Cyclocross is a weird animal. It’s intense and technically demanding, so you don’t get much chance to consume anything during the race. It’s also short, so heavy carb loading might be overkill.
We tapped the racing-based knowledge of Team Clif Bar / Specialized pro cyclocross racer Todd Wells and nutritionist to the stars Dr. Allen Lim to see what works…
BIKERUMOR: What do you recommend eating the night before a ‘cross race?
LIM: Definitely a carb-heavy meal. Chicken marsala with rice, a salad and a nice bowl of fruit, nuts and yogurt to finish it off.
WELLS: I like to eat something fairly digestible, something like pasta or rice, maybe a little protein, nothing too heavy.
BIKERUMOR: What would you recommend eating for breakfast and leading up to a cyclocross race?
LIM: Big bowl of oatmeal with scrambled or poached eggs and maybe a small glass of freshly squeezed beet juice. If you’re standing around for a few hours before your heat, something like that you can just nibble on like our rice cakes or a peanut butter and jelly tortilla or waffle.
WELLS: I like to eat about 3 hours before a race, and I go with either rice or pasta. It depends on what time you race as well. Some amateurs generally start pretty early in the morning. I like to eat the least amount for a meal, but about an hour before the race I’ll have a Clif Bar and while warming up I’ll drink Clif’s sports drink just to keep topped off. During the race I don’t really eat or drink anything because they’re just not time. If it’s hot, though, and they’re feeding, I might grab a cup of water.
LIM: Ha! That’s a highly volatile and personal question you bring up. Most of the pros I know do…cycling is a coffee culture, you know. Use it too often, though, and it loses its ergogenic effect.
WELLS: I’ll do the Espresso shot maybe 15 minutes before the race. That’s something you need to experiment with, maybe try (caffeine) a little bit further out, especially for the shorter races.
BIKERUMOR: Should you be concerned with trying to eat or drink anything during the race?
LIM: I think it can help, but it’s hard to do. What we’ve been doing with our guys who race ‘cross is giving them a high sodium citrate solution before the race that helps to retain a lot of fluid and creates a lactic acid buffering action. It’s the same thing we use for guys in Time Trials. It’s not recommended for everyday use, only for really, really high intensity events. You’ll feel good for the first ten minutes, but then the pain of ‘cross sets in anyway. (Editor’s note: we’re trying to get a link to how to make this drink from Dr. Lim, will update the post if it comes through.)
WELLS: It depends. If it’s hot, I would drink something. People new to ‘cross are generally only racing about 45 minutes and it’s such an intense effort that it’s hard to get stuff down.
BIKERUMOR: What about after, any particular recovery recommendations?
LIM: Eat something big and delicious right after. Burrito. Chicken fried rice. Get off your feet and take a nap. Doctor’s orders. The best thing you can do for recovery that no one does enough of is sleep more.
WELLS: I feel like after is almost the biggest key to the whole thing, especially for us because we’re usually racing back to back days. The recovery aspect becomes really important. Right after the race, I’ll drink some more of Clif’s sports drink and I feel like I can digest those Bloks right after. Sometimes the effort from the race can really mess with your stomach. Your muscles can recover little bits through the race with the corners, but the overall intensity is up around the anaerobic threshold the entire time (so your stomach can’t). Within an hour and a half I drink some chocolate milk or something.
I also feel like if that’s day one, it’s important to get a good meal with carbs and protein within three hours of finishing. I also try to stay away from salads or roughage between races because they’re hard to digest. Anything you can do that’s easy on your stomach is your biggest asset.
RELATED: Check our interview with Dr. Lim about his Secret Drink Mix here.