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  1. #1
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    What do you use for fuel and how do you keep cramps at bay during endurance races

    Going to jump in a handful of Endurance races this season. Mostly 50 milers, 6 hours races, and 100K's. I understand the training side of it and know what I need to do, but what confuses me is the fueling. I know I need around 300 cals/hour give or take and have been doing ok with a stinger waffle, a gel, and some heed every hour. I have slowly been ramping up time every week on my endurance rides with the goal of getting to 5 hour long rides that are mostly in HR zone 1/2 with some zone 3 on climbs mostly.

    The thing is, after the 2 hour mark I start sliding downhill and can feel myself bonking more and more. I've been training and racing the shorter stuff for years and an average week on the bike is in the 7-10 hour range with a shorter volume rest week every 3rd week. I get through the "shorter" workouts like hill intervals just fine even though they seem much more demanding - only a 1.5 hr long ride though. I figure it's got to be the way I'm fueling. What advice can you give to a rookie endurance racer both for fuel and keeping cramps away??

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by jnails View Post
    ... What advice can you give to a rookie endurance racer both for fuel and keeping cramps away??
    First off, everybody's different. You'll get lots of advice.

    Cramping often happens because you aren't getting enough electrolytes.

    Here's my feedback:

    From what you describe, you're eating stuff that doesn't really have electrolytes. HEED is High Energy Electrolyte Drink. But when I was using HEED as my main thing I always needed to supplement the electrolytes. Even when going 200-300 calories an hour, it didn't cover my electrolyte needs. I used to always carry a little film can of sea salt crystals. And I also used to eat a lot of Medjool Dates which are super high in potassium (electrolyte).

    Now I use Tailwind. I supplement it with Tailwind. Their basic claim is that you don't need anything else. That has proven true for me. 2013 was my best season ever (turned 50 1 week ago) and I blame Tailwind (among other things, like training).

    As I said first thing, everybody is different. I can't promise that anything I recommend will work for you. But I've done a 24 solo and multiple 15+ hour rides on tailwind mixed with water. Period.

    They are one of the sponsors of this forum by the way.

    Tailwind Nutrition

    I recommend that you give it a shot.
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  3. #3
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    The #1 thing that will make you feel better after 2 hours is proper training. That includes both long enough rides/intervals/training volume to train your body endurance-wise, but also long enough that you can figure out what works for you, nutrition-wise. Cramps aren't always caused by a lack of electrolytes. A lot of times, they're caused by over-exertion- you're working harder than what you've trained for.

    Personally, I use Gu products... just for transparency here, I'll say, they are a sponsor of mine. However, it was one of those things where I tried a lot of other stuff before figuring out that the ingredients/taste/etc. of Gu worked well for me before I approached them for sponsorship.

    For me, normal fueling for a 4 hour race-pace effort would include at least a bottle an hour of a weak mix of their Roctane energy drink (about 100 cal per bottle), and at least 2 Roctane Gels or a Roctane gel and a half a pack of Chomps per hour. Somewhere in there, I might add in a real food snack like a rice cake bar or part of a PB&J sandwich. I've found that whole fruit doesn't work well for me- bananas and dates make me feel bloated (compared to the previous poster, it's a very good illustration of how it's important to figure out your own body).

    If it's warm/hot, on top of that, I'd add another bottle of water with plain electrolytes (like elete drops) that I'd drink at least half of along with everything else.
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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrea138 View Post
    ...I've found that whole fruit doesn't work well for me- bananas and dates make me feel bloated (compared to the previous poster, it's a very good illustration of how it's important to figure out your own body)...
    That is totally true. Nutrition and training go hand in hand, and there's nothing that will work for everybody. Training is your preparation and your chance to experiment with what works.
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  5. #5
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    Sounds like you have the knowledge there it's just a matter of finding out what works for you. Don't be afraid to try some different drinks there is a lot of them out there.

