When competing in sports that require high intensity exercise for a long duration (60 minutes+, such as in a criterium), performance is improved when glycogen stores are full prior to competition. Traditional approaches used to advocate a glycogen depletion period (reducing glycogen stores through training or reduced carbohydrate intake) in the days leading up to competition, followed by a 3 day ‘carb-loading’ period. However, many athletes found this protocol uncomfortable and more recent studies challenged the approach.
Based on more recent evidence, many nutritionists now suggest that a rider should consume 7-10g of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight the day before a race. This could require a 70kg rider to consume 700g of carbohydrate the day before a race.
Individual’s tolerance and requirements may vary according to preference, how you respond on what your level of activity has been leading up to the event, so it’s important to ascertain what works for you and ideally, seek the advice of a qualified nutritionist.
Criteriums are generally only 60 minutes in duration, so there is likely no need to take on additional carbohydrate for the purposes of providing fuel. However, studies have demonstrated that during exercise lasting approximately 1 hour, a mouth rinse containing a small amount of carbohydrate can result in a performance benefit, likely due to its impact on the central nervous system, increasing central drive or motivation. Practically, a rider could mix up a single bottle with a dilute carbohydrate solution (30g of maltodextrin powder in 500ml of water), take a swig and rinse it around their mouth for 5 seconds, once every 5-10 minutes.
What a rider eats after a criterium race depends on how soon they need to ride hard again. If the rider needs to perform at a high level in training or racing the same or next day, it’s important to consume carbohydrate and protein soon after to replenish muscle glycogen stores.
Studies suggest that ingesting protein (0.2-0.4 g.kg) and/or an amino acid mixture (around 9g) with up to 0.8 g/kg carbohydrate accelerates post-exercise muscle glycogen repletion and should have positive effect on subsequent exercise performance (Beelen et al. 2010). Practically, for a 70kg rider, this could translate to a post-race shake containing 28 grams of whey protein and 56 grams of carbohydrate. If you don’t have to train or race hard, soon after, the need to consume protein and carbohydrate immediately after the event is likely less pressing