What it takes to fuel an Epic

Our regular nutrition-expert ADRIAN PENZHORN looks back at what fuel is needed to compete the gruelling eight day long Cape Epic.

It’s all banked. Hours in the saddle, extra in the gym and hopefully some time in the kitchen too. All that is left is to peddle from here to there. The kitchen hours that are behind you should have been used to get into goal shape and fuel your training, but also to practice some of the key ultra endurance nutrition principles. In the lead-up to this year’s ABSA Cape Epic we worked with a number of athletes, planning, practicing and in some cases prepping each meal. Looking back there were a few small and important roles this played, none more so than through the race itself. A multi-stage race shares some common race hiccups but adds a few of it’s own.

As with any race the lead-up is important and this has been a topic covered here before. Nothing new in the days or weeks before, a slightly higher intake of carbohydrate rich foods and a focus on fluid balance and hydration. As with any race, and perhaps more so one you have spent months gearing toward, starting healthy is key. “Taper flu”, a nasty bug, an unhappy stomach are all too common. It’s important that food and personal hygiene receive some focus, and a few good nutrition strategies can help. Don’t restrict carbohydrate too heavily leading into a race, wash your hands (or use hand sanitizer in the Cape!), wash your fresh produce and don’t touch unwrapped food (water station etiquette). Add a probiotic, glutamine or zinc if these are missing in your diet. Chewing gum can help too by producing more saliva which assists first line defences. Any race is about balance in terms of nutrition.

Under- and overdoing your intake can be harmful to your performance and your general experience. A multi-stage event needs regular fuel, the addition of protein both on and off the bike, a good understanding of fluids and a food based approach. Regular fuel means carbohydrate rich foods. On the bike this would be drinks, bars, gels, confectionery or foods (wrapped please!). Off the bike grains, cereals, starches and fruit should form the base of meals. A hearty breakfast, immediate recovery and meals every two to three hours is ideal. Portions do not have to be unrealistic, small and regular is better than one or two stuffings.

A starting guide would be 8–10 g per kilogram body weight including your on-bike intake. I would suggest planning backwards from there. A 70 kg rider who consumes 45 g of carbohydrate per hour would be getting in around 300 g on the bike leaving 300–400 g to split up between meals, ideally in 70–80 g servings (1g/kg per meal). We would aim to add 25–45 g of lean protein, some tasty vegetables and a good few servings of healthy fat to round this off. It is unrealistic to replace all calories “burnt” over a stage so don’t worry too much about that if you are working with your power meter to track this. A typical day of one such rider look like this:

+ Breakfast: 200 g white rice, maple syrup and almond milk. Cup of coffee and orange juice (110 g carbohydrate)

+ Top Up: 500 ml race mix drink (30 g carbohydrate)

+ STAGE: 300 g carbohydrate from drinks, gels, foods

+ Recovery: Protein-carbohydrate shake (45 g carbohydrate)

+ Lunch: Chicken pesto wrap with potato salad and electrolyte drink (70 g carbohydrate)+ Snack: Tart cherry, berry and yoghurt smoothie (45 g carbohydrate)

+ Dinner: Tuscan chicken pasta, Italian salad with croutons (85 g carbohydrate)

+ Pre-bed snack: refuel pancakes, Greek yoghurt, berries and honey (45 g carbohydrate)


Makes 10–12

+ 1 banana (over-ripe if possible)

+ 1 egg

+ ¼ cup self-raising flour (or almond flour)

+ 1 tsp canola oil

+ ¾ scoop protein powder (any flavour)

Blend all ingredients together in your blender. Lightly oil a pan and place over a medium heat. Spoon out dollops of batter into your pan. Turn once bubbles appear and let cook through for a minute. Take care as the protein powder causes the pancakes to brown quickly. Serve warm with yoghurt, berries and honey.

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