    I would take a look at your training and maybe try a different approach for your next three weeks. Either back off on intensity, increase the volume a little, back off on the volume and increase intensity, or just stay where you are. Make sure your rest is rest very easy spin. These are just suggestions I don't know your actual training program and how far until your first race. Good luck and remember to have fun.

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  6. #6
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    The advice here is right on... and there's tons more out there on many other threads.

    "Jumping in"... you'll learn a lot just through your first races... find what works for you and focus on enjoying/finishing comfortably.

    For the fuel question...
    I go with bars and gels and try to organize to have real food through aid stops or, in longer events, the towns I roll through.

    For cramping...
    That's happened to me recently after going out too hard and being stupid. Check Andrea138's comments here and other threads about cramping.

  7. #7
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    Most often, when riders bonk or cramp 2hrs in they're doing 1 of 2 things; or sometimes both.

    1) going too hard. Muscles cramp when they're pushed beyond their limits for too long. Watch your intensity. keep yourself in a good zone. If you have to go beyond the comfort zone on a climb, so be it; but make sure you recover and get back below the red line if you want to survive. The more you practice this, the better you'll get at it and the better your body will adapt to the stresses of 2hr plus rides. Training for endurance takes time. Be smart and before you know it, you'll be riding longer and longer with the ability to go harder, more often.

    2) not eating enough or enough of the right things. You're right, you want to shoot for 300cals/hr. But make sure they're quality cals from the right sources. I would try to drink most of them with a mix of Complex Carbs/electrolytes/water. My personal fav is Maltodextrin powder mixed with a scoop of Gatorade powder(w/ dextrose) and water. Cheap, too!! I drink one bottle per hour w/ either a GU(caffeine) or Hammer gel(no caffeine). Then, every 2-3hrs I take a couple bites of some solid food(clif bar/banana/pb&j) to give my stomach something to do. Sprinkle in a small amount of Coca Cola every so often and you're good to go.

    Also, I've found that adding a small amount of baking soda to my bottles helps stave off cramps. Some people can tolerate more of this than others. Read up on it, tread lightly and see how it works for you if you decide to try it.

    To me, it sounds like an intensity issue. If you're used to doing shorter, harder races then you're probably still stuck in that training mindset, or your body simply isn't accustomed to rides in excess of 90-120mins. Try dialing things back a bit. The more miles you rack up, the better you'll start to feel and the more your top end fitness will start to show through.

    For being new to endurance, you're on the right track. Keep riding. Keep training smart. It'll come around.

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    I think your body is just dialed in to that two hour sweet spot you've developed over the years. Give it some time, it'll come around with more endurance training.

    I don't want to get into the internet thing of which brand of what works for who on what day or phase of the moon. I will, however, observe that the majority of podium placers at endurance races rely primarily on liquids and gels for fuel, with the occasional -- and typically small -- solid food just to keep things from being too dreary.

    And choose your solid food points well. The top of a long downhill is a great place for it, the bottom of a long, steep climb, not so much.

    Finally, one of the best things I've come up with for 100 milers or really long training rides is to "nurse" my way through the first bottle during the hour or so before starting. A lot of events can be a bit intense during the first hour, until things get sorted out, making it easy to get behind on calories. Once you're behind, it's just not going to be a great day.

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  9. #9
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    Thanks everyone for the replies. I think all of you are right - I'm used to doing rides under 2 hours and not used to the longer rides. I also need to figure out my fueling. Your posts have given me some ideas on how to start my experimentation with it.

    I have dialed back intensity on my endurance rides - typically in HR zone 1/2 with zone 3 on hills. Besides the endurance ride I'm also doing intervals, pedaling drills, tempo rides, easy spins, and racing short track weekly through the winter. I'm on a 2 week on/1 week easy rotation and increasing my volume by about 10% a week during the "on" weeks.

    I think like most of you have said, it will come around as I continue to work at it. First race is April 6th, which is 6 hours of warrior creek. I may do Southern Cross before this and some other gravel grinders just for training. After that, doing Big Frog 65 which is the shorter version of Cohutta 100. In June doing Iron Mtn 100K and then I'll figure out where I'm at and decide if I want to fire up ORAMM by buying someone's entry. Maybe Fools Gold in the fall and then Wilkes 100K followed by the Swank 65.

