Cyclocross Basics: Race Day Nutrition

Here’s another frequently asked cyclocross question: What the heck do I eat on race day and when do I eat it?

This is something that you have to play with a little to find out what works for your specific body, but there are a few general guidelines that will help:

  1. Your last full meal should be consumed about 3 hours before your race (any closer and you’ll still be digesting when the gun goes off which doesn’t feel so nice, believe me.)
  2. Take in some kind of synthetic or easily digestible carbs in the hour prior to your race. This is one of the pieces that can be pretty personal. See my pre-race schedule below for examples.
  3. Eat something for recovery as soon as possible after your race. Ideally, this would be a recovery drink within 15 minutes followed by some real food. It can be very uncomfortable to eat after a race, but I’m pretty diligent about choking it down – I find it really makes a difference for how I feel later that night and also for recovery from the effort.

What It Looks Like For Me

I usually race at 2:00pm and this is what I do:

7:00am: Steel cut oats, 1 egg, spinach.

11:00am: Either PBJ or Oatmeal with brown sugar and dates (if the Bob’s Red Mill crew is out at the race serving it up free!)

1:00pm-2:00pm: Three Clif Shots or a Gu + about a half bottle of water max (100-ish easily digestible calories) while I am on the trainer. Many recommend sipping a calorie/electrolyte drink during this time instead of water, but I have found that it consistently comes back to haunt me. Right at 1:00pm I usually also take some Sport Legs (these work better for me than Hammer’s version, but you have to figure that out for yourself) and wash them back with a Red Bull.

On the line: As long as my stomach’s ok, I’ll eat another Gu or a couple shot blocks on the line before the gun. I keep this little pre-race hit tucked into the leg of my skinsuit. If someone’s around with a water bottle, I’ll have a little splash and then… GO TIME!

Post-race: After I stop vomiting (only sort of kidding), I drink water and try to drink a recovery drink within 15 minutes. Something like Hammer Recoverite works fine. After I clean up and change clothes, I’ll knock off a PBJ or maybe a turkey burker if the Portland Velo grill is roaring.

At home: Another complete meal with good carbs (yams, bulgur wheat, soba noodles are some of my faves), lean protein and vegetables.

This isn't going to be pretty. Photo by Tracy Smith.

Whiskey not mentioned above, but sometimes necessary for revival.



11 Responses to “Cyclocross Basics: Race Day Nutrition”

  1. Chr15 says:

    Again Heidi, great to the point info, not overly technical which is spot on for people like me who just want to show up and race.

    Pre race for me it’s oatmeal followed by half a toasted bagel with lashings of jam. Agreed on the ‘scientific carb drinks’ although I find electrolyte only drinks aren’t too bad.

  2. Brandee Dudzic says:

    Nice to finally meet you at upper echelon this morning. I was hoping to! :)

    Brandee Dudzic

  3. Serena says:

    On the line: One additional hint…. if you use embrocation, don’t stick you gel packet into the leg of your shorts for easy access on the line….. you will get more than you bargained for when you rip the top off with your teeth.. if you know what I mean!

  4. Brandee says:

    Next race? Hmm, thats a good question…let me ask you something? I thought the activity was in Hood River this weekend, but now I see something in Eugene too. Is what people choose to race just a personal choice? Are there other reasons why one would choose one race over another?

    • snarkypants says:

      This week we’ve got Eugene on Saturday or Pain on the Peak on Sunday. After you get to know the races, you can pick based on which you like or which might suit your strengths, but you gotta race a season to figure that out.
      Pain on the Peak will be hot, dry, dusty and – basically – miserable. I’m hoping Eugene is a little kinder and heading down that way with a carpool instead.
      Hood River Double Cross is next weekend. The whole schedule is here: don’t miss Barlow! :)

  5. Brandee Dudzic says:

    You asked me what’s next for me last week…………well let me tell you girlie.
    I just did Psycho Cross on Saturday AND Pain and Suffer’n yesterday. (newbie overachiever. probably classic mistake?)

    Anyways, you passed me in Eugene and I said “Nice work Heidi.”

    I look forward to getting much better at this! Its really hard to be new at such a thing like cross. I mean, it happens to all of us, but what a strange thing to get off your bike and jump over stuff!

    I wonder how long it took you to master this stuff? After seeing the any of the A’s and B’s go over things, I can hardly imagine them being so awkward!

  6. snarkypants says:


    In my opinion, you can’t really race too much when you’re starting out (unless you do so much that you burn out – it IS a long season and hard on the body, mind and bike). But it’s the best way to practice and learn – no matter what you do, you really can’t mimic race-day in training.

    Psycho Cross was technical (thanks for saying nice work to me – you couldn’t see me, but it actually made me smile!) so that was good skills practice. I couldn’t make it to Pain, but I have raced it in the past and remember it being a lung-burner :) so I imagine you got a hell of a workout there. Both days were HOT HOT HOT, so I’m sure your body is thrashed – take good care today and tomorrow to hydrate and rest!

    I raced 3 times in 2006, kind of dipping my toe in the water. Then in 2007 I did my first full season and started to get the hang of it. I practiced skills a lot, because I wasn’t a very good pedal-er but I’m a decent athlete and I figured I needed all the help I could get through the technical sections. I remember the A racers lapping me and how fast and smooth they would go through everything – really amazing!

    It will come for you, but it takes time. Four years later and I’m still doing skill practice once a week and still have a ton to learn. The hardest lesson for me to learn about cycling is how long it really takes to start doing it well – and how patient you have to be with yourself as you come along. It was really frustrating for me when I started out! SO just stay patient and keep racing… when you have a moment and something just “clicks” (like the remount or a smooth run through the barriers) it’s the best feeling!

  7. Jade says:

    You forgot one thing: shot of whiskey!! :P