skratch-ride-v2While the pros are racing the AMGEN Tour of California, Skratch Labs and Strava are challenging you to tackle your own personal stage race by riding sixteen hours during the same eight days as the big event (5/11/14 — 5/18/14).

Depending on your experience or time constraints, the Skratch Labs Stage Race Challenge may be easier for some than others. It’s always good to be prepared regardless, so we thought we’d share a few nutrition and hydration tips to help you make the most out of your riding.

Our friends at Skratch labs have learned a great deal over the years of racing, coaching and providing support to athletes. Get to know the company behind the Challenge in this personal story from Skratch founder Allen Lim.

Be Cool – Eat Real Food & Bacon:

Allen Lim’s story: When I was a kid, my parents didn’t like the idea of spending money on prepackaged energy bars to fuel my obsession with cycling. They didn’t understand why those bars were any better than eating real food and they tried to encourage me to just make sandwiches or bring little pastries from the local Chinese bakery for my long rides. I would always argue with them that those foods weren’t designed for riding or exercise and that they were being cheap. In reality, I was just embarrassed to pull out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a Ziploc bag of peaches and honey on a group ride because I thought it made our family look poor and, me personally, uncool compared to my teammates who always had the latest energy bar, drink, and gear.

By the time I had a job my junior year in high school, I could finally afford to buy my own bars. Though it seemed like a little thing, I finally felt like I fit in socially with all of the other riders who I hung out with. Compared to my high school friends who didn’t ride, I also felt really special because I snacked on foods designed for elite athletes instead of eating the typical foods one might put in a brown sac lunch. The only problem was that I didn’t feel or perform any better. In fact, I felt worse eating those bars compared to the little treats that my parents, by de facto, made me prepare when they wouldn’t buy me bars. Like most people, I tore open those packages and forced down the dry bricks because it was just what cyclists did. And doing so left me more confused about sports nutrition than ever because it wasn’t enjoyable and I felt like crap. I just never admitted it to myself back then and assumed that there was something wrong with me, rather than the products.

JensVoight_largeMany years later while coaching professional cyclists I started seeing first hand that my childhood and teenage experience matched theirs – that they preferred and felt better when they were able to eat real food when they trained and raced. It’s just that preparing real food was a pain in the butt and few had the time, skill, or whereabouts to do it except when someone would bring the occasional left over pizza, cookies, or bakery bought chocolate croissant with them on a ride. The perception, however, was that those types of portables were “junk” foods, not high performance nutrition for athletes. So I ended up taking it upon myself to start preparing little rice cakes that were designed specifically for the riders I trained. At first, I did my best to make them as conventionally healthy as possible using less fat, sugar, and salt. Those initial cakes tasted okay, but they weren’t great. Then one day, I just made a batch to taste and threw together a pot of sushi rice with a bunch of bacon and eggs.  Although it was far from conventional to put bacon or eggs in ride food, it actually worked. The riders loved the bars and it became a staple food at big races like the Tour of California and Tour de France.

Giving the riders I worked with permission to eat bacon while racing gave us all a whole lot of practical perspective on sports nutrition. We learned that most of the foods that are highly ergogenic when you’re sweating your butt off are the same foods that can kill you if you spend all day sitting on your butt – that it was okay to use sugar, salt, butter, and even bacon in race food but important to moderate their use when off the bike or when physically inactive. It became clear that cooking a dish from scratch using a few high quality ingredients was always better than the prepackaged version of that same dish – that a batch of homemade cookies tasted better and worked better to improve performance than similar store bought cookies laden with excess chemicals and preservatives. We realized that when we prepared our own race foods they naturally had more moisture content than anything that came in a wrapper. It was that extra water that made things a lot easier to eat and helped to decrease the gastrointestinal distress that is often the real Achilles heel for many athletes. Ultimately, we learned to listen to ourselves – to use ourselves as our own ongoing scientific experiment – to embrace the scientific process rather than blindly accept that something with “science” in it was better for us – that if something we ate or drank made us feel like crap, that it was okay to rethink that something.

Rice Cake service 8.cr2Rice Cake service 12.cr2 Photo11_grande

I concede that taking the time out of one’s life to cook from scratch is difficult and inconvenient, but so is being an athlete. In the end, it’s that challenge that makes us better. With that in mind, no matter what it is that you believe about your diet or nutrition, one thing I can guarantee is that if you get in the kitchen and start cooking it for yourself, family, and friends, that the quality of your life and your performance will improve.

With that, here are two tips for this week’s challenge:

Number One: Stay Hydrated! Keep replacing the fluids and electrolytes you’re sweating out.  And since your sweat isn’t plain water, plain water won’t cut it.  You need to drink something that has both water AND electrolytes (especially sodium) for your body to be able to replace what you are actually losing.  One way to be sure you are topped off is to drink a bottle before your ride and one either after or just before bed.  If that seems too strong or too much, try making your sports drink at half strength.  It might be a few extra calories, but when you know you have to perform day after day, you can’t afford to fall behind.

Number Two: Stay Fueled! By eating small amounts continuously throughout your days and your rides, you will be sure to keep your glycogen levels topped off and your body ready for the next day’s efforts.  What might be different about this compared to your normal routine is that you might eat closer to the end of a ride than you normally would since you know you have to be ready to do it again tomorrow.  A continual flow of calories from real food will help keep you at your best day after day.

Share stories and photos from your “stages” using the hashtag #mystagerace.