Mountain Biking Race Day Nutrition: Eating to fuel great performances.

For a lot of the mountain bike riders I work with, racing season is getting started. While training plays a huge role in how you perform on race day how you fuel up plays a big role as well. How you eat the hundreds of days that you aren’t racing makes the biggest difference but race day nutrition can make or break your performance as well.

Coconut water is fantastic for this because it will provide you with natural sugars and electrolytes, without all the chemicals, etc that come in something like Gatorade.

Making sure that you have the right foods to prepare for, power and then recover from your performance can be the difference between a satisfying weekend and a lot of frustration. One of the riders I train at my facility was going to his first race last weekend and wanted some advice on what to eat on race day to maximize his performance. My wife Kiele (who is the nutrition expert in the family) sent him this email and forwarded it to me so I could share it with everyone here…

Contrary to popular belief, “carb loading” starts about 48 hrs prior to race day. Your dinners should include lean protein (fish, chicken, steak, etc.) with a big salad and as many veggies as you can handle, with some sort of carbs (brown or whole grain rice, whole grain pasta, etc.)

For breakfast, avoid the simple carbs (you should have filled your glycogen stores previously) and go with something with lean protein (eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.) and fruit or veggies. If you do some sort of carbs, make sure they’re complex (like oatmeal or sprouted grain toast or just the fruits and veggies should do). Don’t do carbs in the form of regular bread or cereal.

During the day, have an electrolyte drink handy. Coconut water is fantastic for this because it will provide you with natural sugars and electrolytes, without all the chemicals, etc that come in something like Gatorade.

If you’re not into coconut water, then I’d encourage you to check out your local health food store for something that they carry that provides electrolytes without the additional crap ingredients. Just make sure that you do this several weeks prior to race day, so that you can make sure that it is something that your system agrees with. Nothing like trying something new on race day, only to find out that it doesn’t work, and doesn’t work in the worst possible way…

It’d also be good to have a carb and protein mix like ProGrade Workout to sip on throughout the day as well. Something like vanilla protein powder and oj mixed together, or even Chocolate milk works well for this as well.

That way you’re replacing the glycogen for energy, and protein as well.

As for lunch that can be put into a cooler, I’d say make a protein shake in the morning and drink that. It’ll be lighter on your stomach and provide you with the nutrients to feel strong throughout the day. You may want to make a few of these to have throughout the day.

A great recipe that I use is

-1 banana

-Scoop chocolate or vanilla protein

-Frozen blueberries (or other frozen fruit)

-Use orange juice (or other fruit juice) or milk (I use unsweetened vanilla almond milk) as the liquid to mix.

You could also make a big salad to take along as well.

-Kiele Wilson-

Social Comments:

WordPress Comments:

  1. ED BIRCH says:

    EVERY day shake [breakfast] : 1 scoop oatbran, 1 scoop whey protein,teaspoon olive oil, 1/2 banana,1/2 orange, 1/2 apple
    slice paw-paw[sweet melon]mixed with milk.
    find before ride take oatbran and protein powder,teaspoon sugar and a bit of water to make a porridge – works well……….regards ed

    Reply • June 20 at 4:48 am
  2. Mark Thayer says:

    I’ve been plagued with leg (mostly calf) cramps lately, much more than any time in the past. I’ve been eating bananas prior to the ride as I’ve been told they can help with cramping. Are there any other foods you could recommend that might help? Thanks for all the great advice!

    Reply • June 20 at 10:08 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Make sure that your calves aren’t just really tight. Do some foam rolling or even just manual massage on them, if they have a lot of trigger points then diet is probably not the issue. Hydration plays a big role as well. Bananas are a bit over hyped for being able to prevent cramps, it is usually something like a tight muscle or lack of hydration. Hope this helps…

      Reply • June 21 at 6:54 pm
    • Joshua Even says:

      You may not be absorbing enough magnesium in your diet. I have to use magnesium gel on my legs to prevent cramping and it works very well. Was getting Charlie horses in the calves during when training. Someone told me I was not absorbing enough magnesium orally, topically has been a great solution.

