When I first started mountain bike racing, my experience consisted of solo road rides and group mountain bike rides. Eating while road riding was easy, and on the group mountain bike rides, we always stopped to regroup, making it easy to get a bite to eat.
But… you can’t stop riding during a race! You need to get plenty of food and water, all while navigating treacherous terrain!
It’s tough, but not impossible. Here are some tips on how to do it:
1. Know the course.
You need to know the type of terrain you’ll be dealing with in order to make the right food choices.
If the course includes many dirt roads or smooth doubletrack sections, it will be possible to consume energy bars. If the course is technical singletrack, you might have to limit yourself to liquid calories.
Knowing what you’re in for will help you decide what to carry with you.
2. Open your energy bars before the race starts.
If the course offers easier, open sections, you can probably eat an energy bar while riding. But you don’t want to have to tear open the wrapper while riding. That’s annoying and completely unnecessary.
Before you line up at the start line, always tear open the wrapper and peel it back at least half way. Then re-wrap the bar and place it in your jersey pocket.
During the ride, you simply peel back the wrapper, rather than tear at it and then peel it back.
3. Tough terrain calls for energy gels.
If you’ll be on singletrack most of the time, and you only have very short sections of smooth terrain, you’ll want to skip the energy bars in favor of gel.
Gel is easier to eat because you just squeeze the packet into your mouth and swallow. Bam, it’s down. I like to either carry GU gel packets under my shorts (easy to grab,) or carry a gel flask. With the gel flask, you don’t have to worry about tearing open the gel packets.
Even easier are the newer energy gel bites, like GU Chomps and Clif Shot Bloks. These can be carried unwrapped in your jersey pocket, which makes for a very easy-to-grab snack.
4. Extreme terrain calls for liquid calories.
While I do like to carry some gel with me during races, I have been moving towards getting my calories via my water bottles. This is great for the really rough courses because you don’t have to deal with any wrappers or reaching into your jersey pocket.
You can do this with a high-calorie drink like Hammer Perpetuem. Fill your water bottle with Perpetuem and you can get 200 calories per hour that way.
(Skilled riders can stick with water bottles, but usually a hydration pack is easier for drinking, especially on singletrack. I stick with my Specialized bottles since they’re easier to clean out than a hydration pack.)
5. You can make a mess!
When you’re already covered in mud and gunk from the course, don’t worry about smearing a little gel on your face. You’re going to finish dirty, so gel, sports drink, drool, etc. will just blend right in.
The key is to get some nutrients into your mouth, not to stay clean.
Just remember, don’t litter! Dropping gel packets on the course can get you disqualified (and could ruin the race’s future, depending on who owns the land,) so make sure all wrappers end up back in your jersey pocket. Yes, even the little tops to gel packets.
Now practice these tips on your next ride and you’ll be ready to eat and drink without hesitation during your next mountain bike race!