Sports Nutrition Tips for Cross-Country Runners


If you’re on the cross-country team you are participating in one of the most popular high school sports in the US. You may find it challenging to meet your nutrition needs as you try to balance a lean physique with adequate fueling and hydration. Here are some tips to help you get your best performance:

Every Day:

  • Eat a generally healthy diet with lean proteins, lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy.

  • Be sure to eat plenty of healthy carbohydrates (fruits, veggies, whole grains) because carbs keep the glycogen level in your muscles high. Glycogen is fuel for your running.
  • Be sure to get enough calories. When you don’t eat enough you are at risk for getting fatigued or injured. Female runners who start missing menstrual periods are likely not eating enough.
  • Maintain good baseline hydration. Drink some water when you get up in the morning, and have some milk, water or juice with each meal and snack. A free and easy way to monitor your hydration is to be sure your urine is a pale yellow color. If it gets darker, drink more!

Before a practice or a race:

  • Before practice have a snack with some easy to digest carbohydrate, such as pretzels or crackers.
  • Before a race or meet have a meal 1-4 hours before competing. The longer the time span between eating and competing, the more you can eat.
  • Pre-game meals should contain lean protein and easy to digest carbohydrates. Avoid greasy, spicy or fried foods. Think turkey sandwich and fruit, not burger and fries.
  • Drink 12-16 ounces of water about 2 hours before the race. Top this off with another 4 to 8 ounces about 15 minutes before competing.
  • Before an all day meet try to find out what time your particular group will run. Time your food and water accordingly.

During a practice or race:

  • ​During practice or longer training runs plan on some water or sports drink.
  • During your actual race you should not need any extra fluid or carbs because cross-country races are completed in less than one hour.

After a practice or race:

  • You want to replenish your muscles and replace fluid losses, so you need protein, carbohydrates and fluids. Chocolate is considered a good recovery drink – that’s because it has all the nutrients your muscles need to recover! (But on a typical practice day you can just go home and eat dinner for your recovery meal!)

One last tip…try everything out at practices so you don’t get surprised on race day. Running can affect your digestive tract, and you don’t want unexpected diarrhea or nausea to derail your results.

Have a great season!

​copyright 2015 Kathleen Searles, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN

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