Participants compete in Red Bull Timelaps in Windsor Great Park on October 28
© Leo Francis/Red Bull Content Pool

How to fuel for Red Bull Timelaps

A solid nutrition and hydration plan could make all the difference during this year's challenge. Nutrition coach Will Girling reveals how to get your fuelling right, whatever your goals.
Written by Charlie Allenby
8 min readPublished on
When taking on a sportive or long-distance road cycling race, most people will find a training plan that works for them and dedicate many hours in the saddle to getting themselves physically ready for what they’re embarking on.
But come race day, there’s one thing not included on most plans that is just as important as those sessions spent grinding out hill repeats, intervals and longer rides at the weekend. And that’s your fuelling.
“When doing a long-distance cycle, it’s important to get your nutrition strategy right to maintain exercise performance,” explains Nutrition and Performance coach Will Girling. “We all store a certain amount of carbohydrates in our muscles and liver as an energy fuel, so we need to make sure that we are topped up to perform as best we can for a long duration. But we also need to continue taking on carbohydrates during a ride to make sure we’re able to maintain blood glucose levels.”
Not keeping your carbohydrate stores topped up correctly causes your body to start looking elsewhere for its energy sources, and your fat and protein stores are the first port of call. While it is possible to make the glucose out of these, it’s a lot less efficient, and can cause bonking – the sensation of literally not being able to go on that’s usually accompanied with dizzy and lightheaded feelings.
This isn’t inevitable though, and can be avoided. Whether you're gearing up for a sportive, or have committed to completing Red Bull Timelaps – which this year takes the form of a 25-hour Strava challenge that sees how far you and a team of three others can ride in the world's longest one-day challenge – these tips will make you faster and stronger than ever.

1. Train with whatever you’re going to use

Participant is seen at the Red Bull TimeLaps in Windsor, United Kingdom on October 26, 2019

Only eat and drink things you've trained with on the day of the ride

© Leo Francis/Red Bull Content Pool

Before going any further, Girling flags that practising all aspects of your nutrition and hydration strategy ahead of the race is key – from carb-loading through to post-ride recovery meals.
“It’s worthwhile looking at who the sponsors of the event are,” he adds. “What they’re going to serve in the feed zone is determined by the sponsor. If it doesn’t agree with you, then the chances are you should be prepared to take everything that you need.”

2. Maximise carbohydrate stores the day before the race

Pasta for carb-loading

Pasta is a great source of carbohydrate

© Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Anyone taking on an endurance ride will have heard about the fabled carb-loading session you do ahead of a long ride – in fact, some even look forward to the chance to go super-size on portions of pasta and rice after following a fairly strict training plan. But it doesn’t have to be a three-day affair if you don’t want it to be.
“There’s an iconic study that shows you can do a carb load in a single day,” explains Girling. “Essentially, you have 10g of carbohydrates per kilo of bodyweight, which is quite a lot and definitely something I’d recommend practising. It also wants to be of a higher glycemic index (GI), and that’s because high GI food stores more glycogen.” For example, for a 75kg person, that means 750g of carbohydrates from foods such as white bread, potatoes and white rice.
“I’d spread the carb-loading through the day though and get a lot of it from drinks so you don’t get really full. I’d also make sure to stay low in fibre and avoid red meat to help you feel light.”

3. Top up stores ahead of lining up at the start

Jam sandwich

A jam sandwich is an easy pre-ride snack that can be stuffed in a pocket

© Photo by Mario Mesaglio on Unsplash

With your carbohydrate stores close to full, the hours before the race itself are a chance to top up those stores.
“I’d typically recommend between 1.2-2.4g of carbohydrates per kilo of bodyweight two-to-four hours before the event,” says Girling. “And then potentially something 20 minutes or less before the start. Ultimately, you want something that’s quite dense but also quite easy to digest and transport. That should be ample to make sure you’re fully topped from a carbohydrate perspective.”
Something like a slice of bread with jam, a banana or a can of Red Bull are all possible options.

