Support Crews: Food, glorious food

article025Cooking for adventure racers is easy. If it grows or moves, they’ll probably eat it. If you haven’t yet gotten the hang of sculpting a tomato into a rose, this is the place for you. 

For single day events everything you need can be pre-made at home, those over one or two days require slightly less logistics while multi-day races require careful planning.

 Start your food planning by methodically going through the stages of the race. You’ll need dinner for the night before the race, a snack before the race start, snack-pack goodies, one main meal for each day of the race and two extra meals. You’ll need liquids – water, energy drinks, juice, tea, coffee & hot chocolate – and possibly supplements.

Get the team together and discuss likes, dislikes, allergies and any other dietary peculiarities. Get their consensus on the important things like proteins (red meat, chicken, fish, vegetable protein, eggs), carbs (white/brown bread, rice, potato, sweet potato, pasta), fruits, vegetables and sandwich fillings (cheese, egg mayo, peanut butter & syrup, tuna mayo).

Take their meal suggestions for breakfasts, sandwiches and hot meals into consideration but go for whatever is logistically the easiest. What can you pre-cook at home and what can be cooked on the cadac in a single pot? Keep your meals simple.

Find out who drinks coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Who has milk? Sugar? Does anyone want fruit juice? Get the racers to supply their own energy drinks i.e. Cytomax, FastFuel etc.

Also ask them to provide their supplements and to give you written instructions.

Plan your meals and write a list of goods and quantities to buy before you go shopping so that you don’t forget anything. Consider the “hidden” ingredients you’ll need i.e. salt, pepper and herbs.

Then, go shopping by yourself or with your other second. Adventure racers in a supermarket are like kids in a toy shop – they’re compulsive.

Plan the quantities you’ll need for each meal. If you will only need 500g of rice for a meal, only take along 500g. Include one extra cooked meal. Teams have been known to finish a day or two later than expected.

Use your first race as a learning experience and streamline for future events. It is better to cook too much than too little.

Pack your groceries into containers – with lids – instead of leaving them in their original packaging i.e. sugar. Keep your “kitchen” tidy and organised.

You’re going to need some good cooler boxes – one for frozen foods and one for everyday foods), which double-up as tables and chairs, and a good supply of ice – or one of those fancy camping fridges you can hook up to your car battery (especially for multi-day events).

Establish your own ‘AR Grocery Store’ at home containing things like sugar, tea, coffee, salt, herbs, tomato sauce, chutney, long life milk, peanut butter, mayo – esepcially those things you would normally swipe from home. Keep them in their own crate and use them only for races. Add cutlery, mugs, plates, pots etc to your dedicated travelling kitchen.

Make a checklist for your grocery store and after each race replenish your supplies so that you don’t have to do it in a rush before the next event.



  • Tasty Wheat porridge – cooks in a few minutes and is great with sugar or honey.
  • Yoghurt, muesli & fruit salad
  • Muffins – they keep well for about 3 days and are perfect for the pre-race snack
  • Fruit – bananas are a necessity. They contain magnesium, which prevents cramping. Don’t go for soft fruits like nectarines and peaches because they will get bashed and bruised during transport. Stick with apples and oranges.
  • Cereals e.g. cornflakes, rice crispies, wheatbix, Pronutro, oats.

Hot meals
It is best to cook all your meals (and one or two extra meals) before you leave for the race. Plan your menu and start cooking two weeks before the event. This will give you plenty of time to deep-freeze the meals. You’ll save hours during the race.

  • Butternut soup (freezes and keeps well) – good as a hot snack if they’re only planning on a big meal later in the day
  • Chicken stew with veggies. Serve with a mashed potato and sweet potato mix. The chicken stew can be frozen and then heated in a pot on the Cadac. Boil the potatoes at home. They will keep for a few days.
  • Pasta with chicken and veggies – freezes well.
  • Bolognaise sauce with rice/pasta

In general, during the first day your team will only make quick stops to change equipment, refresh snack-packs and fill hydration bladders.

