Managing a whole team of young chargers during a stage race must occasionally be like herding cats, but Dean Clarke, manager of the Merida / TORQ Nutrition team, seems to do an outstanding job. One of the most important roles that Dean performs (aside from making sure the team wash their knicks) is ensuring that the riders recover properly in between race stages. As Dean will tell you, in a stage racing scenario, race nutrition doesn't stop when you get off the bike.
We caught up with Dean after Stage 1 of this year’s Port to Port MTB and asked him all about the best strategies for recovery, so you can back up to race day after day.
You’ve just done your first stage, you’ve come out of the gates super hard, and now you’ve got another three days to go – what should you be doing to recover properly?
The thing is with stage racing, it ‘s not like one day race – the key to backing up each day is ensuring you get those carbohydrate stores built back up. Now there’s an optimal window of about 15 minutes to half an hour after you finish racing, before your body starts to go into what I call scavenger mode. That’s the time in which you need to be looking to get your carbohydrate stores topped up, so your body doesn’t go into scavenger mode. Because it’s not a huge time window, you should aim to have your food pre-made, ready to go as soon as you get back.
It’s an all-day thing, if you think ‘I won’t each too much so I feel lighter for the racing tomorrow’, you’re fooling yourself. The more you eat, the more carbs you’ll have for later in the race. If you starve yourself during the race, you need to get it back in. Don’t fool yourself – getting plenty of carbs in right after the stage is the key.
And what kind of things people be eating, and how should they take it on?
You’ve got two main options, either a specifically made recovery product or ‘regular’ food. Proper recovery products which are mixed with water, in a shake form, in which the serving size is based on your weight, are going to allow you to digest and absorb the carbs quicker. With regular food, it is harder to make sure you’re getting enough carbs and protein, which is were a formulated recovery drink helps.
If for instance, you don’t have the opportunity to eat straight away, what should you do?
Oh look, of course getting the carbs on board later is still much better than not eating at all. But really, you need to build these habits in training. It’s like drinking on the bike – if you’re not doing it in training or in your regular riding, you just forget about it. It has to become part of your routine. In some ways, making sure you eat for recovery is like preventative medicine – if you put in all that hard work and you don’t get recovery food on board, your body starts to strip from itself, your immune system suffers and you get sick.
What you need to stay away from is anything that has a high fat content – cheesey pizza, battered foods… it blocks your system.
What about the physical side? A lot of people talk about a cool down – is that important?
Yes, absolutely. Once you’ve got your food in, you should try to have a roll around, let your heart rate come down, and get that lactic out of your legs. Don’t just have a sit on the floor and think ‘ I’ll feel better later’, because you won’t!
Obviously a lot of people will head to the pub for dinner, have a big meal and a beer or two. Is that ok? Should you be having a big meal?
Look, it is ok, it’s beneficial to have a big meal. But what you need to stay away from is anything that has a high fat content – cheesey pizza, battered foods – because what that fat does is actually slow down the carb delivery. So if you go out after a stage and have a massive pasta but drown it in cheese, then it doesn’t really matter what you eat tomorrow, because all that fat from the cheese has actually blocked your system, because your body is trying to process the fat. So the less fatty stuff you have, the quicker the carbs will be delivered to your working muscle. That’s the key with your evening meals.
Beer is ok, but it has quite a high fat content – you’re probably better off with wine actually.
So what will your team be eating tonight?
A pasta dish, or some kind of stirf ry with rice and veggies. And then try and get the head down early.
How important is sleep?
A lot of us like to think we’re invincible and we don’t need much sleep, but unfortunately we’re not. The more sleep you can get, the better, particularly in stage racing. Maybe not on the second day, but by the fourth day it’ll really take a toll.
And finally, is beer an effective way to take on carbs?
Ha, for me or you, yes! Beer is ok, but it has quite a high fat content – you’re probably better off with wine actually, it has hardly any fat and it has a lot of anti-oxidants that are good for you. Still, one or two is fine, we’re all here for fun at the end of the day.