Debbi Nathan, Cycle Lab's qualified Nutritionist, and Andrew McLean, former SA MTB Champion, gave an entertaining and illuminating talk at a club social event last Thursday. Obviously this is a very abridged summary with lots left out, so make sure you come to the next talk, whether you want to improve your racing or just have more fun on your bike.



There is still plenty of time to make improvements. Diet can affect your performance in many ways. You need to get in as many nutrient dense foods as you can. Fruit and vegetables – anything “of the earth” - is good for you, but some are better for race training. It has been proven that beetroot really increases your power. I recommend 500ml of beetroot juice twice a week during your training, and up to 500ml a day in the week before the race. Veges such as beetroot, spinach and rocket are high in dietary nitrates to increase your power output.

Up your protein intake – lean meat, chicken, tofu, fish and eggs are all good. Make sure you eat enough – a chicken sandwich doesn’t cut it!

Performance depends on your ability to recover. You need to recover after every stage and after every training ride before it. A recovery drink must be consumed within 30 minutes of finishing all workouts.

Heat acclimatisation is also important, do as many training rides as you can in the hottest part of the day. The more acclimatised you are, the fewer difficulties you will get into in a long race. You must start each stage well hydrated, drink about 500 ml water before you start, then just sips during the race.

Salt intake – avoid salt tablets, most of us take in too much salt anyway. Salt tablets may cause hormonal imbalance. If you see salt on your skin after exercise, don’t think you need to replace it, it may be a sign of too much salt in your body already. Electrolyte balance is a sensitive balance of full spectrum electrolytes.

Anti-oxidants are an important part of recovery as they scavenge free radicals and optimise immune system functioning.  Free radicals cause tissue damage over the years as well as cell mutation and inflammatory disorders. You can take them in capsule form, but best to eat fruit and veg such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon, broccoli, spinach. Green tea is good.

There is no precise cause of cramping, it is mostly due to a lack of conditioning.

Caffeine can be a useful tool but is not an energy source. Not everyone can take the same amount so you need to be aware of the caffeine content in your gels. Depending on your own metabolism, you may need 1-2 mg per kg body weight, or you may need 5-6 mg. Take it 30 – 60 minutes before the start as it only really starts to work after about an hour. Bump it up if you need to with caffeine gels but don’t leave take them too late in the day. Be aware it can have a diuretic effect in high doses. Try and save caffeine for day 2 when you will need the full effect.

Branch Chain Amino Acids – useful if you are doing a 3 day race or further.   During exercise ammonia builds up in your blood plasma causing muscle fatigue.   BCAA’s helps alleviate that, and keep your brain from registering central fatigue too early.

It’s best to try all these in your training, you have to know what suits you. You can have a burger during the race if you want to, but it can end up as a big plug in your stomach. We have many excellent commercial products, manufacturers have spent time and money on research, but they are all different and you need to find out which works best for you. Buy sachets and experiment during your training. If you stomach feels heavy or bloated during exercise, try a different brand.

Q. What should you eat during the race itself?

A. Have a good protein breakfast 3 hours or at least 2 hours before the start. Avoid a lot of fibre, fat or sugar, they will clog your stomach and slow down the effect of your energy drinks. Find out what suits you. An egg on toast might be fine, but some people find egg hard to digest. Drink 500ml water or energy drink before you start. Don’t overload your stomach. A few nuts or sliced biltong during the race is fine.

Q. What about pasta the night before, or carbo-loading?

A.  Pasta has very little nutritional value. Steak and potatoes is a better option. Carbo-loading is not recommended for too many days prior to the race.

The main thing is, do the training and find out what suits your body. You have to do the work so that you can have the fun!



I agree with Debbie, there is no one solution for everyone. All I take on a race is water and Sponsor Power Gums. Sponsor is an excellent Swiss brand.   I take one Gum after the first hour and one every hour thereafter. One packet will be enough for me and my partner for the race. That works for me, but everyone must work on finding their own solution.

Caffeine used to be a banned substance, and may be again. Use it while training to find out if it suits you and be careful of caffeine in the heat.

Ideally a training programme before a race such as Sani2C would cover 12 weeks, but with about 5 weeks to go, what do you think is the most important thing you should do from now? Long rides, intensive interval training, skills, gym work? Most people will opt for long rides or intensive workouts. WRONG! All of them are important, but the best thing you can do to improve your race times is, WORK ON YOUR SKILLS. Last year I didn’t race but stayed most of the time about mid-field with my wife, and I was shocked at the lack of skills displayed by many of the riders. Hours of training to up your fitness may improve your race time by about 25 minutes, but a couple of hours working on your skills will improve your race time by an hour or more. Best way, take an experienced rider with you to the Cycle Lab Bike Park and refine your skills on their excellent technical tracks.

A good training routine: Monday, usually a rest day; Tuesday, intensive; Wednesday, an easy ride; Thursday, a bit longer; Friday, practise skills;   Saturday and Sunday, long and hard rides. What you are doing is preparing your body for three days of hard riding. For a short one day race you would do more short fast rides during training.

Day 1 of Sani is fairly easy. Day 2 includes a proper hill, you need to do a lot of hill work in training. As far as possible, your training rides should simulate what you will experience in the race. Closer to the event, shorten the volume but increase the intensity. Train faster than you expect to do in the event. Try and get in some 3-day training, to give your body the experience of continued effort over some time.

You must eat well after Day 2. If you are not fit you won’t feel like it, but if you don’t Day 3 will be really difficult. Nutrition during training, and after each stage of the race, is crucial, and you must have a recovery drink immediately after the ride

For training programmes, look at FitTrack. Programmes are prepared for each individual, depending on current fitness, time available before the race, etc. You log each day what you have done, and if you miss something the programme is adjusted for you.

The week before your race, if you are racing on Thursday; Monday will probably be a rest day after training hard on Saturday and Sunday, Tuesday no riding, Wednesday, the day before the race, do 45 minutes easy riding with occasional 10 second high intensity bursts.

For the Sani you can run on lower tyre pressures than usual. Sand requires a low tyre pressure, for rocks you need a high pressure. The Sani trail can be described as pristine, all rocks and leaves removed!

There will be no route markers this year, the race will be run using GPS. One of your team should zoom in close, watching the trail immediately ahead, while the other zooms out to watch for direction changes in the route further forward. One tip, keep your orientating up, otherwise it may be hard to follow. Practise beforehand to get used to it, but it is really easy and a great way to ride a race. You won’t get lost however, the trail is well marked by the riders ahead, and there will be marshals at any difficult spot. The sea bridge has been damped down and will not present any problems.


Remember this is a much abbreviated summary of all that Debbie and Andrew had to say, so do come to the next talk if you can.  Chat to Debbie in the Megastore for more information, and Andrew is always available for help and advice, contact him on .