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Cyclocross Hacks - Fueling

So you're not the most fit or most technically skilled rider at the races. That's ok, as long as you know what kind of rider you are, then you are just fine. Focusing on your strengths and using them to their utmost is the first priority. Improving on your weakenesses will occur naturally if you continually practice as well as put yourself into all out race scenarios where it is do or die. The body has a funny way of adapting itself when put under severe pressure. I'm not going to go into great detail on how to make you "more fit" or "more technically skilled". That's something a good coach can help you with by working on a one to one basis (cough cough...TCF). What I want to do today is to give you some down and dirty fueling tips that we feel if implemented can help you get closer to the race you want to have.

Proper Fueling

Sure, CX races are short. Ranging from 30 to 60 mintues, it is a very unlikely that nutrition and hydration is going to be the sole factor in you not finishing your race. However, it can ABSOLUTELY be the reason you do not finish where you want to. That is a very important distinction. As such, starting with the week of the race you should figure out at what time of day your race will start. If you're racing at 8:00am as opposed to 1:30pm, you're plan is going to be very different. In either case, if you want optimal performance at your race because it MATTERS to you then it's going to start with dinner the night before. Don't go out and crush chicken wings and beers. Stick to simple foods like rice, eggs, chicken and stuff you know that isn't going to put unwanted stress on your GI system. I know, I know it's a 45 minute race...but it's 45 mintues at an ALL OUT intensity from the gun and I don't know what else puts more stress on the gut than that! So be smart with dinner the night before, you should also be drinking plenty of water the day before, perhaps even a nice bottle of sports drink at some point (you don't need to be training to drink one of those). Basically bringing all your stores up to full capacity.

Moving on, race morning breakfast and pre-race foods will be dictated by start time. So if your wake up is at 7am and your race is at 2pm then you're going to want to eat a light breakfast (your choice here, aim for 100-150g of CHO, even 200 if you're a bigger dude overall and NO FAT). If your race is at 10am you'd move into pre-race fueling right away and not have that "typical breakfast". The moral of the story here is that you want to begin optimal pre-race fueling around 2-2.5 hours before the start. I am now going to give you a sercret that is worth its weight in gold (as well as an alternative), you make the choice on what you feel is best for you. I will simply lay it out.

2 - 2.5 hours before race starts:

  • Pre-Race Fueling Option 1: (The TCF Gold Standard)
    • 1.5 - 2 cups of Natural (Unsweetened) Applesauce - Trust us on this one, many reasons why we choose appleasuce. You can even sprinkle with salt.
    • 1 scoop of whey protein (or insert your favorite alternatie - hemp, pea, etc)
    • 1 Banana
    • 1 Bottle of Sportsdrink (ie. a sportsbottle with ~60 carbohydrate's from your favorite drink) + ensure adequate amount of sodium in this as if not, add it!
  • Pre-Race Fueling Option 2: (The "on the go" or "i don't like applesauce option")
    • Banana, Bagel, Clif Builders Bar or Nature Valley Granola Bar. Obviosuly you can substitute a lot of granola bar type options here, but the idea is to get in a good chunck of carbs via solid food source that is easily digested.
    • Sports drink. Like I said, a bottle of your preffered sports drink is ideal. However, if you're on the road or rushing to the venue a 24 or 32oz Gatorade will do the trick.
    • Protein Shake if possible. Lots of gas stations have muscle milk these days, drink like 1/2 of one of those and you'll be all set.

1.5 - 30 minutes before race start:

  • Sip on another sports drink bottle. Aim to have drank 2-3 bottles before the race, and the goal would be to relieve yourself fully with 10-15 minutes to go before race start. Getting this much fluid in is one of the key components to our pre-CX fueling plan. During cyclocross races there simply isn't the time or opportunity to be drinking from a bottle or taking a gel. Instead you need to come into the start of the race fully loaded, knowing that all you will be doing is depleting your stores once the gun goes off...and don't worry about thinking you'll have to pee during the race. As long as you're getting the flow going during the 15-30 minutes before the start, you'll be fine. Once the race starts it will be so intense and hard that you're body will shut off the "i gotta go pee" part of your brain. Bottom line, those that come into it fully hydrated will be able to draw on that reserve to its fullest during the 30-60 minutes of racing. `

30 minutes before race start:

  • Take a caffeinated gel. Depending on your tolerance a 50-100mg gel will do the trick. It is imporant here to get the caffeine in anywhere from 30-40 minutes pre-race. This unlike a longer road race where you might wait until mid race due to the fact taht caffeine typically takes about 15-20 minutes to activate and you want that caffeine to be charging your systems up from the gun in 'cross. So, in CX you want the activation to have begun and the additional few minutes for it to really settle in. Plus, if it causes any runs to the bathroom you have enough time to take care of that and make it to call ups on time.
  • Sip on some remaning sports drink as you wait in the staging area. This will give you the last bit of hydration you need as well as alieviate that dry mouth feeling you've got going on because of nerves. Starting a race with cotton mouth (even though properly hydrated) happens and this is a way to help avoid that.

Within 30 minutes of finishing the race:

  • Do yourself and your body a huge favor. Immediately after the race (before going to collect your prizes from a top 3 finish), head to your car or your previsouly stashed clothing pile and grab your recovery drink. This should be a recovery product that meets the requirements of a 3:1 or 4:1 carb to protein ratio. Try to get that in as quickly as you can after the finish, then spin the legs out a little. Those two things in combination can really help you bounce back for the second race of the weekend the next day or simply for the next training ride.

Bottom line, do the little things that take some effort. If you consistently do them you will ensure that you are properly prepared for the effort you have in front of you. It's also very likely that you will be more prepared than your competitors. This very much comes into play when all things equal those competitors are just as fast as you technically and are on the same level of fitness. Thus, fueling becomes the 1% that might get you across that line ahead of them.

Thanks for your time and check back again for next week's tip!

-Matt Curbeau

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