  10. #10
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    Seeing as how we were in the same place at the same time last weekend, and will probably be repeating the same stupidity for the next four weekends....

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    and we're doing a lot of the same events this summer...

    You can bug me at the short track and we can talk. If there's something to be done wrong, I've done it.

    Cramps. Mustard packs. Seriously.

    Right now, that short track work is good for your intensity. How far do you live from Renni?
    When I'm doing the ST race, I ride from my house (about ten miles) and back home. I end up getting a better day in my legs that way, and if I do the whole season, my pump is primed come March.
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  11. #11
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    Current state of knowledge:

    Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps

    My personal experience: I took on racing (again) a few years ago. I cramped the first 4 - 5 races in my first season. No cramping in autumn races. No influence of electrolytes, stretching, "walking in a circle at full moon" ...

    Second year, cramping in my first two races in the season. No cramping in the remainder year.

    Third year, no cramping at all.

    I can't really contribute it to training. I think "race experience" was more important.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by teamdicky View Post
    Seeing as how we were in the same place at the same time last weekend, and will probably be repeating the same stupidity for the next four weekend….

    and we're doing a lot of the same events this summer...

    You can bug me at the short track and we can talk. If there's something to be done wrong, I've done it.

    Cramps. Mustard packs. Seriously.

    Right now, that short track work is good for your intensity. How far do you live from Renni?
    Thanks Dickey, I'd appreciate your view as I know you've been there done that! Yeah, you ended up lapping me last weekend at ST. I've got some work to do.
    I like your idea about riding out to the race, but I'm a long way from Renni, google says 19.2 miles each way. Might have to do it at some point though. Mustard packs? Really? I have to hear about this on Sunday!!

  13. #13
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    My 2 cents about cramps.

    Nutrition helps, but in my experience cramps are much more due to over exertion early in the event. The analogy I use is weightlifting. If you keep the weight low, you can do "infinite" reps, but as the weight goes up the number of reps becomes finite. What seems to work for me is to avoid "powering through" short difficult sections. (i.e shift down and spin rather than just put out 10 hard pedal strokes to get through a short ramp.) It's not avoiding aerobic effort, but hard pedals that seems to help the most.

  14. #14
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    All my nutrition comes in a bottle Infinit Nutrition | Custom Sports Nutrition Solutions | USA is probably the best quality and custom designed for your needs. Also with using a bottle you can cut your aid station stops down to a few minutes. A small amount of protein in the mix will keep the hunger pains away.



    Quote Originally Posted by bbense View Post
    My 2 cents about cramps.

    Nutrition helps, but in my experience cramps are much more due to over exertion early in the event. The analogy I use is weightlifting. If you keep the weight low, you can do "infinite" reps, but as the weight goes up the number of reps becomes finite. What seems to work for me is to avoid "powering through" short difficult sections. (i.e shift down and spin rather than just put out 10 hard pedal strokes to get through a short ramp.) It's not avoiding aerobic effort, but hard pedals that seems to help the most.
    Good advise on cramps.
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  15. #15
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    Lots of good advice in this thread. Mustard... who woulda thought! I plan on doing 2 big endurance races this year (Land Run 100 & Dirty Kanza 200) and I will for sure take some mustard with me now.

  16. #16
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    Consider this a tag as I will also be doing Warrior Creek.

    Need to keep working on my diet as I used Clif Bars during the only 6 hour I did, and stopping to eat cost me another lap.

  17. #17
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    sounds nuts but for every 3 hours I take whatever I normally drink or eat but start with a 500mg calcium pill and hit another one at 3 hour point. those rides never cramp. if I ever do cramp I look back and say...yeah I skipped the calcium. have no idea why or what but it works for me... prob my ion channels respond to it


    your mileage may vary. may be specific to peoples endocrine system

  18. #18
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    Interesting. You all are full of information. I will be giving that Tailwind a try probably as well. I just got my Hammerhead Endurolytes in today to try. Last August I did a 5hr endurance MTB \ cross country type race. I ate somethings that didn't agree with me and I was miserable the last 2 hours of the race. It was my first endurance race so I learned alot of things.

