Endurance Mountain Biking Nutrition: Interview with Sonya Looney

June 2, 2015

by Drew Zieff
Endurance Mountain Biking Nutrition: Interview with Sonya Looney

From the blustery high plains of the Andes to the unridable mountain passes of the Himalayas, mountain biker Sonya Looney has pedaled to medals. She specializes in endurance events – 100-milers and multi-day stage races – slogs that make even the world’s best mountain bikers muster up all of their mental and physical strength.

We caught up with Sonya in the middle of race season to discuss everything from pre-race fears to post-race nutrition.

Image via Harry Kikstra

Active Junky: How do you devise a strategy in a distance bike race?

Sonya Looney: It depends on the race.  Generally, I look at the course profile and estimate how long it will take (so I know what my nutrition plan should be), the type of terrain I'll encounter, where I think people will naturally slow down (I always try to hammer these sections!), etc. I pick a pace that will be sustainable for the duration of the race, taking into account sections of extra speed.  I also assess if I am fully recovered going into the event, as that will impact how hard I am able to ride. 

Image via Sportograf

AJ: Greatest fear going into a race?

SL: I try not to worry about things I can't control since fear typically stems from the unknown. If I fear anything coming into a race, it's that I won't feel great on race day. It happens – people have bad days. And it’s not the physical aspect of having a bad day that’s the hard part; it's the mental aspect. It's difficult to enjoy a race and have fun when you know you are not riding to your full potential.  I just show up and give it my best effort and that usually helps with the anxiety. 

I have been afraid in some of the more extreme terrain I’ve ridden.  I was afraid when I went to do the first mountain bike race in Haiti, and when I had to hike-a-bike at 18,000' in the Himalayas, but it was still mostly just fear of the unknown.

Image via Harry Kikstra

AJ: What does your nutrition plan look like before, during and after a race?

SL: I usually eat 2 hours before the start. I eat a few pieces of bread with almond butter and jam or honey.  I drink a lot of water in the morning as well.  If it's particularly hot, I take some added electrolytes.

During the race, I use GU Roctane.  I always have one bottle of Roctane with 1.5 scoops in a 24 oz bottle and another 24 oz bottle of water.  I aim to drink one bottle per hour, and more if needed.  I have gel flasks with 5 gels each (Roctane gel) and add water to dilute it and make it easier to ingest.  I also carry a Rodeo Labs bar with me in case I get hungry.  My primary fuel source is sugar, even in endurance races, so the gel works great for me. It also has amino acids to slow muscle breakdown.

After the race, I go for food. I am not a big fan of recovery shakes. I understand why people like them; it's easy and quick access to nutrients, but I prefer whole foods. I’ll eat a Vega protein bar if there is no food available.  I prefer a quinoa or rice base with beans or tofu, veggies, and a tasty sauce.

If you’re looking for more of Sonya’s snacks – Roctane gels and Rodeo Labs bars included – you’re in luck. The Feed offers a customized nutrition box built to Sonya’s specs, so now you can take on 100-mile days (or try) with pro-level fuel. 


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