It hits you hard- your legs feel numb and you can’t seem to pedal to save your life. You just can’t find the strength you thought you had in reserve to make the spectacular finish you know you deserve. If you have been in this situation it might be time to take a look at your caloric intake on race day.


I often hear from the athletes we work with that they want to be lean when they hit the beginning of their race season and then continue this trajectory during the season.  They often feel that eating fewer calories and training harder will help them reach this goal.  It’s true that enjoying lots of beer and cheese fries throughout your training season will NOT help the strength to weight ratio. Conversely, eating healthfully but with too few calories will not get you the finish you want to achieve either.


To map out what it takes to fuel your body we need to talk about a basal metabolic rate (BMR).  This is the number of calories you need to just subsist per hour if you are lying down without movement.  It is the number of calories your body needs just to support organ functions, digestion, etc. Depending on a person’s individual basal metabolic rate and the number of calories you burn warming up for and during a race, if you are close to the sum of those two numbers without any reserve then you may be at a deficit going into your race.  The process is a bit involved, but you can do a basic calculation via this site and get a number that will be close enough to work with here


Check your file after a race to identify the number of calories you burn because everyone is a little different.  If you don’t have a device on the CX bike to do that then figure that on average you’ll burn 500, 750 and 1000 calories for a ½ hour, 45 minute and 1 hour race respectively.  Let’s say your BMR is 1900 calories per day. If you are racing for one hour and burn 1000 calories during your race then you need to consume a minimum of 1500 calories (1000 calories for the race and approximately 33% of your BMR) leading up to the start of your race. That breakdown could look something like this for a morning race:


Pre-race (3.5 to 4 hours before) breakfast totaling 1100 calories:

1.5 cups of cooked rolled oats

1/3 cup of chopped raw nuts

1 1/2 bananas

½ cup milk or milk alternative

1 Tb. of maple syrup or honey

2 pumpkin oat muffins


Pre-race (2-2.5 hours before) Snack: 300 calories

Vega protein shake

1 banana


*If you tolerate gels eat one on the start line for another 100 calories boost in the tank.  This will put you at 1500 calories before your race starts and that is money in the bank.


Feed your body with enough calories and get the finish you deserve!



Shelly Pfeiffer-Kelley

Athletic and Holistic Nutrition, ISSA, IIN