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A nutrition plan for Dirty Kanza

Two-time champion of the 200-mile gravel race, Amanda Nauman, presents fuelling strategies for the big event

Nutrition Plan Dirty Kanza

by Craig Richey

Nutrition Plan Dirty Kanza
Ahead of the 200-mile Dirty Kanza gravel race, Craig Richey tests the grub that will fuel is ride. Image: Connor Macleod

Dirty Kanza is on Saturday.  I’ll be going to the race with the fitness I have. The one thing I can do to help my chances for success is to make sure my nutrition plan is dialed. In the past, I’ve rarely consumed any food and only drunk water on all rides less than three hours. This spring, I have been consciously eating and drinking more while out riding to get used to consuming and absorbing more calories on the bike. I have also been experimenting with different foods. For Dirty Kanza, I have a plan for a couple bars, a tube of Clif Shot Bloks and a peanut-butter-and-jam sandwich on whole-wheat bread at each feed zone. For drink mix, I am going to alternate between Skratch Labs raspberry and orange flavour mixes. I am also worried about overheating and will be freezing, or at least filling with ice, the bladders on my Camelbak Chase vests, which have no insulation between the bladder and my back.

A few weeks ago, I sent some questions to two-time Dirty Kanza champion and Easton Cycling athlete Amanda Nauman for some further DK200 nutrition advice. She suggested salty chips late in the race and fuel availability in different places—both things I hadn’t considered. I tired eating chips on my commute home from work before doing intervals on Mount Seymour. They sat with me decently well so I will have chips in my pack at the final feed zone. For a food availability on my top tube, I am going to break Amanda’s biggest rule: I’ll use a Dark Speed Works top-tube bag for the first time at the race. Actually, I’ll try the bag the day before the race, so I’m only breaking her rule (see below) partially.

How much do you eat? When? How do you carry your fuel? It seems like riders are using bento box-style holders mounted behind the stem.

Fuelling is specific to each rider. My rule of thumb is anywhere from 25–35 per cent of the kilojoule expenditure for the day is what dictates how much and how often I’m eating. Riding with the Easton Cinch power meter allows me to track my kilojoules throughout the day and make sure that I’m consuming enough to match what I’m burning. That’s the easiest way to explain how I’m doing the math each hour and keeping track of the calories going in.

I carry fuel in three different places: on the Orange Mud hydration pack, in my back jersey pockets and in my Dark Speed Works top-tube bag. These places need to be easy to access on the rugged terrain. The harder it is to reach for nutrition, the less likely you’re going to consume it at appropriate times.

What types of food do you eat? And when? Do you change up the food as the race goes on or stick to a consistent fuel plan?

This is another item that’s specific to each rider. For me, the fuel is higher in carbohydrates and includes a mix of liquid calories and solid food. With no allegiance to one nutrition sponsor, I’m free to eat and drink whatever suits my gut. I’ve tested plenty of options during the past few years. My recent options include things such as flasks of maple syrup, hydration mix, electrolyte tabs and energy bars.

As the race goes on I give, myself some backup options of food that contains salt or higher sodium, just in case my stomach retaliates against all the high sugar content. For example, I put a bag of potato chips at the third checkpoint at the Michigan Coast to Coast race because I knew I’d be craving something salty and crunchy at that point.

How does your fuel plan differ from what you would do for a more common 100-mile (five to six hour) gravel race?

It honestly doesn’t change that much hour to hour, but the volume is more than doubled. My Land Run 100 nutrition plan contains the exact same food and liquids that I’ll consume at Dirty Kanza this year in the first five to six hours. But there’s just quite a bit more after that. I’ll also include some extra options, such as the higher-sodium choices I mentioned.

Dirty Kanza equipment test
Craig Richey rides with a Camelbak Chase vest. It’s not only essential to test fuel options before race day, but equipment, too. Image: Matt Lazzarotto

How long do you plan on spending in each feed zone? How do you get refuel, stuffing pockets or grabbing a freshly loaded pack?

Less than five minutes. Checkpoint strategy includes a quick bike check, so I typically hand the bike off and then deal with bottles, hydration packs and food choices. I grab a new hydration pack, one to two bottles, and whatever additional food I need. This year my hydration packs from Orange Mud have nifty pockets at the chest where I will probably pre-load the nutrition so I don’t have to worry about it.

What are some of the weird food choices that seem to work for other top riders?

High-sodium foods later in the day. I’ve heard of ham sandwiches, mustard, pickles, deli meat, jerky, anything with a high sodium content. Your body will eventually tell you what it wants, so be sure to give yourself something salty or vinegar-y at that third checkpoint, just in case.

What is the biggest nutrition or fuelling mistake you’ve made? Or what’s the biggest mistake you’ve seen another rider make?

My biggest rule, and one that Carmichael Training Systems preaches is “nothing new on race day.” Don’t try anything new. The past couple months of training should include all your nutrition-plan “maybes.” Test out everything you can see yourself wanting to implement on race day. Make sure your gut can handle it. Most gastrointestinal (GI) distress problems arise from throwing a wrench at your stomach that you haven’t done before. Just because a Coke at the third checkpoint might sound phenomenal doesn’t mean you should grab and chug it. There’s a chance your stomach will revolt with everything else you’ve put in there. If you’re reading this and it sounds like a delicious option, just make sure you throw a Coke in your back pocket on a long training ride and see what your stomach does after drinking it a few hours into the ride. Nevertheless, stick to your plan and make sure your stomach is happy throughout the day.

Craig Richey and Amanda Nauman will take on Dirty Kanza on Saturday. Follow Richey on Instagram at @craigrichey and @eastoncycling for more. Also, follow Nauman at @amanda_panda_.