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Eating before a cyclo-cross race

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Eating before a cyclo-cross race ©Rena Schild Shutterstock

Travelling to the race, the time of the race and the high intensity during the race make it difficult to plan your meals before a cyclo-cross race. You don't want to eat something too close to the race and risk feeling bloated, but you also don't want a poor performance because you've consumed too little.

The evening before a cyclo-cross race you eat as normally as possible

Carbohydrates from potatoes, pasta and rice are fine, but it's not necessary to eat large amounts of carbohydrates the evening before a race. Your body can only store a limited amount of carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. When you have a normal diet your glycogen stores will be fully replenished after a good meal.

Try to avoid large amounts of red meat because it's more difficult for the body to digest. You could better choose easily digestible proteins from fish and chicken. The evening before a race it's also better not to eat large amounts of fibre and don't take highly spiced foods. A glass of wine or a pint of beer will not negatively affect your performance the next day, but stick to one glass.

Avoid eating too late because it might have an impact on your quality of sleep. Hot milk can help you to relax and get you to sleep.

Pay extra attention to your fluid intake

It is better to optimize your fluid intake in the last 24 hours before your race, so you don't have to catch up in the last hours before your race and risk that you have to go to the toilet more than usual. You can optimize your fluid intake by frequently drinking small amounts.

Start your race day with a good breakfast

What you eat on a race day depends on the time the race starts. If your race starts in the morning or at noon it's important to have a good breakfast. You don't have to eat large amounts in the morning, but you also don't want to feel weak and hungry at the start of the race. If your race starts at 13:00 or 14:00, it's possible to have an early lunch after breakfast. Make sure you have taken your last big meal at least two hours before you start, snacks are no problem.

Something that works for one rider might not work for another rider, so before a cyclo-cross take a breakfast that you also take on normal days. A bread meal is enough, but you can also think of porridge, muesli with milk or yoghurt, yoghurt with banana, an omelette, one or two pancakes, or toast with jam. You could also opt for a liquid meal like a milkshake, a yogurt drink or a smoothie with oatmeal.

Choose a light meal for lunch before a cyclo-cross

If the race start early in the afternoon you can take an early lunch after breakfast. You don't need large amounts of food, a light meal is enough. One or two sandwiches with fish or chicken and some vegetables is a good example of a pre-race lunch. It is also possible to add some fruit to your lunch like banana or grapes. Another option is to eat two or three pancakes with a topping, these are easily digestible and can prepared the day before your race.

The final preparations for your race

From the moment you wake up it's important to drink enough, so you are well hydrated before your race. After breakfast it's best to take small sips of an isotonic drink (6-8% carbohydrates with a little salt) to keep you hydrated. Remember to take your bottle with you in the car when you are on your way to the race, and during your pre-race warm-up.

After breakfast or lunch, it's possible to take a small snack, for example, a piece of fruit, a muffin, a cup cake, or a granola bar. After your warm up, about 15-20 minutes before the start, you could take an energy gel, some riders like to take a caffeinated one.

During a cyclo-cross race, which is normally between 30 and 60 minutes, you don't need to eat or drink something. Eating a gel or bar will only distract you from racing.

Start your recovery as soon as possible after a cyclo-cross race

After strenuous exercise it's important to start your recovery as soon as possible. During or after your cool down, you could take a recovery drink containing carbohydrates and proteins. Hot chocolate has been shown to be very effective and it warms you up when temperatures are low.

It would be ideal if you can have a complete meal two to three hours after your race, this can be your lunch or dinner. It's not wise to eat an extra meal between lunch and dinner. If there is too much time between the end of your race and the next meal , you can take a number of smaller snacks containing carbohydrates. A sandwich is a good example of an in between meal snack.

Despite a cyclo-cross is very heavy it doesn't last long. Therefore, there is no need to eat excessive amounts afters a cyclo-cross.

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