Adrian Penzhorn explains why nutritional training is an effective way to teach your gut to work better.

Riding the ABSA Cape Epic with a new brand of chamois or trying a new saddle at KAP Sani2C don’t sound like wise decisions, but using a new gel or doubling your fluid intake might seem acceptable to many riders. In practice I see it too frequently; a different race intake to anything a rider has tried before or a handful of samples from a sponsor to get through to the next water station. The result is often uncomfortable; an unhappy gut, a terrible taste that lingers or a new kind of wrapper that takes your eyes off the trail. Developing and practicing your nutrition strategy is as important as training on the bike. During exercise there is reduced function in the gut as the body prioritizes the role of the muscles and lungs, impacting digestion and the risk of discomfort. A few key elements of nutrition training are important considerations. Firstly, we can enhance the rate and comfort that the gut absorbs nutrients at. Secondly, we should become accustomed to the practicalities of eating or drinking on the bike. Thirdly we should know when and how to use various products along the route.


The most important function of nutritional training is to teach the gut to absorb more fuel, or do so with greater comfort. The gut is able to improve this through training. The main nutrient we want to encourage greater absorption of is carbohydrate. A higher intake can enhance performance and ensure the needs of exercise are met but carbohydrate fed in excess of what we can absorb or at too high a concentration leads to stomach discomfort and issues.


While using lower carbohydrate diets can be effective for weight loss or to enhance certain training adaptations, it does come with a downside. Less carbohydrate means the gut “detrains” its ability to use carbohydrate and this is most pronounced during exercise or races when there is a sudden increase in the volume used. The easiest method to train the gut is to increase daily carbohydrate intake, or at least use periods of higher intake in line with your training needs.


Develop a race strategy and build toward it. You wouldn’t take on the Karbonkelberg on your first ride so don’t expect to reach your optimal intake at the first go. You need to gradually get there. Starting 8 to 10 weeks before your race should provide sufficient time for adaptations to occur. Use one ride per week as your nutritional training tool, usually the weekend ride that might match the time or intensity of a race is a good idea. Your ultimate pre-race meal should contain 1 – 3 g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. Draw up a couple of options of what this might look like by using nutritional information on your foods or any app that counts calories. If eating before riding is completely new, start with a smaller meal, 25-30% of your goal and increase this every week. Eating before training not only improves the training session itself but improves stomach comfort over time. Carbohydrate intake on the bike should be in the range of 30 – 90 grams per hour. This is not dependant on body weight but rather intensity of exercise and your gut’s ability to absorb this amount. Use your training sessions to build up to this range, a sweet spot for most riders might be 40 – 60 grams per hour from foods, fluids or gels. You can also use one session a week to train using either a very high fluid intake or in a dehydrated state. The latter may improve your ability to handle hydration stress where the higher volume training can help with feelings of being over full or bloated when exercising with a full tank. Two or three weeks before your race you might want to try using your weekly nutrition training session to consume carbohydrate at a rate well above your goal. If 40 grams per hour was your ideal intake, try 50 grams per hour for a few sessions. The gut adapts to the higher amount but any negative impact of nerves, stress or race intensity on gut function is limited by providing the smaller goal number again (40 grams per hour). Put one day aside each week in training to work through your nutrition strategy. Get used to carrying your fuels, opening wrappers and eating or drinking on the go and build toward you target numbers. If you need help reach out to us or get in touch with a performance nutrition expert to individualise your plan.


→ 300 ml energy drink

→ 1 gel

→ 1 bar

→ 1 ½ mini nougats

→ 5 – 6 gum sweets

→ 5 baby potatoes

→ Half sandwich

→ ½ muffin

→ 1 crumpet

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