      Reply • August 7 at 12:54 pm
  3. Dr.Rusty says:

    Huey’s guys, I agree 100% with this nutritional advice. I run a chiropractic and weight loss clinic in Montrose,Co. The Wilson Family is an asset to the mountain biking world. I usually have a protein shake using target brand chocolate which is better than the expensive Muscle Milk brand. I put in 1/2 banana, and/or a scoop of natural peanut butter and mix with the mid grade almond milk. Like candy!! Cheers!

    Reply • June 21 at 6:47 pm
  4. Rich says:

    I sometimes also get cramps in my calf muscles…but usually not while riding or exercising. I try to run each week, and will often pull a muscle in my calf. Maybe that is from not running on a consistent basis and also not stretching thoroughly?

    Reply • June 30 at 7:17 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Try doing some manual massage in the calves and seeing if you have some trigger points that need to be worked out. If you have tight calves with trigger points they will tend to cramp pretty quickly.

      Reply • June 30 at 8:53 pm
  5. bruce says:

    Could you write more about the idea of eating protein instead of carbs on the breakfast of the race day or tell me where can I get more insight on that? That is pretty opposite to what most people say (‘you don’t need protein before the race, but should fill the stomach with carbs to collect as much energy as possible’) so I’d like to find out more about that 😉

    Reply • July 3 at 7:02 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Your body needs both blood sugar and blood aminos to function optimally and just loading up on carbs is a bit short sighted. Even drinks and gels that you use during rides are starting to come with protein in them, fueling performance requires a balanced approach.

      Precision Nutrition at http://www.precisionnutrition.com is also a great resource for high level race day strategy questions.

      Reply • July 3 at 12:54 pm
  6. Deanne says:

    Did you know dried apricots have more potassium than bananas, easier to carry, higher in glucose and lower in fructose. i’ve heard that protein consumption is harder for digestion during a long ride but better for the end of the ride, so which is it? i cannot do grains for carbs, so i have to stick with fruits and veggies. is the goal of carb loading to consume glucose? does anyone have trouble with caffeine sapping energy during the ride? and finally, what is the best strategy biking in the heat other than water: i’m feeling dizzy halfway through my ride and drinking tons of water, does that mean i need more electrolytes?

    Reply • July 6 at 7:31 am
  7. Read on to discover more about how it works, how to use
    it far better – and catch many more fish. We would also
    damage our immune systems and prevent our bodies from raising and developing.
    I sprinkle them on salads, use in odd pesto combinations like arugula pecan or cilantro pistachio.

    Reply • June 21 at 4:16 am
  8. This is a great post. Keeping healthy is important, i like mountain biking and i know it requires good feeding to keep up with the energy requirements.

    Reply • November 6 at 1:40 am
  9. biket mad says:

    Please advise what to eat 1/2 hour before the race. Heartburn and nausea is my biggest drawback when I am 1/2 way through the race. I normally have oats and banana but what do you recommend.

    Reply • January 30 at 6:12 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      The best thing is to experiment with what works well before race day. Everyone is different and racing should be an extension of training so part of training should be testing foods to see how they work for you during intense rides.

      Reply • January 30 at 8:39 am
  10. Charles Calhoun says:

    So I have a nutrabullet smoothie pre ride. Spinach, whey protein, chia seeds, yogert, apple cider vinegar, honey, frozen blueberries, pumpkin seeds and ground flax seeds. Is all this good for pre-ride? Anything I should take out or add

    Reply • February 9 at 7:29 pm
    • admin says:

      Seems like a well rounded smoothie. If those ingredients sit well in your system, I’d say stick with it.

      Reply • February 10 at 6:16 am

Add a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *


Follow MTB Strength Training Systems:
James Wilson
Author and Professional
Mountain Bike Coach
James Wilson