How I approach nutrition for long-distance mountain biking
Sean Mulheron is one of Gear West's most experienced distance athletes. He got his start as a distance runner but has also completed Iron Man triathlons and endurance mountain bike races.
This year he's preparing for the Leadville 100 MTB, one of the most famous mountain bike marathon races in the US. The race starts at just under 10-thousand feet above sea level and heads deep into the Sawatch Range on service roads with some single-track mixed in. Halfway through, the course rises three-thousand feet to the Columbine Mine, its highest point at over 12,500 feet.
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Completing the race will take an entire day of riding which is why the event is described as 'an eating race disguised as a bike race.' I sat down with Sean to talk about how he plans to eat and drink during this event.
How are you going to eat and drink enough so that you can finish?
For Leadville, I'm aiming to consume 100 calories every 15 minutes. That is, of course, a goal and the course could get in the way of that goal. On some of those major climbs and descents, it's going to be hard to consume anything. I'll try to make up for it by consuming more on the flats.
That sounds like a lot to pack. How are you planning to carry all of that?
I'm not. Fortunately, I have family who will be there and will show up with a second backpack midway through which makes things a little easier.
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Break it down for me. What products are you planning to use? And how many water bottles will that include?
I'll plan to carry just one water bottle then the rest will be in my pack. The bottle will have Nuun which will help with managing my electrolytes. I'll refill the bottle throughout the race at aid stations. I'll probably drink five of those bottles during the race.
My pack will have my carbohydrate fluids. This will be either Rocktane or Skratch Super HighCarb. The formulas have really evolved over the last 10 years or so, and can make consuming a lot of calories during the distance events a lot easier.
What is your target goal for carbohydrate consumption?
The goal is to consume fluid that is 6-8 percent carbs. Higher than that and your body will end up using too much energy to process. This is where I'll get my calories from. Each 'serving' is between 200 and 330 calories, so I'll aim to have about two servings an hour. It's pretty easy to stay in this rage. Just follow the instructions on the package and you should be good.
Do you ever worry about over-hydrating?
There is of course the risk of drinking too much water and I'm cautious of that. With the introduction of these relatively new formulas, however, staying hydrated is a lot easier. The bottom line is, I would rather stop to take a bio break than suffer the effects of dehydration which are truly dangerous.
Some of these products have caffeine. How do you use that?
I try to avoid caffeine early in the event. It's not really helping me then, but I do start to mix it in during the later stages. I've been in hard spots in races where drinking 8 ounces of Coke can really help. I'll try to use GU gels with caffeine later on.
What about before the race?
I'll typically eat a bagel with honey before the race or, if I'm staying at a place with continental breakfast, pancakes with syrup. I don't drink coffee so that's never an issue for me.
Last question. Favorite flavors?
The big thing for me is some of the stuff is really sweet, and I like to kind of balance out my palate midway through. Along with caffeine, I'll start to implement tart flavors like GU's raspberry lemonade halfway through to just cut through all of that sugary flavor that I've been consuming up to this point.