Nutrition for the National Champs

Up-and-coming cycling star Dan Bigham tells us about his nutritional strategy for the National Time Trial Championships last weekend in Lincoln.

Nutrition for the National Champs

The National Elite TT Championships were held last Thursday at Cadwell park in Lincolsnhire, and after taking the prime and win at the Zappi’s ‘Coppa Zappi’ Round 1, fuelit asked me to write a nutrition-related blog post, giving people an insight into how I prepare for a big race.

For me, preparation starts a few days out from the big day, with an analysis of the course and the weather forecast. Aside from riding my bike, I work as a performance engineer for a number of Olympic teams, which I guess makes me a sport geek. I have developed a course pacing model that allows me to analyse race courses, looking at course profiles, weather conditions, cyclist weight and drag, as well as many other variables.  This gives me a predicted time and speed, and allows me to see how much power I need to put down during the race- it’s very useful to say the least! So, after an hour or playing around with different settings I settled on a target power profile and felt confident in my knowledge of the course.

The day before involved a lovely 3 hour drive up to Cadwell Park. I picked up my good friend and fellow triathlete Pete Dyson on the way as he was racing too. I snacked on last night’s leftover risotto on the way up as we were planning to ride the external part of the course that evening, so I didn’t want to eat anything too heavy beforehand. The ride went well, with a few practice race-speed descents down the major hill.  My legs felt good, and I was looking forward to the race the following day. Getting back to the car, I hunted down some water after having drunk both bottles I’d brought with me on the drive up, and quickly got some SIS REGO Rapid Recovery on board.

We headed off to a great B&B Pete had found just 15 minutes away. Unfortunately I hadn’t done my research - we had a full kitchen to ourselves, which would have been perfect to knock up some rice or pasta for lunch the following day.  Sandwiches would have to suffice - not ideal. What with us not starting the race until 4pm, I had a nice lie in, which was a welcome treat and important for making sure I was properly rested. The morning was spent preparing my fluids for the day. With the predicted hot weather I came prepared with a 5L water container, ready to top up any bottles throughout the day as needed. I mixed up two bottles of Torq Energy, and a bottle of SIS Go Hydro electrolyte tabs. I’ve settled on Torq for my carbohydrate mix as it ticks all the right boxes from a macro-nutrient viewpoint, with a 2:1 maltodextrin:fructose ratio and a number of different electrolytes rather than just the sodium chloride you see in cheaper mixes. I usually sip on the electrolyte drink throughout the day, and start to drink one of the carb-mix bottles around an hour or so before my race to allow enough time for my glycogen levels to increase.

The third thing I mixed up in the morning was a flask of TrueStart coffee. TrueStart are a Bristol-based startup with a unique take on coffee, aiming to provide a precise amount of caffeine per 5 gram serving. Most coffees vary widely in their caffeine content, but TrueStart contains between 75 and 115mg per serving, so you know exactly how much you’re taking. I’ve been told it’s pretty much bang on 95mg, but regulations require a stipulated band. This makes for a great (and cheap!) way to get your pre-race caffeine on. I’ve been through caffeine tablets, caffeine gels, caffeine carb drinks etc, and these have worked well, but who doesn’t like a nice coffee before a race with all of the benefits a precise serving of caffeine provides? I go for 2 teaspoons (~200mg; 3mg/kg) 30 minutes prior to racing.

The day was then spent supporting friends riding in the U23 race and generally twiddling my thumbs. Normally I never get too hungry on race days once I’ve got breakfast in me, but I nibbled on a High5 peanut energy bar throughout the morning just to keep my energy levels up.

One hour ahead of the race and it was go-time. Skinsuit on, numbers pinned onto my jersey, rollers out, tyre pressures set, power meter calibrated. My Elite Crono water bottle was filled with Torq Energy mix, and I had an AMSport Competition energy gel up my leg to take right before the start. 30 mins to go, a big cup of TrueStart coffee later and I was out on to Cadwell park circuit for the course familiarisation session. I managed two good clear laps to assess the high-speed corners. My soigneur Jason met me down in the bike check area with my rollers; I spent a good 10 minutes on them whilst everybody else was standing around waiting to start. I found this odd, as it wasn’t ideal race preparation by others at all!

I was called to the line, clipped in, camera pointing right at me. I had a surprisingly clear head. I went out as steady as I could but my power was as usual far higher than I like to see off the start. I settled down into position for a hundred metres before getting straight out of the saddle for the first big climb of the circuit.

My pacing went a bit to pot, with my first 5 minutes at 420W, a little higher than my targeted 370W average. After heading out on to the external circuit I started to dial my power back, hoping I hadn’t burnt myself out too much. I was taking fairly large gulps of my Torq Energy throughout. Unfortunately I was struggling to get back up to pace after the major climb of 12% for 0.5km, with each lap getting slower and more painful. Normally I recover very quickly over climbs and can get back to pumping out the watts, but today it just wasn’t happening.

Photo credit Richard Brothwell

At the end of lap 3, Edmund Bradbury (NTFO Cycling; finished 2nd) and James Gullen (Velosure Starley Primal; finished 13th) came past me and in my head I knew my ride was over. I’d lost out to Edmund in BUCS Track Champs in the Individual Pursuit by just 0.002s, so to get passed at such a rate was fairly demoralising. I did my best to pick it up on the way back into Cadwell Park, giving everything I had left in my legs in the final minutes, which included having a few sketchy moments where finished riders decided to cross my path at the fastest part of the circuit!

I crossed the line in 1:08:16, around 3 minutes slower than I had anticipated, but with significantly lower power and a feeling that I just didn’t perform to my best. The Stress plot below shows my ride, for any data geeks. I collapsed at the top of the course exit ramp, guzzling down my dad’s drink and struggling to get my words out. It wasn’t a nice place to be. Once I had recovered I got on to the rollers to cool down and mixed up a big bottle of SIS REGO Recovery. I’m a bit of a hater of lumpy protein shakes, but thankfully I won a WattBike competition at the start of the year where the prize was a ProMixx electric vortex protein mixer. I can’t recommend them enough. The price tag is quite hefty but they make perfect shakes every time!

The results trickled in; I steadily got knocked down from 6th to 19th. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t gutted, but everyone has their off days and I think I’ve figured out a few of the causes and have addressed them this week. It was great to actually look at my nutrition, as it’s something that I think becomes a habit, so assessing it every so often is definitely a good thing with all the improvements in nutritional strategies that are emerging. The fuelit Discovery Box made a welcome change to my race day preparation, and I quickly discovered what I did and didn’t like. It was great to be able to try a wide variety of products, many of which I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.  Thanks to fuelit for sponsoring the Coppa Zappi prime and letting me write this blog. I look forward to sampling more bars and gels and letting you know about them!

Overall, I really think fuelit’s Discovery Boxes are a great idea, as they allow you to try a huge variety of sports nutrition products and find something that really works for you.  I recommend you buy one – just head over to, and don’t forget about the introductory discount using ‘welcome_to_fuelit’!

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