Chasing Ventoux: Rouleur's 3-month training plan – Part three

Our man Marcus Leach’s journey to Haute Ventoux (1-3 October 2021) continues apace. But it’s not all about the training. Recently, he’s served up peak performance thanks to becoming an expert on optimal fuelling…

I wouldn’t have imagined that training for Haute Route Ventoux would have required me to develop such a detailed scientific knowledge of the intricacies of what I eat, not to mention when I do so, and how it impacts my performance on the bike. Committing to an intense three-month training plan would, I knew, come with some tough demands on me physically. After all you don’t get fit to take on multiple ascents of a hors catégorie climb without plenty of suffering in advance. What I hadn’t expected, though, was the additional diploma in sports science and nutrition. 

Not that I’m complaining about the bonus educational aspect of the process. It’s been truly fascinating gaining such a detailed insight into the role of nutrition in my quest to arrive in France the fittest, lightest and strongest that I’ve ever been. Even now, six weeks in, my weight and body fat are down, my power is up and, above all else, I feel far stronger on the bike, and that is in no small part due to the focus on – and refinement of – my nutrition, ensuring I go into every training session optimally fuelled. 

Rouleur's 3 month training plan – Part One

Rouleur's 3 month training plan – Part Two

Cutting-edge Fuelling

We’ve all heard the old adage ‘you are what you eat’, and thus try to focus on consuming a well-balanced and varied diet full of fresh produce and good-quality protein sources, or at least that’s been my approach in the past, coupled with hydration and plentiful sleep. Yet, as I’ve learnt in recent weeks, thanks to the data provided by Supersapiens and expert knowledge of sports scientist Daniel Healey, when you’re chasing optimal performance, as many of us are, the ‘healthy, balanced diet’ approach alone is not good enough. 

Just because your food looks like it ticks all of the boxes on the health front, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for maintaining a steady blood-glucose level, which not only has a negative impact on health, but fitness on the bike as well. Until I began training with a Supersapiens continuous glucose monitoring disc, I was oblivious to all of this, and it’s only been recently, thanks to the data provided by said disc, that I’ve become acutely aware of the need to avoid sudden spikes and drops in my blood glucose. 

Related: The game-changer, continuous glucose monitoring

“When you have these peaks and troughs in blood sugar it accelerates oxidative stress but, more pertinent to optimal performance, it leads to mitochondrial dysfunction,” explains Healey. “Mitochondria are little energy-producing power stations that sit within muscle. When you’re pushing the pedals that’s where the energy comes from. The reason you do base training is largely a story of mitochondrial proliferation. You want as many of these biological power units as possible before adding strength, power and speed into the training mix. But as the mitochondrial lifecycle is finite, you must repopulate on an ongoing basis. This is the reason why all rider types – sprinters, climbers, time trialists and rouleurs – complete moderate-intensity long rides throughout the entire road cycling season.

“It could be tempting to do eight weeks of long rides, raise your population of mitochondria then dive into three months of intense efforts – threshold and above – never to do a long ride again. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, and it’s because mitochondria don’t really like what happens as a result of high-intensity intervals. So, you’ve got to plan your training programme in such a way that you can do some high intensity as you get closer to a pinnacle event while long slow rides are blended into the mix. The proportion of long-slow (VO2) vs short-hard (VLamax) will depend upon your goals, genetics and time available to train.

Related – What is Supersapiens?

 “In other words, you can undo all your base fitness and your big engine by having these peaks and troughs in blood sugar, which is why using continuous glucose monitoring is so important in helping understand how your body interprets and processes the food that you give it at that time. Not only that, but the peaks and troughs have an impact on health, and when health’s not running in the right direction performance declines.”

Rouleur 3-month training plan

Week five

Monday Rest Day
Tuesday 60 mins riding, including 15 mins @ zone 2 and 30 mins SST (Sweetspot training, 88-94% FTP) – flat terrain – TSS 85.0
Wednesday 90 mins riding, including 1 x 8 mins @ zone 2 – flat terrain – TSS 110.0
Thursday
75 mins riding, including 2 x 20 mins SST and 1 x 20 mins @ FTP (functional threshold power) TSS 120.0

Friday

Rest Day
Saturday 90 mins riding, including 3 x 5 mins sprints at the end of the ride – flat terrain – TSS 95.0
Sunday 105 mins ride, including 2 x 20 mins @ FTP – flat terrain – TSS 140.0

Week six

Monday Rest Day
Tuesday 60 mins riding, including 15 mins @ zone 2 and 30 mins SST (Sweetspot training, 88-94% FTP) – flat terrain – TSS 85.0
Wednesday
90 mins riding, including 1 x 8 mins @ zone 2 – flat terrain – TSS 110.0
Thursday 75 mins riding, including 2 x 20 mins SST and 1 x 20 mins @ FTP (functional threshold power)

Friday

Rest Day
Saturday
90 mins riding, including 3 x 5 mins sprints at the end of the ride – flat terrain – TSS 95.0
Sunday 105 mins ride, including 2 x 20 mins @ FTP – flat terrain – TSS 140.0

For week 1-2 read Part One.

For week 2-4, read Part Two.

Timing of Fuelling is Key

It was understanding this that rapidly changed my approach to nutrition, not to mention elevate its importance as a key component of optimal sporting performance. Whilst my physical training has the greatest potential to increase athletic performance, I now understand how the intricacies around both timing and composition of meals, in terms of the balance between protein, carbohydrates and fats, can help unlock optimal performance. In the same way that I keep a close eye on power during my rides, ensuring I’m training in a way that’ll bring about the required physiological adaptations, I now find myself giving the same due care and attention to my blood glucose levels, both on and off the bike. 

“I think the biggest problem most athletes face is that they’re not eating and drinking enough on the bike,” Olympic gold medalist Lisa Brennauer tells me, further validating my own learnings and recent adjustments to nutrition. “On the bike I’m always trying to have stable glucose levels, so I focus on eating more rather than less.

“I didn’t always put such a big focus into nutrition, but slowly and surely I’ve begun to understand how much of a difference the right nutrition makes and how important it is, not just with regards to my health, but my performance on the bike, too.” 

More Energy, Faster Recovery

From a practical point of view I’ve already noticed the benefits of refining what was already a healthy diet, to one that is now optimised for peak athletic performance. Not only do I feel noticeably more energised on the bike, I’m enjoying quicker recovery periods, which is particularly helpful at a time where the demands of my training are increasing, as well as the aforementioned drop in weight and body fat, which will be hugely beneficial come October when the serious climbing begins. 

In the kitchen it’s meant breaking some old routines. Gone is my beloved breakfast of oats with raisins and grated carrot (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it), and in its place is a mix of oats, wheat bran, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and blueberries. This combination of foods and macronutrients ensures that my blood glucose rises steadily in the period after eating, before a slow decrease, and thus avoiding the spikes and troughs that I now know can be so detrimental to health and sporting performance. 

As with any worthwhile process there’s an initial investment of time when using continuous blood glucose monitoring, but in the space of about two weeks, where there is a lot of trial and refinement, you reach a point where you have a blueprint for optimal nutrition. The next phase for me is to finesse my on-the-bike fuelling strategy, which is the part I’m most excited about as I feel it’ll be the area where I notice the biggest performance advantages. Slowly but surely all of the pieces are falling into place and, as they do, the level of excitement for Haute Route Ventoux gradually builds.