is a great way to measure your fitness level and improve your bike skills. Most cycling clubs hold their own time trials on a weekly basis with many open events taking place throughout the year once the clocks spring forward and British Summer Time officially starts.
For the most popular time trials of 10 and 25 miles, it’s going to be your pre-race nutrition that is key to your performance as it is unlikely you will eat during the event. This starts a few days before. Make sure you are eating healthy and consistently throughout the day, getting a portion of carbohydrate and protein with every meal. There should be no need to increase what you eat leading into the event as your natural tapering (reducing your training) will allow your muscles to store the energy from carbohydrate.
Hydration is important as well. Dehydration is not something you can reverse in a couple of hours. In fact, it can take several days to fully rehydrate. Taking regular sips of water, sugar-free squash or sports hydro tabs (which are becoming ever more popular these days) is advised in the days leading up to the time trial. As a rule, we advise you always to try and stay just ahead of feeling thirsty.
Having successfully fuelled and ensured you remain hydrated in the days leading up to the race, it’s now time to focus on race day. You should try to consume your pre-race meal about three hours before your start time. If you eat any closer to your start time you may run the risk of your food not being fully digested. Now, I know the average British time trial starts at the crack of dawn and getting up three hours before may seem like a big ask, but trust me, it will be worth it.
Aim to eat something high in carbohydrate but low in fat. Porridge is always as good bet. Check out our top five healthy breakfasts. Again, from the moment you wake up, start sipping a sports energy or hydration drink that contain electrolytes. Electrolytes improve the body’s ability to absorb fluid and thus stay hydrated. Unfortunately, downing a pint of water in the hours before the race doesn’t have the same effect. In fact, you will probably just have to go to the toilet more, which isn’t very convenient when you’ve just squeezed into your tight skinsuit!
Your start time is approaching which usually means it’s time to start warming up. This will differ for everyone and it will also be dependent on the weather. Most people take to the turbo or rollers for a static warm up. This is where the last phase of your pre-race nutrition comes into play. Start to sip an energy drink during the final hour before your start time and continue to do so during your warm up. This will help you fuel your warm up as well as remain hydrated.
There is one final element which research has found to be very beneficial to events such as short distance time-trials: a sharp hit of caffeine. Ingesting a caffeine gel around 30 minutes before your start time will allow the caffeine to kick in just in time for your depart. You will also benefit from taking on board additional carbohydrate from the gel. A few more swigs of energy drink on the way to the line and you should be well fuelled, well hydrated and ready to go.
Fuelling during a 10 mile TT is not necessary, especially if you have followed the above protocol. Your body should have enough glycogen to fuel you for the duration. However, during a 25 mile TT, due to the high intensity, it may be worth consuming a gel a third of the way into the event to provide you with that extra energy for the final push. Remember not to leave fuelling until it’s too late in the race as your body will not have enough time to process it and reap the benefits.
During a 25 mile TT it is also important to take the weather conditions into consideration and think about your hydration. If it is very hot and you are able to carry a bottle. It may be worth taking regular sips at strategic parts of the course (where it is safe) to help prevent dehydration affecting your performance. Opt for a sports hydro tablet or an energy drink that contains electrolytes to help replace the salts lost in sweat. Using an energy drink that contains electrolytes could negate the need for a gel in a 25 mile TT.
Once you have crossed the finish line, had a little warm down and made your way back to the car, always try and think about recovery. Chances are after such a big exertion your appetite is going to be suppressed. This is normal. However, try not to let this affect your recovery as the optimal time for your body to recover post exercise is within the first 30 minutes: ‘The Window of Opportunity’. Recovery shakes are convenient and perfect in situations like this. You can make it up before you head off to the event and have it there waiting to be consumed as soon as you get back to your car or HQ. You could also drink your recovery shake during your warm down.
As an alternative to a recovery shake you could consume a snack that contains carbohydrate and protein, for example chocolate milk or a chicken sandwich. Being prepared beforehand is always going to be the key to optimal recovery. Make sure you follow this initial recovery ‘hit’ up with a good meal 2-3 hours later and you will be well on your way to recovering fully from your time trial exertion.
Don’t compromise your time trial performance with poor nutrition, be sensible and prepared. We advise you follow all of the above recommendations in training. Optimal nutrition is personable and differs for everyone so take time to find out what works best for you. Our tops tips for fuelling against the clock can be found here, and why not check out our previous feature on Nutrition for Weight Loss.
For further information or individual guidance feel free to contact the OTE Team - thebunker [at] otesports.co.uk.