Mick Rogers on how to prepare for an individual time trial: Part I – pre-race nutrition
Mick Rogers is a three-time world time trial champion, multiple-time Giro d’Italia and Tour de France stage winner, Olympic medalist and much more. He retired in 2016 after a remarkable career and is still a keen fan of the sport.
Rogers and Daniel Healey (former BMC & Tinkoff sport scientist) they produced this in-depth analysis on how Rogers used to approach the race against the clock, and how you can too. In Part 1, they examine the preparation that takes place off the bike. This looks at how Rogers approached hydration and nutrition. In part 2 he looks at the warmup routine, nutrition during the TT, and recovery after the effort.
Follow Mick on twitter here.
Time away from the sport of cycling has been great for me both personally and professionally. However now that Grand Tour season is upon us I find myself paying closer attention to who’s in form, key stages and of course race results. The transition from high-performance athlete to keen observer and fan of the sport has been a gradual, almost imperceptible process.
Nevertheless it’s happened and I was thrilled to see how the Giro was won in the time trial, and of course what happens in France throughout the month of July. But after 30 years in the sport it’s natural that I view these races differently to most cycling fans.
This was pointed out to me during a brief TV commentary appearance for RSI Sport in Switzerland last year and most recently with some of my current work colleagues. In fact it was during this last conversation while watching the Stage 10 Time Trial of the 2017 Giro that a Sports Scientist I’ve known for a few years suggested I share some of my experience with a wider audience. So I thought why not?
I was fortunate to have a successful career and central to my longevity was an evidence-based approach which was instilled in me during my early years with the Australian Institute of Sport. Training specific energy systems, data collection and analysis combined with targeted nutrition practices were the cornerstone of my preparation. Along the way I picked up a lot of information from various experts about modern training principles which I would like to share with a wider audience.
What follows is the first in possibly a series of behind the scenes views on how I managed to get the best out of myself. Aside from this hopefully being an interesting read it’s also my intention to provide you with tips that will improve your performance on the bike.
So what better place to start sharing some of my experience than with the time trial? It is the event that defined most of my career. But being good against the clock also laid the foundation for me to realise other goals within the professional peloton.
If I look back to my earliest days on the bike I was being groomed to be a time trialist out of sheer necessity. It was my older brothers who introduced me to cycling and when the weekend came they would race. Not wanting to be left out I raced with them as well as many other boys much older than me. This meant I was on my own most of the time either off the front very early in a handicap event or more often being dropped by bigger and stronger riders. Either way I was always riding solo and as I sit here today and reflect on that early suffering, I’m convinced those early races were formative in setting me up as a time trialist.
Then as I progressed through the junior ranks on both track and road it was natural for me to target events that required sustained high power output. By the end of my career I was confident that I had most of the variables for racing against the clock under control. For me the most important of these are: hydration, energy stores, the warm-up and recovery.
I’m purposely omitting pacing strategies and route reconnaissance since they are very specific things that only a select few WorldTour riders focus on. However the points I am going to cover are easy for cyclists of all levels to practice.
My preparation for a time trial started many months before the event. I was on my time trial bike two times per week performing various sets and reps then switching to the road bike to carefully develop my overall condition. I won’t go into my training program here, maybe some other time? Instead I would like to narrow the focus of this article to race day.
As we all saw in the Giro, and will see later during the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, there is a lot of activity around the team bus on time trial day. Support staff are running left and right, the team DSs are driving back and forth and the first time you see the rider is when they are doing their warm up. But each rider’s preparation started a long time before you see these images on TV.
My protocol on race day started as soon as I woke up. After a quick bathroom stop I would note the colour of my urine then weigh myself. A second later I would drink a whole bidon filled with water. These two very simple actions gave me instant feedback on my hydration status and started the process of optimising my fluid levels for the coming event.
There are some technical details underpinning my hydration protocol and at this point I’ll hand over to the Sports Scientist I mentioned earlier, Daniel Healey, to explain:
“We all experience slight dehydration during sleep,” he says. “A hot night or air-conditioning can accelerate the dehydration process. Mick’s act of checking the colour of his first urination, then weighing himself, is a convenient and highly effective method for reinstating lost fluid in the lead-up to start time.
“A bidon contains roughly 500ml of water and this is enough to top up lost fluid and overload the kidneys, forcing the next urination. By referencing the colour of his first and second urination against a urine colour chart Mick has a visual gauge on how much fluid he needs to consume for the remainder of the morning.
“There is water inside (and outside) every cell in the body. So drinking on a regular basis fills up these spaces. The other place where water is stored is in blood. The water in blood is called plasma and this ‘plasma volume’ is a critical determinant of optimal performance. Plasma not only makes blood thinner and easier to pump (therefore lowering heart rate) but it is also the main transport mechanism for heat.
