Energy balance in stage racing

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Failure to achieve energy balance in stage racing may negatively affect performance

“Maintaining energy balance could be the most important factor in successful stage (cycle) racing. There may be a ceiling to Energy Intake (EI), based on limits to digestion, however, and this may ultimately limit Energy Expenditure (EE) over prolonged races of this nature. Macronutrient intake and the timing thereof may also play crucial roles by determining the recovery rates of energy reserves and in maintaining or enhancing lean mass”

What does this mean?

During long distance, multi-day, endurance events, maintaining energy balance – the balance of energy coming in & energy going out – may play a crucial role in the likelihood of one performing well. If an athlete is in a negative energy balance, and therefore consuming LESS calories than they are utilising for energy production, then they are at risk of under-performance. On the other hand, consuming sufficient calories to offset the large number of calories being burned may be crucial in assisting an athlete to perform optimally. However, consumption of sufficient calories may prove difficult for some, such that they are ingesting inadequate calories to fuel performance and recover optimally. The researchers in this study investigated, with the help of trained nutritionists, the energy balance in 5 riders participating in the Tour of Southland, New Zealand.

Results of the study:

stage racingThis study HERE looked into energy balance in 5 riders who attempted to complete the most difficult Tour of Southland, NZ. They measured a whole host of stuff – energy in, energy out, body composition, resting metabolic rate etc. – and tried to find out who was ‘in energy balance’ and who was not, or whether it was even possible maintaining energy balance. They measured weight before and after the event, as well as energy use during. Along the way, they were some interesting findings:

– Roughly 80% of food ingested came from food (most often consumed at meal times); 20% was consumed as supplements (presumably additional powders/gels/drinks)
– Carbohydrate intake averaged 950 – 1300g in one day (staggering!!!), which is up around levels of 12-15g/kg of body weight
– Protein intake was just below 3g/Kg body weight (very high) i.e. 200g+ protein per day
– Most were able to maintain body composition, some gained lean mass, and most lost fat mass


The cyclists consumed a staggering number of calories, of which a significantly large % came from carbohydrates. That the cyclists, on average, maintained body weight suggests that they also burned an incredibly large number of calories during the race. Therefore, if optimal performance is desired then sufficient calories consumed, in order to cover the cost of exercise, is required to maintain weight, energy stores and lean (muscle) mass.

Take home:

If you partake in extreme exercise, consume an extreme number of calories. Avoid significant weight loss, particularly if that weight loss comes from lean tissue, and/or muscle mass. Make use of calorie containing beverages, as well as foods very dense in calories to achieve sufficient calorie consumption before ‘fullness’ dampens hunger.

Lastly, here’s a quote from the authors of the study, and a nice testimonial to the role that a performance nutritionist may play in events of this nature:

“The influence of trained nutritionists providing all food and supplements and having them readily available, particularly after each stage, would certainly have been considerable. It would be interesting to determine whether the same patterns hold when athletes are independently making choices of food intake”

Without the help of a trained performance nutritionist, would the athletes have been conscious of consuming enough of the right calories to aid performance?