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What to eat before and after a cross country meet
A lot goes into preparing for a cross country race. In order to finish at the head of the pack, you have to train hard and follow good nutritional guidelines. This includes choosing the right foods to consume before and after the big race.
Since a cross country race is relatively brief but intense, plenty of fluids and meals high in carbohydrates will give you the best chances of success. And just like your running pace, when it comes to eating and drinking on race day, timing is everything.
Eating Before a Cross Country Race
As a runner, the last thing you want is to run out of steam halfway through a big race. Meals that are high in carbohydrates will help give you the energy you need to run your best, and you shouldn't wait until race day to start fueling up. Even the foods you eat the day prior to a race can affect your performance. A lot of teams have traditions like pasta dinners on the eve of a meet to ensure high levels of glycogen are available the next day for energy.
On the day of your cross country meet, eat a high-carb breakfast containing foods like fruit, bread and bagels. Small meals spread out in the hours leading up to the race will deliver a constant source of fuel for your body to rely on. Keep carbohydrate levels high but avoid foods that are loaded with fiber; these are difficult to digest and break down slowly over time. Also, be sure to drink lots of fluid throughout the day to stay hydrated, but stay away from too much caffeine and sugar. You can never go wrong with plain old water.
Immediately prior to race time, you do not need to eat anything if you have been properly eating in the hours leading up to start time. Try to cut off your food intake about an hour before the race to reduce risk of cramping, but continue to stay hydrated with fluids.
Eating After a Cross Country Race
Congratulations. You just finished an intense, grueling race. Now, what's to eat? As soon as possible, give your body a heavy supply of—you guessed it—carbohydrates. High levels of carbs will restore glycogen supplies and help your body recover faster. Sports drinks are good post-race options because they are convenient and high in carbs. Plus, the liquid helps restore the water weight your body lost through sweat.
Even if you are well prepared, your body will need to replenish lost fluids. If possible, it's a good idea to weigh yourself before and after you run. After the race, drink about two cups of fluids for every pound of body weight that you sweat off.
A Quick Note on Protein
Foods high in protein are generally not thought of as fuel, since they do not provide good sources of energy. However, I recommend consuming at least some protein with each of your meals, since it will preserve lean muscle. Cross-country running is mainly an endurance sport, but strong legs will help you finish strong, especially on the hillier terrain. Add some protein to your meals with an anti-pasta salad alongside your pasta dinner, and maybe some Greek yogurt with breakfast.
Follow these nutritional guidelines, and you should be well prepared for your next cross country meet.
Joe Zemla is a lifelong runner, and enjoys writing about sports health and nutrition.
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