How to Fuel your Cross Country Race

Your own hydration and nutrition is one of the most controllable elements of an XC race, so what should you do?

Beau Smith
By Beau Smith


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Optimising your hydration and nutrition around a cross country race helps ensure you’re able to perform to your best, and the VOOM range provides some easy and effective ways to do so. Whether you’re battling it out at the front of the field, fighting for scoring positions for the club, or just getting round your first cross country event, nailing your hydration and nutrition should be a priority.



What should I eat before a race?


You should aim to consume your pre-race meal 3-4 hours prior to running in order to give adequate time for digestion. Aim for a meal that is high in carbs, relatively low fat, low fibre and you should certainly avoid greasy, fatty foods as these will take much longer to digest.


 A bowl of porridge on table beside a caffeine energy bar from VOOM.



Directly before the race, say 45 - 60 minutes before the start, an energy snack can top up carbohydrate stores and elevate blood glucose. The VOOM Pocket Rocket range is perfect here as you can easily dose how many grams of carbs you take as the bar is in 4 chunks. We recommend the Beta Blast; in addition to the carbs to boost blood glucose it also contains beta alanine which elevates muscle carnosine levels, in turn buffering against lactic acid build up allowing you to push harder for longer! A full bar also contains 150mg of caffeine so you’re alert and ready to race. You may wish to take on 1-2 pieces of the Beta Blast bar before warming up, and another 1-2 pieces between warm up and race start.





How much should I drink?


It’s important to make sure you’re hydrated before any race - we’ve heard so many times how a relatively minor 5% level of dehydration can cause a whopping 10% drop in performance.


How much to drink varies greatly depending on body size, individual sweat rate, weather conditions, clothing choices and more, but we know the body can lose up to 1 - 2 litres of sweat per hour during intense exercise!


To maintain hydration you should aim to keep sipping 2-3 litres of fluid the day before racing, aiming to avoid feeling thirsty, a reflex which is usually triggered at around 1% dehydration.


Female cross country runners stood on the starting line before an xc race



If you’re worried you may still be a little dehydrated before racing the fastest possible hydration will come from a hypotonic drink containing both electrolytes and some glucose. This mix will trigger co-transport of sodium and glucose molecules, speeding up absorption from the digestive tract into the body.


We recommend you aim to drink 500 - 800ml of fluid in the 2 hours preceding the race, ideally containing electrolytes too. In cold conditions you will likely sweat more than you realise as you;re layered up against the weather, particularly during your warm up so bear this in mind whilst trying to maintain hydration.


An off road runner wearing a hat warming up for a cross country race




Do I need to take on energy during a Cross Country race?


Typically senior cross country races in the UK range from 7 to 12 km so even at the upper end you shouldn’t really need to replenish glycogen during the race. The body’s glycogen stores carry enough carbohydrate to fuel up to around 2 hours of exercise so for that reason you won’t need to top up whilst running cross country. Additionally, even if you did take on some energy part way through, the relatively short duration of the event means you’re unlikely to see much of a response in blood glucose levels before its time to finish anyway!



What should I eat after an XC race?


Post-race nutrition is very important, and if you’re keen to be running again the following day it’s as important as pre-race nutrition. It’s very easy to celebrate after the race by grabbing the nearest snacks and a beer but that certainly won’t aid muscle recovery.

Research has shown the body is most receptive to absorbing nutrients in the immediate 30 minutes after so if you can take on something in that time frame you’ll put yourself in the best place to maximise recovery. The two key macronutrients you want to get on board are carbohydrates, to replenish muscle and liver glycogen stores, and protein to repair and rebuild muscle tissue.


A muddy xc course through the trees



Whilst many think protein is the important one, consuming carbohydrates with your protein actually enhances uptake of amino acids. An optimal ratio of carbs to protein has been shown to be around 3:1; this ratio improves uptake of nutrients and causes an insulin spike which helps replenish glycogen stores more quickly.


The VOOM Protein RecoverFudge is a really easy on-the-go option here with 10g of protein to repair muscles and the optimal 3:1 ratio to expedite glycogen replacement. If you don’t have access to RecoverFudge but can get to a local shop then chocolate milk is another good option with protein and carbs as well as calcium to replenish some of the electrolytes lost through sweat.




It’s also important to take on fluids post race as you’ll have likely sweated more than you realise during the race. In addition to just water the trick here really is to ensure you’re taking on electrolytes to speed up the rehydration process and restore the body’s natural electrolyte balance.


A full and well balanced meal within 2 - 3 hours of the event is also recommended. This helps continue the recovery process and maintain the body which will still be operating at an increased metabolic rate in response to the exercise. The meal should aim to include a balance of high carbs, moderate protein and some fats.


Good luck and enjoy the mud!




VOOM's range of sports nutrition products superimposed on a range of hills with the words Explore the VOOM range.


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