    Right now when I work out at the gym I have a stack I've been drinking; it consists of:

    1. Swanson Ultra - Ibcaa Plus With L-Glutamine and L-Arginine, 1 Scoop
    2. Trace Minerals - 40,000 Volts! Electrolyte Concentrate, 1 teaspoon
    3. Now - Potassium Gluconate, 1 tsp
    4. Gatoraid Preform Lemon Lime - Drink Powder, 1.5 tbsp (For Taste)


    You can get all of the above but Gatoraid powder at Vitamins and Supplements, Natural Health Products, Organic Foods - Swanson Health Products

  19. #19
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    I think the over rated thing is the nutrition aspect of it. A good drink and the right quick foods and your good to go. Anybody with riding experience already has this down. My first 50 mile race I had all the above and more. The cramps that occurred was- I found out even though I had the endurance my body wasn't prepared to sit on the bike for 50 miles and bring on the cramps. Also you have to learn to ride at your pace and not go with the fast crowd at the start. That is a hard lesson all have to learn because you feel like your being left behind. But you'll pass a lot of those guys that started off like a rockets because a few miles into the race and they've blown up. And a great tip is keep your pedals spinning and not mashing. If your body hasn't been conditioned to hard mashing for long periods of time- your going to cramp 100%. Start riding and increasing distances slowly. Also riding and racing short distances isn't the same as endurance racing. I've raced cyclocross riders that could barely finish an endurance race because they weren't conditioned to the long time in the saddle. A 30 minute race is a far cry from a 5 hour & 5,000 ft in climbing endurance race. If you want to race these events you must start riding these distances as well.

    I hope this helps

  20. #20
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    That does help and makes since but on the flip side you gotta keep up with hydration too. I really wish this snow stuff would go away in the midwest so I can ride more.

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    first: cramps occur when you push your muscles longer and harder than what they are used to. end of story.

    second: nutrition is to keep you fueled properly for recovery on the bike during the race. understand this: yes, improper nutrition during a race can lead to cramps but that doesn't mean proper nutrition on the bike during the race will stop cramps.

    i hear from racers all the time, "i am drinking this heed stuff, why am i getting cramps???"

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    Infinit nutrition. I have been using their stuff for years with no issues, no cramps, and dont feel hungry. I typically do 100 milers on the road and mtn bike.

  23. #23
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    Some good advice here, that I will be trying over the next few weeks as I prep for the Whiskey 50. I did this race last year and learned some hard lessons about not being prepared. I began the race with 'company x' product in my bottles, and drained both by the 2nd feed zone. The feed zones had product from 'company y' and I did not think twice about filling up my bottles, as I had used that stuff before with no issues. I had a few pieces of fruit, and was back on the bike. Literally, 2 minutes later I had that unmistakable feeling in my stomach that I was going to be sick. I got passed by tons of people and just felt like crap. After a few miles of climbing, walking and increased nausea, I got sick on the side of the trail. I did earn a few cheers from those who were passing me.........

    Anyway, I still had a ways to go to finish and actually began feeling better, but weak. I finished, got sick again and ended up in the medical tent.

    Lesson I learned is to be better prepared. I should have carried premeasured baggies of 'company x' and just filled water, which I plan on doing this year. Switching products mid race did not work for me.

    Anyone have another approach to this?

  24. #24
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    Haven't heard anyone mention pickle juice. Everyone I ride with carries it with them and drinks it if they start to cramp. They say it works wonders. By the way I just started riding spring of 2013 (mtg and gravel) and am attempting Land Run my first 100mile race in March. Im loving all this info. So far I have done fine with a little real food like banana, peanut butter and honey, stinger wafers and the rest gu and. Sometimes I mix some poweraide in my water. Oh yea and I take enduralites.

