Search Icon
Site Menu

Hinsdale South Cross Country

Cross Country Nutrition

Cross country can be a grueling sport, and what you eat can make a huge difference in your performance during the season. Much of the information on this page comes from the book Sports Nutrition For Endurance Athletes by Monique Ryan. It may take some experimenting to determine what foods work best for you, but make sure you know what foods work for you before our big Saturday meets. 

GI Numbers

The energy you burn during running comes from three sources: carbohydrates (carbs), protein, and fat. Each source is broken down into simple sugars when you run to give you energy. Food is your primary source of carbs, protein, and fat. Carbs can be converted to simple sugars much quicker than protein and fat so they are the best option for pre-race meals and snacks. In addition, fat takes much more oxygen to convert to sugar so it is not a very good option for runners since that oxygen will be a valuable resource during a race.

Glycemic Index

While carbs are your best option for pre-race fueling, some carbs are better than others. Food can be ranked by its Glycemic Index, which is the ability to convert food to sugar. Low- to moderate-glycemic food converts slowly over several hours and can be helpful for a meal long before a race.

High-glycemic foods can produce a rapid rise in blood sugar and can be helpful just before a race.

Some example foods with their GI numbers are listed to the left. You can look up the GI number of any food by going to

Remember, a high GI number means the food is closer to sugar, which means you will get energy quickly. A lower GI number means the energy will be distributed over several hours.

Keep in mind that a high GI number is not always a good thing. That quick energy may not last long so a high-GI snack before a race in best when paired with a low-GI meal much earlier.

For a single day your diet should consist of the following:

(per lb. of weight)
(per lb. of weight)
(per lb. of weight)
(per lb. of weight)
 15-17 calories 3-4.5 grams  0.5-0.75 grams 0.5 grams 

For a 100-pound runner that would mean consuming between 1500 and 1700 calories, 300 and 450 grams of carbs, 50 and 75 grams of protein and 50 grams of fat in a single day. 


Kid Drinking WaterTo stay properly hydrated you should have a goal of drinking 8 - 10 ounces of water every hour. A drinking fountain can give you this much water in about 10 seconds.

You should drink 10 ounces of water before going to bed and as soon as you wake up since you miss time to drink while you are asleep.

It is important that you drink water every hour since you can't "catch up" by drinking more than 10 ounces of water. Your body won't be able to absorb that much water at one time.

A good way to test if you are drinking enough is the pee test. When you go to the bathroom your pee should be almost clear, which indicates your body has absorbed enough water and you are fully hydrated.

Pre-Race Meals and Snacks

What you eat before a race can drastically affect how you perform in that race. Some foods, such as dairy products, may not sit well while you are running, but it will take some experimentation to figure out what works for you.

Day Before Race: Have a high-carb dinner the night before the race that has a low to medium GI-number. This ensures it will give you energy over several hours.

3-4 Hours Before Race: Eat a light to large meal. It will take some experimenting to determine if you can eat a large meal this close to a race. Focus on carbs with a low to medium GI-number again as well as hydration since this is the last major meal before your race.

1 Hour Before Race: Some runners find that eating a small snack an hour before their race will prevent them from feeling hungry during the race. If you do have a snack avoid protein, fat, and fiber and focus on easily-digestible foods.

15 Minutes Before Race: Consuming a high GI food such as an energy bar or a sports drink can give you a quick boost before a race. Don't consume anything that is hard to digest.


Maddie Dearborn Frosted Flakes

The most important thing you need to do after a race is replace fluids. Drinking a sports drink instead of water can help replace sodium that your body lost from sweating. It can also help prevent you from diluting your blood with too many fluids.

Your second priority should be carb replacement since your body uses a lot of energy during a cross country race. You should eat somewhere between 0.5 and 0.7 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. If you weigh 100 pounds that means you should eat between 50 and 70 grams of carbs. The list below will show you some foods with 30 grams of carbs so you can mix and match. These carbs should be consumed within two hours of your race to provide any benefit.

Another priority should be protein, but it should only make up about 25% of what you eat after running. Protein can help muscles recover, but make sure the protein is low in fat.

Foods with 30 Grams of Carbs

The list of foods below was taken from Monique Ryan's book mentioned above. The list contains serving sizes of foods that would give you 30 grams of carbs. You can combine these foods or simply increase the serving size to reach the number of carbs you want. Always try to minimize the fats you are taking in. Fat is the least helpful source of energy for an endurance athlete.