“Obviously competing in a time trial generates a lot of heat which is then captured by plasma and transported away from exercising muscle to the surface of the skin where it evaporates as sweat. Dehydration leading to a loss in body weight of 2%-4% can reduce VO2max by 10-22%”.
So for these reasons I paid close attention to the colour of my urine right up to start time and was back checking it when the race was over. You can find many urine colour charts online and depending on the resolution of your computer screen there might be a wide variance on what colour corresponds to optimal.
So follow this tip: your urine throughout the day, whether you are racing or not, should be a very light or pale yellow. Try and avoid having completely clear urine because that can lead to something called hyponatraemia (low sodium levels) which is a bad thing for an endurance athlete.
By now it’s 15 minutes since I woke up and it’s time for breakfast. On race day, breakfast for me is usually one of three meals before I take the start line. This three-meal process was dependant on start times but generally a time trial in a Grand Tour is an afternoon or evening event. This long lead time allowed me some flexibility in deciding what to eat and when. However the basic principles remained relatively constant. These were:
Step 1: Breakfast #1: This was a small-carbohydrate based meal which I ate soon after waking up. The aim of this first meal was to raise my blood sugar after an overnight fast. Usually a couple of pieces of toast (lower GI or wholemeal bread) and maybe some fruit was enough. I would make sure I had a bidon of water next to me and continued sipping this when I felt like it. No coffee or tea at breakfast #1.
After breakfast #1 it was back to my room where the countdown would start to the first major milestone of the day: Breakfast #2. This meal was the most important because it was here that I had the opportunity to load a very important energy store: My liver.
Step 2: Breakfast #2 was always scheduled 3.5 to 4 hours before start time and was again mainly based on carbohydrates. Since the purpose of breakfast #2 was to load my liver with glycogen (stored sugar) there was no point eating too much protein or fat at this time. So here is a list of what I would normally eat:
• 1 cup low fat muesli
• 1 tub low fat yoghurt
• 1 tablespoon of honey drizzled over yoghurt and muesli mix
• Mixed berries stirred through muesli. About ½ to 1 cup of whatever berries were available
• 2-3 thick slices of bread, toasted with jam or honey
• 1 medium banana
• 250-350ml of either apple or orange juice
• 1 espresso
Right now you are probably thinking “That is a lot of food”, and it is! But there is a process here that’s best explained by Daniel:
“Liver glycogen is a very important energy store,” he says. “During a time trial, sugar stored in muscle (muscle glycogen) combined with some external fuel in the form of sports drink or energy gel is what drives performance. However as muscle glycogen becomes depleted the liver is used as an auxiliary energy reservoir.
“Think of the liver as a reserve tank. And it takes a large meal like this to fully load the liver. However there are some side effects which at first glance may seem counterintuitive for an athlete that, three hours from now, is about to perform a maximum effort.
“Aside from feeling unusually full the athlete will also feel tired. We have all had that feeling where, after a large meal, the number one option is to find somewhere quiet and lay down for a while. If the meal had been carbohydrate-based, such as the menu Mick described above, then this lethargy is actually a natural part of the digestion process, forcing us to reduce our energy expenditure post-meal”.
Through experience I agree with what Daniel is saying here. Every time I finished breakfast #2 I would retreat to my room and lay still, sometimes falling asleep for half an hour or so. Of critical importance for me was knowing that this was a natural process and these feelings of fullness would translate into a fully loaded liver by the time I rolled down the start ramp.
Step 3: One hour before the start I would eat again. Even though I had consumed a huge meal two hours earlier, that meal had already done the job of loading my liver and one hour before the start my blood sugar was beginning to drop. I would always be feeling quite good at this point so getting into the habit of eating again when I really wasn’t hungry took some practice.
What I found worked best for me as a blood-sugar-top-up was something like a small banana or one of the many commercial low-GI/low-fat muesli bars that are always in the team bus. Technically speaking this one-hour pre-race snack only needed to provide me with 20 to 30g of slow-release carbohydrate.
It’s important to note that fast-burning carbohydrates like gels and sports drinks are absolutely the wrong thing to have one hour before a time trial. The reason is that some people (and I was one of them) will suffer from rebound hypoglycaemia. Simply put, this is where blood sugar rises too fast and too high, triggering the body’s natural response to reduce it.
The net effect is a feeling of tiredness and lethargy right before the warm up. I suffered through this feeling many, many times and it was a simple switch to low-GI vs a high-GI snack that made all the difference.
With my energy levels balanced and hydration carefully managed, I was generally feeling very good. The only thing left to do was get the engine going with a solid warmup.
But I’ll save that for the next instalment …