  25. #25
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    I eat pickles after a race for sure. I only participated in one endurance race last year. Not sure what I'll do for the Land Run 100 yet. I've only been riding since the fall of 2012. I've been wanting to try Skratch Labs as I know a lot of folks that use it. Peanut butter and honey sandwich on wheat is good too. I cut them into 1/4 pieces. Poweraid and Gatorade make my stomach turn. Too much sugar.

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  26. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by hobiesmith View Post
    first: cramps occur when you push your muscles longer and harder than what they are used to. end of story.

    second: nutrition is to keep you fueled properly for recovery on the bike during the race. understand this: yes, improper nutrition during a race can lead to cramps but that doesn't mean proper nutrition on the bike during the race will stop cramps.
    couldn't agree more.

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    I have been using Tailwind Nutrition, the lemon.... I was skeptical that it could do everything without eating on long rides and it seems to work just fine. I use Hammer Endurolytes as a supplement and some fruit along the way if needed... I've done some 100milers with just the above and feel pretty darn good after its all done....I have found for myself, my stomach can only take so much solids and to be able to drink what I need works well in the long run...

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    In 2012 I went the entire year without even the hint of a cramp coming on! That was not even close to being the norm for me but man it was sooooooo nice! I know everyone is different but the only thing I can attribute it to was the base that I put in. I commuted back and forth to work approximately 10hrs a week on my SS Mtb running a 32x20 gear and threw in a 4-5hr ride about every other week. My commute only has about 300ft or so of elevation so I was literally spinning my ass off 90% of the time. So 90% of the time my intensity was high but the load on my leg muscles was low. I felt like I was getting probably 2hrs worth of spinning in a one hour period. On slightly downward slopes I would do spin ups from one light pole to the next on every other set of poles and soft pedal inbetween. No food or supplements that I've ever tried in the past made the least bit of difference but I have found that my body responds better if I keep my food and hydration separate. For me it's pretty much Shot Blox, Fig Newtons and water. I've even tried the mustard and pickle thing and it did nothing for my cramping issues.

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    hey one thing i should mention that is serious


    if you really are cramping, say after 5 hours and you cannot figure it out at least have bloodwork done and check ketones and A1C. undiagnosed pre-diabetic and diabetics one of the first 'ride' symptoms is cramping on long hammerfests. so if you have not had a full bloodwork done, get it done. anyones ketones may be high after a hard ride... you need to check this stuff after 24 hours rest.

  30. #30
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    I don't usually cramp but the Whiskey 50 has got me bad a couple of times. I soloed the 24 hours in the Old Pueblo this year (it was hot too) and never had a cramp so it isn't just how long or far you go. I think how hard you go matters more. I was using Skratch labs drink mix, pickles and Pringles for electrolyte replacement. I took one salt pill too.

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    here's a new interview with Jeff at Tailwind we just did - he talks about a lot in it: Tailwind Nutrition - Mountain Bike Radio

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    What do you use for fuel and how do you keep cramps at bay during endurance r...

    Green smoothies made primarily of bananas and greens, some with strawberry for taste. Easy to ingest and calorically dense. Got me through 3 8 hr solo races and a 100 mile - no cramps. Also had some dates, and just a couple hammer gels. Real food, ftw!
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    What do you use for fuel and how do you keep cramps at bay during endurance races

    @Twowheelchris cramp hill is the culprit at whiskey. Agree very much with @hobiesmith. If you aren't getting some sort of cramps, twinges, etc, you're prob not going as hard as you can. Cramps are common if you change something up slightly before a long ride/race too. A result of the effort being above and beyond the trained fueling and physical limits.


