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Pre-Race Nutrition for Off-Road Racing

by Troy Ross


I’ve been asked more about pre-race nutrition by the racers that I work with more than any other questions. So I thought this topic would also assist any rider or racer that has questions about what he or she should eat prior to an off-road race.

Outlined below is a general nutritional guideline that will load your body with enough calories to sustain your efforts for the day of racing. This article is not about converting you to a health food diet. It’s solely to advise you on a path to feed your body with enough calories and proper ration of protein, carbohydrate and fat to sustain your efforts during your race. Several of my racers have used this pre-race meal plan to great success.

Typically, the racers that I’m involved with burn on average of 2,000 – 4,000 calories during an off-road event lasting from 2 – 5 hours. So it is critical that your body have those calories stored in reserve so your body can process and consume those calories as fuel during your race or ride. If you don’t have enough calories stored, your performance will suffer because your body will run out of energy and you will fatigue, or cramp or lose mental focus during your race. And nobody wants that. It also puts more undue stress on the body because after your event you have to re-fuel your body to make up for the deficit but also fuel the body for the activities that are yet to come with your daily life. And that puts you behind on your recovery (which I will touch on during a future article).

It’s not my intent to turn everyone into a “health food” or “organic” foods person. So my guideline just contains general foods that most people are comfortable with eating. A race day is not the time to introduce nor experiment with unfamiliar nutrition. So the foods listed below are what many consider normal foods in the American diet. Most of you may thank me for this.

Here is a guideline to follow for pre-race nutrition:

These times reflect when and what you should eat prior to your race or ride. (Note: you may substitute with any of these recommendations. But lean on the healthy side versus non-healthy as in; a bowl of  oatmeal vs. a bowl of lucky charms).

3-4 hours prior your meal should contain; carbohydrate, protein and fat

  • Deli sized bagel, 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • Pancakes with syrup
  • 1 or 2 eggs
  • Oatmeal (small bowl)
  • Orange juice or fruit juice
  • 8 oz. glass of water

2 hours prior your meal should contain; carbohydrate and protein

  • 8 oz. yogurt with fruit, piece of fruit
  • Or 1/4 cup cottage cheese, piece of fruit
  • Slice of whole wheat or whole grain toast with jam

1 hour prior your meal should contain; carbohydrate and fluids

  • Dried fruit or banana and sports drink (Cytomax, HEED, CarboRocket, etc)
  • Waffle with syrup (not a whole grain waffle), or turkey sandwich on whole wheat or whole grain bread if your race is later in the day
  • Or a meal replacement type drink
  • Granola bar and a piece of fruit

5-10 minutes prior

  • Sports gels and fluids (water, sports drink)

Good luck and hopefully this will help you better plan your pre-race nutrition steps.

About the Author: Troy Ross has been involved in motocross and off-road racing for 25+ years. He has been working with XC1 rider Chris Bach since November of 2008 and also trains several top GNCC amateurs such as: Chris Douglas, Chase Bishop, Zac Nash, and Austin Mount, as well as Pro WORCS and Pro National Motocross racer Chris Johnson. He also works with elite amateur motocross racers; Josh Osby, Brody Bell and Nate Allen. Troy lives in Laguna Niguel, CA and can be contacted through email or Twitter.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Lewis May 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Hi Tim. Very interesting article. Would you say the diet would be pretty much the same for shorter races (say about 15 minutes) knowing the energy burned is far less?

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    Eddie June 29, 2011 at 10:05 am

    Could you discuss hydrating leading up to race day. When to start, what and how much to drink, etc. Thanks. Great stuff

  4. Gravatar
    Troy Ross June 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Hi Eddie,

    It's important to properly hydrate early in the week leading up to your race day. There are several articles here on the Virtual Trainer website that discuss hydration and hydration products specifically, so take a look. I think you will be pleased with the information available. Although if you have specific questions, please direct them at me at and I'll help you further. Thanks and good luck! Troy Ross

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    Eric Fish August 03, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    As far as meal plans, what about for a youth rider (13 yrs.), that races at 0830... we cant really get up to start eating at 0400. What would you suggest to eat/drink the night before, and the morning of? THANKS!!

  6. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer August 09, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    Eat and drink a normal meal the night before. For breakfast you will have to figure out what works best. Some people cannot handle a large breakfast but you definitely have to eat something. Try eating as soon as you wake up to allow for digestion. Try 1 egg and some avocado or a bagel with peanut butter and honey. If you are racing motocross you can resume normal eating (snack then lunch) after the moto. If you are racing for 4 hours and the rider is getting hungry during the race, experiment with different gel packs that can be eaten during the race or other easily eaten snacks like a banana or snack bars. Thanks for a great question and hope this helps!

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    Craig February 13, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    do you eat all three meals suggested or are those times given as one meal based on the time before the race?


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    Racer X Virtual Trainer February 15, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    Yes, you should eat something on the list 3-4 hours prior to your race. Then 2 hours before, 1 hour before and 5-10 minutes before you race.

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