What to Eat and Drink During an XTERRA?

by Alexandra Borrelly Lebrun on 09/14/2021

Good race nutrition will help you avoid digestive issues while providing the body with all the energy it needs to complete the race.
One of the biggest questions we receive from athletes is "What should I eat and drink during an XTERRA?"

It's a great question, because no matter how hard you can push in training, pinning a number on and racing is a totally different stress on the human body compared to even the hardest training session. Therefore, athletes need to consider the differences in nutritional intake ahead of competing, as good race nutrition will help you avoid digestive issues while providing the body with all the energy it needs to complete the race.
Let us consider these two points individually;

Your digestive system

During exercise the blood supply to your gut is reduced anywhere between 45% and 80% of its normal state. This redirection of blood to the working muscles explains why so many athletes will suffer from upset stomachs and cramps during the race. During an XTERRA, athletes will race at moderately high intensities, regularly hitting and exceeding threshold efforts. As a result, any race nutrition needs to come from Water, Simple Sugars, and Minerals.   

Duration of event

The uniqueness of each XTERRA race is what makes it so special, typically the fastest athletes will complete a race in 2 hours and 30 minutes. Depending on the terrain and weather, this time can fluctuate considerably, even more so for the average competitor in the middle of the pack. A super tough race like XTERRA Lake Garda could take up to 5 hours to complete! Plus, our races start with a swim which can use a lot of energy without any opportunity to refuel, so even if you start with full glycogen stores you will need to take some nutrition throughout the race. For the high intensity effort required of XTERRA racing you’ll be using a higher proportion of sugar than of lipids/fat.

What to take with you during a race?

The most important fuel to take with you during a race is an energy drink. Ideally an isotonic drink, which means it should be the perfect concentration of sugars and electrolytes to not irritate your digestive system. If it is too concentrated, your body will draw water from your cells to help dilute your drink in your gut, which could lead to dehydration.

If your digestive system is very sensitive, you could use a hypotonic energy drink, but the best option is to trial your drink during training before using them in a race.

It is easy to carry an energy drink on the mountain bike, but this is a little more difficult for the run. Sometimes the aid stations will have energy drinks but if you want to take your own you can always carry a small flask in your hand or put it in your race belt or tri-suit pocket if you have one.

If you want to take a gel, it is best not to take a whole one at a time and instead take a small amount at regular intervals. Try also to take on some water at the same time to dilute the gel. Often the energy you feel from a gel is from the caffeine and not from sugar.

Another option is to take a small dried fruit bar. Make sure that this is easy to chew and only take small pieces at a time along with some water. This may be more suited to the bike where you can chew the bar whilst you recover on a downhill.

Your race nutrition is just as important as any other equipment you need to prepare ahead of racing.
Here is an example of how I schedule my nutrition on race day;

  1. East my last meal a minimum of 3 hours before the race.
  2. 30 min before the swim warm-up, sip a mixture of water and energy drink.
  3. Don’t drink the water during the swim 
  4. Consume 500ml of energy drink per hour of biking. Start fueling straight after the swim. I choose a bottle if there are road sections or easy parts where I can drink safely, otherwise I’ll use a Camelback to make sure I can still drink on technical courses.
  5. Drink the last of my bottles just before T2,
  6. During the run I take a small piece of energy bar or small squirt of energy drink.

  • Remember to stay natural, even when you are racing! The body needs simple things!