Motorcross, or scrambles racing, as it was originally known in 1920’s England, has come a long way over the years to become the internationally acclaimed sport it is today. Competitors must navigate rough off-road terrain on specially adapted motorbikes as they compete to finish in the quickest time. The sport is highly demanding, both physically and mentally, and requires a great deal of commitment on the part of the riders, who must undergo extended periods of weight and cardio training combined with a weight management program, if they wish to qualify to participate at the highest levels.
To be able to control a heavy bike at high speeds in unknown and treacherous conditions, MX riders must develop excellent cardiovascular fitness and lightning fast reflexes. Just as with professional sprinters, there is also the requirement to be extremely strong with excellent core strength, whilst at the same maintaining the lowest body weight possible. Therefore, a rider’s training schedule and diet plan are arguably even more important than the time spent riding on the track. In this sport, preparation is everything.
The right diet can maximise concentration, increase mental alertness and reflexes, provide energy, and sustain stamina. It can also allow for peak performance in both training and competition, and as such, all aspiring MX riders are advised to concentrate as heavily on their nutritional intake as they do on their riding.
It’s of great importance that riders avoid dieting to lose weight, since this can lead to muscle wastage and loss. Their well-balanced training diet must include plenty of carbohydrates to convert into energy, as well as sufficient amounts of healthy fats and protein, and should concentrate on nutrient-dense whole foods such as fruit, lean meat, poultry, fresh fish and vegetables. Empty calories from takeaways, fast foods and alcohol should be eliminated altogether. It’s highly unlikely you will ever see a professional MX rider eating a burger and fries.
Bearing in mind the busy training and competition schedule a rider needs to navigate throughout the week, diets should be pre-planned to ensure they coordinate meals and snacks with ride and recovery times. It is imperative that riders maximise their potential by ensuring extra calories are consumed on heavy training or race days, in contrast to rest days when a lighter food intake may be beneficial to aid recovery.
By including breakfast in their daily food schedule, riders ensure that they decrease insulin sensitivity, thereby avoiding weight gain. Similarly, by avoiding large meals and eating small ‘grazing’ portions throughout the day, energy is spread over time to ensure availability when riders need it most. Fatty acids and omega 3 are essential components of the daily diet - not only do they act to keep saturated fats mobile in the bloodstream, but they also boost the immune system, and regulate the rate of cell division, nerve communication and pressure in the joints, eyes and blood vessels. In fact, whilst the word ‘fat’ often conjures negative connotations, omega 3 fats are actually essential since MX riders’ bodies are often not able to make sufficient amounts to meet the demanding needs of the sport.
Large amounts of antioxidant fruit and veg are also incorporated into the daily intake. This reduces the incidence of coronary heart disease, improves cholesterol and rids the body of other free radicals which are known to cause all manner of serious diseases.
Ensuring that a rider is taking in enough fluids is vital in a sport which requires heavy protective gear in often hot and humid conditions. Dehydration can affect both mental and physical performance, so ensuring that a rider understands his or her own individual fluid needs is imperative. Under normal circumstances, water is used to replace fluid needs, although during particularly long training sessions or hot competitions, sports drinks may be taken to provide both electrolytes and fluid simultaneously. It’s very important to ensure that a rider is well hydrated before beginning a race, and checking the urine is a light pale-yellow colour is a great self-diagnosis tool. If it is dark or has an odour, then more water and electrolytes should be consumed before the race.
It’s particularly important to plan for good nutrition before heading to a race where the only available food is likely to be typical race venue fare such as burgers, chips and hotdogs. These foods are high in saturated fat and provide none of the nutrients necessary to compete or recover. Aiming to eat between 2-4 hours before a race allows a rider to ensure that they have adequate fuel without worrying about potential gut issues whilst out on the track. Good pre-competition meal options might be a small portion of pasta, porridge or granola with milk or honey and fruit, or a sandwich with a light filling.
Post-race, it’s all about recovery. There are three main goals during this phase:
- Rehydrate the body by replacing fluids which have been lost through sweat
- Repair the muscles
- Refuel the carbohydrate stores
It is important that recovery meals include some protein to aid with the muscle repair, some carbohydrate to replenish the stores, and plenty of electrolytes and fluid. Great examples of recovery food are chicken and broccoli with brown pasta or rice, or a whole-wheat ham salad sandwich, which should be eaten soon after the race has ended.
If all of these steps are followed, then a rider should be in great physical shape to get to the top of their game, and remain there.