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  34. #34
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    I just tried the Tailwind drink mixture. I just finished 2 pretty tough back to back days of training and I brought a few gels and couple bananas just in case. The first day was a road ride that was just at 3.5hrs with several Tempo/Steady State intervals. I drank two bottles of Tailwind and never really got hungry at all. I did suck down a gel just as a preventive measure. The next day was a 4hr mtb ride with climbing repeats. Again I drank the Tailwind(put it directly in my camelback) and not until the 3rd hour did i feel a little bonked. In fairness I didn't have a gel or anything else. Also the temps did increase quite a bit and I finished the ride feeling really thirsty. I probably need to play with the amount of Tailwind I had in my camelback and also in my water bottle. I think the next thing I will try is one water bottle with nothing but water. All in all I'm very impressed with this product and will continue to refine my usage going forward. Definitely recommend it!

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    What do you use for fuel and how do you keep cramps at bay during endurance races

    Good deal @Michael15. Good to hear. If you heard it on mbr, it'd be awesome if you could let them know at info@tailwindnutrition.com . I would greatly appreciate it.


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  36. #36
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    What flavor did you use? I just use tailwind for the first time yesterday on a 3 hr ride and I was very pleased with it. going to be using it at the Land Run 100 this weekend. I got the one with caffein.

  37. #37
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    I just completed my very first race Sunday, 29 miles and 1300ft. I cramped up really bad with 3 miles to go, my legs completely locked up and I had to down 2 Cliff bars and a thing of Shot Bloks to get them working again to finish the race. After the race they were still crampy and had to eat two bananas to get them back to normal.

    I only ate a thing of shot bloks about halfway though. I was slightly overdressed but wasn't sweating THAT much. I did drink too much water though, definitely too much. And only kinda by accident as I was preventing my hydro tube from freezing by taking a small sip every few min to keep the water flowing.

    I'm guessing I should have ate those Cliff bars before the major cramping event and I wonder if drinking too much water contributed.

    I didn't think I maintaining THAT hard of a pace during the race. I felt good on energy.

    For the race on the 22nd I'm going to try Tailwind.
    Last edited by zephxiii; 03-13-2014 at 02:03 PM.

  38. #38
    mtbr member
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    Sep 2013
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    I did hear the interview on mbr but I had already bought the product after reading this thread. I have the Mango Orange flavor. I hope they will come out with a grape flavor soon!! I did a 2.5hr mtb ride yesterday and put about 1.5 servings in 60oz in my back pack. I did have to use a gel pack for the last 30min as I was starting to feel a little bonk'd. I should have added some more Tailwind to my Camelback. I'm still impressed with the product and will use it again this Saturday when I do a 4hr mtb ride.

    @zeph, I would definitely try Metasalt/Endurlytes if you are cramping this much. Take a few of the tabs the night before and before your race. I try and take one an hour along with a Hammer Race Cap Supreme and I normally avoid cramps. Good luck.

  39. #39
    mtbr member
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    This past weekend I tried CarboRocket's 333 Half-evil during a 6hr race. Very impressed! I went with raspberry and it was very light tasting and not at all too sweet. It's all I used for the entire race. My energy was good and I never felt hungry. Even after the race it was 3-4 hours before my appetite came back.

    Like Infinit Nutrition it is meant to take care of your energy needs as well as hydration. With Infinit I always had a "flat" feeling. Not so with Half-evil. Going forward it will be my fuel of choice.

    Sent from my HTC One using Tapatalk

  40. #40
    Wahoo!
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    I started using Infinit Nutrition: Eatough 100 mile mix. I really like it so far. Multiple hours in the saddle with only having to drink really is really awesome. The taste is light and I have yet to get a cramp. I've had it sit for hours before I drank it warm and didn't have a single issue. The bottle didn't smell like the mix once I washed everything either. What I'm really happy with is how I feel during and post ride. Gut seems to really like it so far.
    I will not tiptoe through life to arrive safely at death.

  41. #41
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    Well I just did my 2nd race, Barry-Roubaix 21 mile and 1300ft. I just ran Tailwind in my Hydropak and had a half banana at the one aid station. I had no problems with cramps at all. I was doing so well I managed to do an all out sprint and cross the line at 28mph. That and I placed 5th out of 74 and 22nd out of 489 overall. Not bad!

    I think I just waterlogged my legs or something in the first race.

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