 Bagel  1/2 large or 2 oz.
 Bread 2 slices or 2 oz. 
 Bread Crumbs 1/2 cup 
 Bread Sticks 2 oz. 
 Cornbread 1 square or 2 oz. 
 Dinner Rolls 2 oz. 
 English Muffin 1 whole or 2 oz. 
 Hamburger Bun 1 whole or 2 oz. 
 Pita Pocket 1 round or 2 oz. 
 Bran Cereal 2/3 cup 
 Ceral, Cold, Unsweetened 1.5 oz. 
 Cream of Wheat, Cooked 1 cup 
 Granola, Low Fat 1/2 cup 
 Grape-Nuts 1/3 cup or 5 tablespoons 
 Grits, Cooked 1 cup 
 Oatmeal, Cooked 1 cup 
 Puffed Cereal 3 cups 
 Shreded Wheat 3/4 cup or 1.5 oz. 
 Barley, Raw 1/4 cup 
 Buckwheat, Raw 1/4 cup 
 Bulgar, Cooked 3/4 cup 
 Crackers 1.5 oz. 
 Muffin, Low Fat 3 oz. 
 Pancakes 3, 4-inch diameter 
 Pancake Mix, Dry 1/3 cup 
 Pasta, Cooked 1 cup 
 Pretzels 1.5 oz. 
 Rice, Cooked 2/3 cup 
 Rice Milk 1 cup 
 Saltines 8 crackers or 1.5 oz. 
 Tortilla, Corn or Flour
Starchy Vegetables
 Baked Beans, Cooked 3/4 cup 
 Corn, Cooked 3/4 cup 
 Kidney Beans, Cooked 3/4 cup 
 Peas, Cooked 1 cup 
 Potato, Baked 1 medium or 5 oz. 
 Sweet Potato, Baked 4 oz.
 Apple 1 1/2 medium 
 Apples, Dried 7 rings 
 Applesauce, Sweetened 1/2 cup 
 Applesauce, Unsweetened 1 cup 
 Apricots, Fresh 8 medium 
 Banana 1 large 
 Blueberries 1 1/2 cups 
 Cantaloupe, Raw Pieces 2 cups 
 Dates, Dried 1 fruit
 Figs, Dried 3 whole
 Fruit Salad 1 cup
 Grapefruit 1 large
 Grapes 30 or 1 cup
 Kiwi 3 medium
 Mango 1 medium
 Nectarine 2 small
 Orange 2 medium
 Papaya 1 whole
 Peach 2 medium
 Pear 1 large
 Pineapple, Fresh, Pieces 1 1/2 cups
 Plum 3 medium
 Raisins 1/3 cup or 3 tablespoons
 Raspberries 2 cups
 Strawberries 2.5 cups
 Watermelon 3 slices or 3 cups
 Apple Juice 8 oz. 
 Carrot Juice 10 oz.
 Cranberry Juice Cocktail 8 oz.
 Grape Juice 8 oz.
 Grapefruit Juice 8 oz.
 Orange Juice 8 oz.
 Pineapple Juice 8 oz.
 Vegetable Juice Cocktail 24 oz.
Milk and Yougurt
 Milk, 1% 20 oz. 
 Milk, 2% 20 oz. 
 Milk, Nonfat 20 oz. 
 Milk, Rice 8 oz. 
 Milk, Soy 10 oz.
 Yogurt, Low Fat or  Nonfat 16 oz.
 Yogurt, Soy 8 oz.
 Yogurt with Fruit 8 oz.
Sweet and Baked Goods
 Angel Food Cake 1/12 whole 
 Cake 1/12 whole 
 Chocolate Milk 8 oz. 
 Cookie, Fat Free 4 small 
 Fruit Spreads, 100% Fruit 2 tablespoons 
 Gingersnaps 6 cookies
 Graham Crackers 6 squares
 Granola Bar, Low Fat 1 bar
 Honey 2 tablespoons
 Ice Cream 1 cup
 Jam or Jelly 2 tablespoons
 Pie 1/8 whole
 Pudding, Regular 1/2 cup
 Sherbet 1/2 cup
 Sorbet 1/2 cup
 Syrup, Regular 2 tablespoons
 Vanilla Wafers 10
 Yogurt, Frozen, Low Fat 1 cup
 Yougurt, Frozen, Fat Free 2/3 cup

Protein Sorted By Fat Content

The table below is also from Monique Ryan's book. You want to minimize fatty foods as an endurance athlete, but you still need protein. The foods are grouped into categories below and sorted based on their fat content.

Fat Protein
Very Low
(< 3g fat/oz.)
(3-4g fat/oz.)
(4-5g fat/oz.)
(6-8g fat/oz)
Very High
(>8g fat/oz)
 White Fish:
Dark Fish:
 Salmon and Tuna
Packed in Oil
   Fried Fish
Cottage Cheese
 Fat Free Cheese 
 Low Fat Cheeses  Feta Cheese
 Mozzarella, Part Skim
 Parmesan, Grated 
 Cream Cheese
Round, Choice, 90% Lean 
 Flank Steak, Choice
 Porterhouse, Choice
 Rib-Eye, Choice
 Round, Choice, 85% Lean 
 Round, Choice, 73% Lean
 Round, Choice, 80% Lean 
 Roast Beef
 Corned Beef
 Prime Cuts
 Short Ribs 
Boneless Sirloin
 Pork Chop
 Ham, Lean, 95% Fat Free
 Pork Tenderloin
 Top Loin Chop 
 Blade Steak
 Boneless Rib Roast
 Canadian Bacon
 Center Loin Chop
 Center Rib Chop
 Sirloin Roast 
 Pork Butt  Italian Sausage   Bacon
 Pork Sausage 
Leg, Top Round
 Leg, Shank, Half 
 Loin Chop
 Loin Roast
 Rib Chop 
 Roast Lamb     Ground Lamb 
Legumes (Per Cup)
Black Beans
 Kidney Beans
 Lima Beans
 Pinto Beans 
   Chickpeas  Tofu   Soybeans 
Chicken, White, No Skin
 Turkey Breast
 Turkey, Dark, No Skin 
 Chicken, Dark, No Skin
 Chicken, Dark, With Skin
 Duck, Roasted, No Skin
 Turkey, Dark, With Skin 
 Ground Turkey  Duck, Roasted, With Skin   
Egg Substitute
 Egg Whites
 Lunch Meat, 95% Fat Free 
 Lunch Meat, 86% Fat Free   Eggs   Bologna
 Hot Dogs
 Lunch Meat
 Beef/Pork Hot Dogs
 Peanut Butter