As a former professional and now a coach I am often asked, “What should I eat before a cyclocross race?” In the past I would always default to what worked best for me, which is as follows. I would always eat a simple, clean and sugar-free meal three hours before a race. This could be some hearty pancakes and fruit, oatmeal with nuts and fruit, or even something as simple as a bowl of rice. I typically had a couple of eggs and a cup of coffee with any of these options, too. If it were a morning race I would wake up and eat three hours before the start. If the race were in the afternoon, I would generally eat a small breakfast and then a larger meal (like one mentioned above) three hours before go time. I would also constantly be sipping on water throughout the day.
I would not eat any more solid food, even gels, before the start. When it was super hot out, I might chug a small bottle of some kind of hydration mix about 30-40 minutes prior to the start. One thing I started to do at some point in my career was consuming caffeine 20-30 minutes before go time. This might be a cup of black coffee or a couple shots of espresso I brought along. I never liked drinking warm coffee on hot race days so one time, going against the rule “don’t try new things on race day,” I experimented with a Rockstar energy drink.
The back-story on this is several years ago I was racing CrossVegas in Las Vegas, Nevada and temps were super hot, even at the 8:00pm start time. It was a night race and I had forgotten to prepare my pre-race coffee. I think hot coffee was not on my mind because it was so warm out. While I was preparing for the race, I looked across the street and saw a convenience store and recalled how a friend of mine always put down a Red Bull before every race. Against better judgment I went over to the store to grab a Red Bull, but they were sol. I bought what I thought was the next best thing. A 16-ounce fruit punch flavored Rockstar. I drank it about 20 minutes before the start, and after a few burps had a pretty good race with no stomach issues. From then on it became my go-to pre-race caffeine source. I never really thought much about it back then, but as I got older and perhaps wiser I analyzed it a bit more. It does have roughly 260 calories, 60 grams of carbohydrates and some B vitamins. Event though I don’t think I needed it, I would bet the added calories have helped me a bit from time to time. I should also mention I have a strong stomach when it comes to eating food while exercising and racing. In my 20-plus years of racing I can’t think of one time when my stomach bothered me during competition.
I told you this story because it’s an example of something I found that works for me. I do not suggest you try new things on race day, like I did in Las Vegas. I got lucky with the Rockstar test, but you might not.
The take home message regarding pre-race nutrition is to try out some different timing and meal options on intense training days well before the season starts. This way you can find out what works best for you. When the season rolls around you should have your race-day nutrition ritual dialed so it’s one less thing you need to worry about!
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