Training – Stacking the odds

Achieving a personal best means making everything happen right at the same time. Joe Beer tells you how to peak by planning and not just happy coincidence...Stacking is about bringing all the factors of your riding capabilities together.

You need to 'stack' to hit peak performance

Achieving a personal best means making everything happen right at the same time. Joe Beer tells you how to peak by planning and not just happy coincidence…


Stacking is about bringing all the factors of your riding capabilities together – both preparation and execution of performance – to create a personal best. It’s about careful planning and making smart decisions, not a rabbit’s foot. Here’s just a brief glimpse into how combining even a few factors can result in a peak performance. Get ready to stack…

Every act ‘stacks’ on top of the last to make you move closer to your

A great example of the stacking effect, combining the benefits of training and sports nutrition, can be seen
from Australian research into interval training with, and without colostrum supplementation [1]. Cyclists used either 10g a day of colostrums or placebo during a nine-week period, split as five weeks normal training; performance testing; five-days of high-intensity training; then more performance testing. The placebo group trained hard over the study, but it was the training plus colostrum ‘stacked’ athletes that got the most out of it: 2 per cent better 40k TT times, without the negative changes in cardiovascular parameters, which the placebo group suffered from.

Similarly, a soon-to-be-published study by a UK nutrition manufacturer shows that specific timing of supplements in athletes training hard can stop negative drops in testosterone and improve daily recovery. Well-designed and administered recovery drinks can help a lot when you hit the body hard and want it to adapt faster by accelerating recovery [2,3].

Imagine if almost everything you did worked in a positive way to make you ride faster. Every session has a part to play, either stressing the body, helping recovery or refining your skills or techniques. Every act stacks on top of the last to make you move closer to your best. Professionals may be those with good genetics, but more importantly every facet of their life is designed to make them the best they can be. Such focus may be difficult for amateurs, although almost everyone should be able to find elements of their lives that can be brought in line with achieving their goals.


Always include a taper up to that all important event, where you reduce the quantity of your training to boost the body’s reserves for the big day. It’s a small but crucial part of the PB stack. Canadian research suggests tapering is better when reducing the duration of sessions as the event approaches, but maintaining the intensity [4]. Trained riders (with a VO2max of were able to ride 170 seconds (4%) faster when tapering like this.

Importantly, type-II muscle fibres (fast- twitch muscles that are most important for powerful, high-intensity efforts) showed significantly increased cross-sectional area and quantity of enzymes during this higher intensity taper than with other methods [4]. Your plan to peak at an event must therefore consider training in the last few days, so it can stack some extra 10 to 12 per cent more power in the engine room.

The rugby coach Clive Woodward has said pro-athletes must look for one per cent improvements in several areas. But it’s clear that amateurs, as they start at a lower level, have potentially got even more to gain by stacking several new areas of ergogenic benefit on top of one another.

Techno advantage

If you’re intending to ride 50 miles or more as your peak time trial event, nutrition intake during the ride is vital to success. Latest aero research suggests you have two options if you want to be super aero. But each has its pros and cons to weigh up:

Bladder under skinsuit: eg, Camelbak Aeroform Camel clip (£24) Pro: Super-aero and hands-free drinking when set up right with the nozzle right next to the mouth Con: Liquids will get warmed by body heat and can make the back feel clammy

Handlebar-mounted aero bottle: eg, Profile Aero drink system (£15) Pro: More aero than frame-mounted bottles and hands-free, easy to sip, plus they can be easily re-filled using handed-up bottles Con: Can make front end of bike twitchy

The drink system example above is just one element in one particular event. Each event will present a set of decisions you need to consider. But do your analysis right and, as many research papers across all areas have found, you could save seconds, even minutes over longer TTs.

But stacking is not one single act; a big change that will have an immediate effect on your results. Look at what the best riders do and try to mimic their good practices, such as warming up, using aero equipment, keeping focused and having a game plan for every event.

Stacking is a studious look at all areas of your training (mental and physical), nutrition (training and racing), technology, plus the logistics of event peaking. Personal Bests become harder and harder to beat but they are rarely impossible, even older riders with new technologies can be clocking all-time bests. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to search for the elements for your ‘stacking’ that will combine to bring about the fall of your PB and the setting of a new one. Good luck. Start planning success. Joe Beer


[1] Shing, C.M. et al (2006) The influence of bovine colostrums on exercise performance in highly trained cyclists. Brit. J. Sports Med. 40: 797-801.

[2] Ivy, J. et al (2002) Early post-exercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement. J. Appl. Physiol. 93: 1337-1344.

[3] Zawadski, K.M. et al (1992) Carbohydrate-protein complex increases the rate of muscle glycogen storage after exercise. J. Appl. Physiol. 72(5): p.1854-1859.


[4] Neary, J.P. et al (2003) Effects of taper on endurance cycling capacity and single muscle fibre properties. Med. Sci Sport Exerc. 35(11): 1875-1881.

The logistics of riding a Personal Best

– Work out a series of 5 to 10 building events prior to your planned peak period, which may be one or a series of races that you can hit in peak form.

– Try to ride the planned peak event(s) course(s) so you know the route, race conditions and distances from HQ to the start.

– If you need people to ‘hand-up’ or drive you to the event, get them signed up and committed weeks in advance.

– Refine your position to suit the event and ensure equipment makes the most of the watts you are going to produce. Time trial priorities are low-body position, aero helmet, aero front wheel, fork and bars, plus a tight skinsuit.

– Have the bike checked over (or do it yourself) three to five days before the event to have time to replace or mend things.

– Get nutrition, equipment, breakfast foods and travel details ready 24 to 48 hours beforehand. This reduces wasted energy and frees up more time to concentrate on delivering your best performance ever on competition day.

– Leave home with extra time in the bank rather than have to speed your way to the start, arriving stressed and unfocused.

– Leave nothing to chance: have back-up wheels – borrow from friends if need be. If you are intending on riding to heart rate, take a spare HRM and belt.

– Warm up and get to the start with a few minutes to spare. If you do have time relax, think through the ride ahead and imagine: ‘calm before the storm’.