Editor's note: this post was written by Feed athlete and cyclo-cross racer Nick Lemke. Nick has been racing bikes for a long time, but recently he's dedicated himself to becoming an elite CX racer. In this article, Nick talks about his experience in avoiding what's known as "cross gut". You're probably wondering what cross gut is? In short, it's a terrible stomach ache that happens towards the end or immediately after intense exercise. It's a common problem for many endurance athletes, so don't stop reading if you're not a cyclo-cross racer.
How to Avoid Cross Gut, by Nick Lemke.
Cross Gut can be awful. It typically happens within an hour of a race, though I’ve had one or two experiences of eyeing the porto-potties every lap and barely making it to the finish line. When cross gut shows up, it’s often described as a twisting or sharp pain in your gut. It’s pretty awful, and there’ll be no doubt that you have it, when you have it.
Here are a few simple rules for cross racing that I like to follow:
Don’t eat anything new before the race
– either the night before, the morning before, or right before. Always test your race-day food during training.
Wake up in time to prepare and eat your last major meal 3 hours before your race
– something to top off the glycogen stores and ~600 calories if you’re racing for an hour. Oatmeal with peanut butter or white rice with eggs have been great for me and are really affordable. I usually cease my coffee consumption at this time, though sometimes I’ll get a caffeine fix in a gel at step 4 below.
Drink water throughout the day in preparation for your race
. If you’re racing early-season ‘cross races it might be hot and you’ll sweat a lot. Later in the season, the dry winter air can sap moisture from your body. And even if you race with a bottle and cage (The UCI just banned pit-lane feeds in ‘cross) the technical nature of many courses will prevent you from drinking frequently enough to do much more than wet your mouth. Before the race, aim for mostly clear urine, but also don’t overdo it with water consumption. You shouldn’t be peeing every 5 minutes, although sometimes in the half hour before the race a little bit of anxiety can make this feel necessary.
Have a snack 1 hour before your race
: a peanut butter sandwich, Pro Bar Meal bar, something with a little bit of weight, but that will digest reasonably easy. I like a Pro Bar Meal Bar – like Whole Berry Blast or Almond Crunch. I usually consume ½ - ¾ of it an hour before the race and save the rest for a post-race snack if a meal is not readily at hand after the race or I’m waiting (hopefully) for a podium ceremony. Alternately, if a Meal Bar seems too much, the Pro Bar Fuel Bar is great.
Have your last energy-boosting treat between 15mins before your start and when you’re ‘at the line’
– a gel, a partial packet of energy chews, a double serving bottle of drink mix. If it’s hot, I like a double serving of Scratch Labs Exercise Hydration in Orange. I’ll mix up a 12-16oz bottle with twice the recommended serving of Scratch and slam this down on my way to the start line. If it’s cooler weather I’ll do ½-full pack of Clif Shot blocks approximately 15mins before the start. Throwing down an energy gel in this window, like a Gu or Untapped Maple Syrup will never hurt, particularly if you’re not hungry. This is also your last chance for a small dose of caffeine.
Think about recovery well before the race ends
. Preferably the night before. Aim for that magic 4:1 carb to protein ratio that science tells us is right for recovery. It’s important to get this recovery drink in within 45 minutes post-race. It’s usually the first thing I do when I get back to the car or team tent. Especially (!!!) if you’re racing a double or triple-race weekend and racing the next day. I like a home-made smoothie with Fluid Recovery Drink Powder. I’ll add this to a blender with some water (coconut water is especially great if you can afford it), a banana, some frozen fruit like strawberries, mangoes or whatever you like for calories and vitamins and sometimes I’ll top it off with some chia seeds or flax seeds or even some lemon juice which has anti-inflammatory properties.
Have a meal within an hour to three hours after the race
. ‘Cross can expend a surprising amount of calories in an hour, at times over 1,000 calories, and you’ve probably done a warm up, a course preview, a cool down and so forth. Be sure to replace those calories! Don’t shy away from a big meal with carbs and cooked veggies (or a salad) and even a reasonable dessert. If you find you’re coming back from race weekend several pounds overweight, well, it’s either the beer hand ups, or you can cut back on the visits to the waffle truck.