Pig-slop type meals are the best. The last thing I want to do is balance peas on a fork. Stews with rice, mash or pasta can be thrown together, scooped up with a spoon and downed. Don’t make the food spicy. Although bland is boring, that is what they will feel like and it won’t upset any stomachs.

Wrapping the pot in towels will keep the food warm until the team comes into transition. Remember not to heat the food up too much. They’ll be eating fast and won’t want to burn their mouths.

Quick meals

  • Tuna and salad (cucumber and tomato) rolls (with or without mayo)
  • Cold meat, cheese, tomato, chutney & lettuce roll (lettuce keeps the bread fresh)
  • Hotdogs and hamburgers

Snacks (available all the time)

  • Fruit
  • Rusks, biscuits
  • Snack bars
  • Sandwiches

Your racers probably won’t feel hungry – make them eat.

Liquids (available all the time)

  • Water
  • Tea, coffee, hot chocolate
  • Juice

Energy Drinks

  • Get each person to provide measured sachets of their energy drink – enough to make up 2l volumes.
  • Fast Fuel/Cytomax etc – Add powder to water in the 2l coke bottles to fill up bladders. Don’t premix the Cytomax too early – particularly during the day when it is hot – as it ferments. Remember to pack a small funnel to get the powder into the bottle.

Though many race with their energy drinks in their bladders, I advise keeping only water in the bladders and energy drinks in bottles. Energy drinks get sickly-sweet and the racers will avoid drinking.

Straight water can get a bit boring. Add a little grape or apple juice to flavour it.

It is very important that you take note of how much each person is drinking. They should always come into transitions with empty hydration bladders. You have every right to give them a lecture on the importance of keeping hydrated.

Snack-packs (grab bags) really make racing fun. Particularly for single day or 24hr races, get the racers to prepare their own.

Make certain that your team always leaves transition with sufficient food in their packs. On a long leg, they may not meet up with you for over 24 hours. There is also the distinct possibility that they could get lost.

This is the only item that you need to remove or add to their packs each time they come in to transition. Check the pack you’ve removed to see how much the person has eaten. It is your responsibility to make sure that they are eating a sufficient amount.

The sweets can be prepared in big ziploc bags before you even start the race. Sandwiches must be fresh so make them between transitions. Don’t get too creative – they’ll eat whatever you give them. Tomato makes the bread go soggy and cheese goes waxy if it’s hot. Wax-wrap does keep the sandwiches fresher for longer, especially over a long leg.

Keep a stack of sticky name-tags to label snack-packs. Besides marking specific packs for each person, you can easily check who has and who hasn’t grabbed their grub.

To make up a grab-bag: Pack sandwiches into sandwich bags and then place in a bigger ziploc bag, which already contains an assortment of sweets and goodies.

Snack-pack suggestions

  • Sweets: If your trolley looks like you’re catering a kiddies party, you’re on the right track. Jelly beans, jelly babies, wine gums, fruit jubes, sparkles, frutus.
  • Dried-fruit: doesn’t agree with everyone, check first.
  • Peanuts: keep them separate from the sweet stuff. Salted jelly babies taste vile.
  • Energy Bars & health bars
  • Biltong and salami sticks – nutritious, salty, tasty and loaded with protein and fat.
  • Mini cheddars, crisps – loaded with fat and salt
  • Chocolates (make sure they’re in wrappers)
  • Sandwiches (peanut butter & honey, tuna mayo)

Remember that sweet stuff tastes sweeter as the race progresses so put in lots of ‘savoury’ type goodies. Variety is also good and will be appreciated.

Before the start of the race, go through the route with your team so that you have a rough idea of their ETA (Expected Time of Arrival) at each transition. Check the duration of legs and the type of discipline before the transition. If they come in cold and wet from a water leg, hot chocolate and a hot meal will go down well. If they arrive in the afternoon from a long hot ride in the sun, they’ll go for cold juice and a scrumptious sandwich.

Although you should ask them what they’d prefer, more often than not you’ll have to improvise since their ETA can be way-off their actual arrival time.

Author: Lisa de Speville