Preparing for a high-intensity, short-duration event like cyclocross, 40K time trial, or a 5K or 10K run requires precise calorie timing. For most athletes, optimal fueling for these events is unknown. (Hint: Oatmeal 60-90 minutes before the start is not good.)

About a decade ago, I gave this topic a lot of thought after attending many CX races in the Seattle area while supporting my son Miles as he progressed from junior/cat 5 to 1-2. Our nutritional strategy for Miles and other racers was successful and consistently replicated. Follow this fueling plan for your future CX events or any competition that lasts an hour or less and takes 100% effort from the start to see positive results.


First, what happens after the starting pistol goes off is less important than what happens before and the night before. The 3-hour rule (no calories for 3 hours before the event) applies here more than for any multi-hour effort. Here’s why.

To contribute 100% effort and resources for 30-60 minutes, your body must be able to focus on that task alone. Which means you should not be in the middle of digesting a meal! Your goal is to be at the starting line, warming up, empty stomach, muscle, and liver glycogen stores topped up in a “ready” state so you can drop the hammer and never look back.


If you have a mid-morning or afternoon start time, you can eat a reasonable breakfast and nibble lightly until 3 hours before the race. Switch to water 10 minutes before the start, and drink only water for your warm-up. One Hammer Gel, 10 minutes before your event.

Endurolytes or 1 Endurolytes Extreme and 4-8 ounces of water will do. A second serving of Hammer Gel at 30 minutes may be needed if racing cat 1 or 2 for 60–70 minutes. You can do this by tucking a single serving pouch in one leg cuff or mixing one serving in a flask with 2-3 ounces of water.

If your race starts at 7 or 8 a.m., you may not have 3 hours to wake up. Never give up sleep for food. Skip breakfast completely. After waking up, fast and drink only water until your warm-up or 10 minutes before the race starts. This is how your body performs best without solid meals in your digestive tract. After 30, 40, or 60 minutes, you can eat as much as you like or have a beer or two.

Follow the 3-hour guideline between categories when racing two categories. If at least 3 hours are between them, eat as soon as possible after the first event. Repeat your warm-up and consume another gel 10 minutes before your second start. If you have fewer than 3 hours between races, don’t eat. Instead, “keep the motor running” by drinking HEED or Hammer Gel shortly after finishing and 10 minutes before the second start.


In addition to your race day fueling routine, eat a light dinner the night before. A large dinner won’t improve performance. Your body would have to work hard to digest and eliminate all that food in the morning. You may also have trouble sleeping that night. Eat a balanced meal with plenty of veggies, lean protein, and a grain like rice, potatoes, quinoa, or something else instead of wheat. Eat enough to feel full but not stuffed. This meal should be eaten 3 hours before bedtime with no snacks after. A serving of Hammer Whey Protein in 4-6 ounces of water before bed is good, but not juice, milk, or other carbohydrate that will raise blood sugar/insulin levels before bed.

Follow this method to improve your racing and feel stronger during 30-60 minutes of gut-busting, lung-searing intensity:


Follow this plan, and you’ll feel stronger all the while . . . if that’s possible during 30-60 minutes of gut-busting, lung-searing intensity.

3 Hours Before: Eat reasonably up to 3 hours before the start. At that point, switch to water only.
10 minutes before:
1 Serving of Hammer Gel
Endurolytes or 1 Endurolytes Extreme
4-8 ounces of water

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