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Fueling for Success

A winning strategy for short-duration, high-intensity competitions


Preparing for a high-intensity, short-duration event like cyclocross, 40K time trial, or a 5K or 10K run requires precise calorie timing. For most athletes, optimal fueling for these events is unknown. (Hint: Oatmeal 60-90 minutes before the start is not good.)

About a decade ago, I gave this topic a lot of thought after attending many CX races in the Seattle area while supporting my son Miles as he progressed from junior/cat 5 to 1-2. Our nutritional strategy for Miles and other racers was successful and consistently replicated. Follow this fueling plan for your future CX events or any competition that lasts an hour or less and takes 100% effort from the start to see positive results.

Heed the 3-hour rule.

First, what happens after the starting pistol goes off is less important than what happens before and the night before. The 3-hour rule (no calories for 3 hours before the event) applies here more than for any multi-hour effort. Here's why.

To contribute 100% effort and resources for 30-60 minutes, your body must be able to focus on that task alone. Which means you should not be in the middle of digesting a meal! Your goal is to be at the starting line, warming up, empty stomach, muscle, and liver glycogen stores topped up in a “ready” state so you can drop the hammer and never look back.

Event start time affects fueling strategy. What I recommend:

If you have a mid-morning or afternoon start time, you can eat a reasonable breakfast and nibble lightly until 3 hours before the race. Switch to water 10 minutes before the start, and drink only water for your warm-up. One Hammer Gel, 10 minutes before your event.

Endurolytes or 1 Endurolytes Extreme and 4-8 ounces of water will do. A second serving of Hammer Gel at 30 minutes may be needed if racing cat 1 or 2 for 60–70 minutes. You can do this by tucking a single serving pouch in one leg cuff or mixing one serving in a flask with 2-3 ounces of water.

If your race starts at 7 or 8 a.m., you may not have 3 hours to wake up. Never give up sleep for food. Skip breakfast completely. After waking up, fast and drink only water until your warm-up or 10 minutes before the race starts. This is how your body performs best without solid meals in your digestive tract. After 30, 40, or 60 minutes, you can eat as much as you like or have a beer or two.

Follow the 3-hour guideline between categories when racing two categories. If at least 3 hours are between them, eat as soon as possible after the first event. Repeat your warm-up and consume another gel 10 minutes before your second start. If you have fewer than 3 hours between races, don't eat. Instead, "keep the motor running" by drinking HEED or Hammer Gel shortly after finishing and 10 minutes before the second start.

Dinner the night before:

In addition to your race day fueling routine, eat a light dinner the night before. A large dinner won't improve performance. Your body would have to work hard to digest and eliminate all that food in the morning. You may also have trouble sleeping that night. Eat a balanced meal with plenty of veggies, lean protein, and a grain like rice, potatoes, quinoa, or something else instead of wheat. Eat enough to feel full but not stuffed. This meal should be eaten 3 hours before bedtime with no snacks after. A serving of Hammer Whey Protein in 4-6 ounces of water before bed is good, but not juice, milk, or other carbohydrate that will raise blood sugar/insulin levels before bed.

Follow this method to improve your racing and feel stronger during 30-60 minutes of gut-busting, lung-searing intensity:


Follow this plan, and you’ll feel stronger all the while . . . if that’s possible during 30-60 minutes of gut-busting, lung-searing intensity.

3 Hours Before: Eat reasonably up to 3 hours before the start. At that point, switch to water only.
10 minutes before:
1 Serving of Hammer Gel
Endurolytes or 1 Endurolytes Extreme
4-8 ounces of water


Last weekend I did a 22mile Gravel race on my MTB.
I changed my pre ride routine as you suggested. No oatmeal 2hrs before race start.
I only had water till about 15min before the start. Then I took “The Bomb”.
About half distance, I had a couple of gels.
The ride was incredible, I had no sluggishness, my legs and body felt incredible.
My goal was average more than 15mph.
In the end I averaged 16.4mph and came 5th overall (out of 100).

Thank you for your help and suggestions, I will keep using this strategy and see how it goes with my MTB race this weekend.

Hammer Nutrition replied:
Hello Russell, thank you for the feedback and confirmation that our less is best fueling protocols work!  It was not an accident or coincidence and is replicable regardless of the situation. Keep up the good work and report back after your next event!  BDF

Russell Betts

What if you can’t eat 3 hours prior to going on a 2-4 hour hard mtb ride? How should I fuel for it?
Hammer Nutrition replied:
Hello Doug, Thank you for your question. Early starts are a great opportunity to skip breakfast/pre-ride meal and just go do it. Have some water or coffee upon rising, then begin fueling as soon as you start turning pedals and continue for the duration of the ride. Not knowing your weight, temps you ride in etc, I’ll give you a range – shoot for this much each hour while riding: 150-180 calories, 12-20 oz of water and 300-600 mg of sodum. Lighter weight and cooler temps fall in the lower range. BDF

Douglas Verge

What are your fueling recommendations for a 90 mile Gran Fondo with 4 timed segments of 5, 2, 5, and 11miles starting a miles 4, 15, 40 and 70.
Hammer Nutrition replied:
Hi JJ, thank you for your question, and so sorry for the tardy reply. I’ll try to do it justice. Assuming you weigh around 165 here’d be my plan (Requires 2 water bottles and two flasks): Light dinner night before, low fiber breakfast 3 hours before the start. First water bottle is thick, multi hour bottle of Perpetuem, second bottle of water, or HEED if you prefer flavor – sip from these so you are getting about 180 + – total calories per hour and 16-22 ounces of fluid per hour, refill as needed. Each flask should be filled with 2-3 servings of gel, 1-2 servings of Endurolytes Extreme Powder and 1-2 servings of Fully Charged – top off with water. This is your Hammer BOMB that a shot of 7-10 minutes before each timed segment.


What would you recommend for fuel during a 24hr motocross endurance race. Perpetuem, sustained energy or a combination.
Hammer Nutrition replied:
Hi John, Thank you for your question. Products to be used could include a combination of Perpetuem or sustained energy, hammer gel, endurolytes in one or more form, anti fatigue caps, vegan recoverite and real food (avo, turkey sandwich, chicken soup, for example). How to use all of these products exactly depends on whether you are doing this solo or as part of a team, frequency of stops, climate conditions, etc. I’d be happy to assist with that, but need to know more of those details. Feel free to reach out directly via, live chat or calling our 800 # during business hours. BDF

John Bertrand

In a one hour MTB race
Would you still take a water bottle?
Would you have electrolytes in it?
Hammer Nutrition replied:
Hi Russell, if it was me, I’d make a Hammer Bomb to consume around minute 20-30: take a small water bottle and put one serving of hammer gel, one serving of endurolytes extreme powder and one serving of fully charged, all mixed into about 8 oz of water. This recipe would also be ideal for 10-15 minutes prior to start. Another option would be to put a scoop of HEED, or serving of hammer gel in 12-16 ounces of water and drink from that when able during the event. Electrolyte depletion to the point of affecting your performance is not likely, even in an all out effort, in an hour long event. BDF

Russell Betts

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