4. Start to refuel the tank after an hour

Participants compete in Red Bull Timelaps in Windsor Great Park on October 28

"For Timelaps, I’d be fuelling up to 90g of carbohydrates an hour"

© Leo Francis/Red Bull Content Pool

That first hour of a race can often whizz by in a blur as you get warmed up but as soon as that first 60 minutes is up, it’s time to put your nutrition strategy into action. “You don’t need to have it in the first hour because you’ve just had your breakfast and something in that 20 minutes before the start,” explains Girling.
For those riding in and around zone 2 of their FTP (Functional Threshold Power), he recommends that men take on around 60g of carbohydrates per hour, while it should be 40g for women – give or take 10g. This is because women are able to oxidise from their fat stores, and therefore get energy, more efficiently than men."
Girling says that cycling staples such as malt loaf, flapjacks and rice cakes are good forms of carbohydrates, while gels can have their place to prevent the feeling of satiety that can come from constantly eating solid foods.
“For something like Red Bull Timelaps, or if it’s a lot more intense over a longer period of time, I’d be fuelling up to 90g an hour,” he adds. “As you move into zone 3, zone 4, dependencies on glucose and glycogen increases, while if you’re in that middle ground you’re still able to take on carbohydrates and break it down quick enough to fuel performance.”
He says that, due to the relay nature of Timelaps, it might be best to save your refuelling until the end of your turn – although that's where team tactics and deciding the optimum length of each stint comes into play; too short and you won't have a long break to recover and digest meals between rides, too long and you could start to flag before your time is up.

5. Add hydration tablets to your water bottles and don't just drink to thirst

Red Bull Timelaps, Windsor Great Park, 2018

The colder October weather means you might not need to drink as much

© Alex Broadway / Red Bull Content Pool

Although water may be a source of life, in an endurance cycling race, there are certain things that can be added to it to take its powers up a notch.
“I recommend for water bottles to contain a hypotonic energy drink,” says Will. Sold in a tablet form, hydration tablets are mixed with water to create a drink that not only quenches thirst, but also replaces electrolytes lost through sweating and tops up your carbohydrate stores along the way. “The concentration of carbohydrate in the water is 3-4 percent solution, which is 3-4g of carbohydrate per 100ml,” he adds. “It’s also been shown to transport water through the stomach more effectively, making it more hydrated. I’d rarely give people just water.”
And when it comes to frequency, Will is a big advocate of following a plan. “If you’re drinking to thirst, it’s probably the case that you’re already a little bit dehydrated and you’re feeling like you need to,” he says. “I recommend a 500ml bottle per hour depending on weather. For Red Bull Timelaps, it’d probably be less potentially because it's going to be cold in October, whereas if it’s quite hot, I’d definitely be having a bottle an hour."

6. Caffeine isn’t just for mid-ride coffee stops

Participant is seen at the Red Bull TimeLaps in Windsor, United Kingdom on October 25, 2019.

Red Bull can provide a vital boost of caffeine both pre- and mid-ride

© Leo Francis/Red Bull Content Pool

“Caffeine is one of the more proven supplements out there and is shown to boost performance, reduce perceived exertion and improve your pain threshold,” explains Girling. “The difference between having a coffee and having a performance-enhancing amount of caffeine is different though.
“The amount that medically enhances performance is 3-6mg per kilo of bodyweight (an espresso shot has roughly around 75mg), it takes about an hour to get into your blood, and its effect will last between four-to-six hours from ingestion. After your first dose, another intake of caffeine maybe midway through a race of 75-100mg will maintain that performance enhancing amount.”
And with 80mg of caffeine in a standard-sized can of Red Bull, it could be just the boost you need.

7. Get in protein and micronutrients post-ride to help with recovery

Participant is seen at the Red Bull TimeLaps in Windsor, United Kingdom on October 27, 2019.

Before you sleep, it's key to have protein to start the recovery process

© Alex Broadway / Red Bull Content Pool

After a long session in the saddle, you might not have the stamina to fix yourself a recovery meal, but it’s worth investing the time in – especially if you’ve got another ride coming up soon, as is the case with the relay nature of Red Bull Timelaps.
“The first thing is that, with anything that’s ultra endurance, there’s a massive suppression in your immune system, so the chances of getting ill after a big event are quite high,” says Girling. “Make sure you get plenty of things in that are going to [boost your immune system] and help with the inflammation process, such as tart cherry juice, but also have lots of micronutrients like Omega 3 from oily fish and lots of vegetables.
“On top of that, protein intake should be taken every three-to-four hours after crossing the finish line. Protein is important because it’s the driver of cell recovery and reduces inflammation, but taking it again an hour after wont further enhance it.
“Typically the recommendation is 0.4-0.5g per kilo of bodyweight as your first protein feeding after the activity. It doesn’t matter too much what it is, but there’s great research out there that shows how milk is one of the best naturally occurring drinks you can have.”