Nutrition for Cyclocross Racing

Nutrition for cyclocross racing can be challenging given the high-intensity nature of cyclocross races. Nutrition mistakes during and around cyclocross racing are one of the most common ways to sabotage your form on race days this fall. You’ve put the training time in, your tires and bikes are here’s how you can avoid blowing your hard work by making common nutritional mistakes.

Monday - Friday:

If you are racing cyclocross on Saturday and Sunday for consecutive weeks, the bulk of your training during the week will be focused on recovery and secondly, on getting your engine ready to run high-octane on the weekend. Due to the intensity of cyclocross, your first focus after a race weekend should be finding the right amount of carbohydrate to recover and maintain muscle glycogen. We recommend doing this by consistently maintaining moderate carbohydrate intake during the week.

  • Avoid cramming all your carbs into the “oh shit I’m racing cyclocross tomorrow” Friday night meal. NEVER eat 500 grams of carbohydrate in one sitting, your body is only able to store a finite amount of carbohydrate as muscle glycogen after that carbohydrate will be stored as fat. 
FasCat Recommends: choose low-glycemic and ideally gluten-free carbohydrate sources (like rice and quinoa) for midweek meals to avoid spiking blood sugar and inflammatory foods like white pasta and bread.
  • Don’t skimp on the carbs. Cyclocross racers frequently train, warm-up and race at high intensity. It’s easy to view the stress you’re putting on your body as “puffy-ness”, but before you cut carbs altogether, remember that you’re recovering from exercise that drains muscle glycogen at a much higher rate than other endurance events.
FasCat Recommends

: Find a diet that works and stick to it. Puffy-ness will come and go, but it’s important to have patience and set vanity aside in favor of optimizing nutrition for recovery and then racing.

  • Skip the spicy foods too close to race weekends. We’re huge fans of hot-sauce and ordering Thai food that’s way too spicy to enjoy, but we’re not making that call on Thursday or Friday evening.

FasCat Recommends: Your best option is going “full monk” and sticking to the most boring diet you can think of during cyclocross season…but if you absolutely MUST eat a spicy meal, do it early in the week.

Race Days:

If you’ve had solid recovery early in the week and maintained some intensity midweek, you should be building on the form that you’ve built in the summer and from previous races. Having a week that sets you up for racing on Saturday and Sunday is tough...don’t blow it by making a dietary mistake.

  • Timing is everything. Not eating enough and/or not timing your pre-race meal correctly is a common mistake for cyclocross racers. Many athletes experience terrible stomach cramps during and after cyclocross races. This is commonly referred to as “cross-gut”, but this can happen for a variety of reasons, all of which are individual to the athlete.
FasCat Recommends

: Part of your journey to being on the podium every week is figuring out what foods do and do not work for you on race day. Racers who’ve put in the “10,000 hours” already have this figured out. If you’re on the way to that level, the best thing you can do is record what you ate on race day and when you ate it. We recommend a small to medium portioned carbohydrate meal 3 - 4 hours prior to your race start. After the race, add to those notes and over a season you may see patterns develop. Follow the good patterns with diet, abandon the bad ones, but give it time.

  • You ate something during your race. The truth is that your body is pretty inefficient - after digesting foods, you’ll only be able to utilize around 25% of the calories you intake. This means that if you consume 100 calories during a cyclocross race, you’ll only be able to use 25 of them...and only AFTER you digest the calories.
FasCat Recommends

: Many cyclocross racers carry one gel with caffeine as an emergency backup during races. You may get through the first 30 minutes of a race feeling flat, if you can find a gel that works well with your stomach during intensity, this may benefit you during the last few laps of a race. It is also important to remember that carbohydrate intake takes 15 - 30 minutes. Anything you eat in the 2nd half of the race won’t really help glycogen depleted muscles during your race.

  • Eating the wrong stuff immediately after your race. As much as we like to bro-down after races, drinking that IPA right after your race is never going help recovery as much as something without alcohol! Finish your race and drink a mexican coke, have a hot chocolate. ~150-200 calories will cover your needs at this point. 30-45 minutes later, focus on getting a well-balanced meal that includes 30-40 grams of protein. We like a healthy portion of chicken fried rice or a chicken burrito which is easy to find if you are on the road.
Optimal nutrition for cyclocross racing probably doesn’t sound like a lot of fun at this point, but you’ve done all the hard training, keep your nutrition boring and simple and you’ll reap the reward when you see the results sheet!

About Frank Overton

Frank founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a full time cycling coach since 2004. His educational background includes a Masters degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University, pre-med from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank raced at a professional level on the road and mountain bike and currently competes as a "masters" level gravel and cyclocrosser. Professionally Frank comes from medical school spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology. However, to this day it is a dream come true for Frank to be able to help cyclists as a coach.

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