Training and Nutrition Tips From Pro Mountain Biker Kate Courtney

Born and raised in Marin County, California, at the base of Mount Tamalpais, Kate Courtney has always felt an affinity with mountain biking. “When I was young, I used to ride on the back of a tandem bike with my dad,” recalls Courtney, who is now one of the now top professional female mountain bikers in the world. “We’d ride to get pancakes on Sunday mornings.”

Courtney joined her high school mountain biking team, and during that time, she competed for the USA National Team and Whole Athlete Development Team in events around the world. Her first big win came in 2012, when she became the first American woman to take first at a UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in the junior category. She was 17 years old.

kate courtney training and nutrition tips
This 22-year-old is one of the most accomplished in her category. Photo: Red Bull

The Stanford University graduate is now a 12-time National Champion and just last year she won four U23 World Cups, which earned her the U23 Overall World Cup victory.

We caught up with the current Women’s Elite Cross Country National (USA) Champion at the UCI Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada stop on the tour – where she came in 6th in the Women Elite category in MTB Cross-Country, with a time of 01:33:23. Courtney talked to us about all things nutrition, race day prep and the one recovery routine she does every single day that doesn’t involve eating or training. Here’s what we learned about this badass female athlete.

Tune in to Red Bull TV to watch the recap of Courtney’s ride at UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Series.

She’s gluten-free

While Courtney assures she doesn’t have Celiac disease, ever since she was younger, gluten made her feel congested. “We couldn’t quite figure out what it was, but my doctor finally linked it to gluten my sophomore year,” she says. “I can still have bits here and there, but generally it’s been out of my diet for years.” Feeling better both on and off the bike has translated to better racing for Courtney, too. And with all the gluten-free options available now, it’s a lot easier for her to keep this diet. “I definitely eat it sometimes in the offseason, but it’s hugely performance inhibiting for me,” says Courtney.

Studying biology tuned her into her diet.

Courtney was always interested in science, so it made sense for her to start looking at her diet from a more scientific standpoint. “I started working with a new nutritionist, tracking my macros, and paying attention to what’s actually in the food I’m eating,” she says. “I realized that a lot of the time, I wasn’t fueling enough around riding. So now I have a game plan to make sure that doesn’t happen.” One of the biggest changes in plan? Eating more protein, especially during tough training and close to race days.

kate courtney training and nutrition tips
This elite cyclist has a few tips and tricks up her sleeve when it comes to training. Photo: Red Bull

She has a recovery ritual for refueling after each ride.

While sometimes it depends on the length of the ride, Courtney almost always takes down a protein drink post-cycling during both training and racing. “It’s usually Clif Recovery Protein Drink Mix and almond milk,” she says.

She’s created her own “food podium.”

This 22-year-old doesn’t discriminate when it comes to chocolate or vanilla. “I like them both honestly,” she says. “But I do love chocolate—it’s on my food podium.” Other food on her food podium: sweet potatoes, avocado, and dark chocolate. “These are truly just foods I enjoy and also happen to serve great purposes in my diet,” says Courtney. “Sweet potatoes are a great source of carbs that is often a nice change from rice, and avocado and dark chocolate are good sources of fat – and also very delicious.”

She eats waffles to signal to her body that she’s about to race.

You read that right – gluten-free waffles or pancakes are part of Courtney’s pre-race ritual. “For me, it’s actually the best fuel because it has lots of complex carbs, it’s low in fiber and in sugar, so it’s really perfect before a race,” she explains. “Also because it’s a part of my ritual, it tells my body, ‘Oh, I’m having waffles or pancakes and syrup, something’s about to happen.”

kate courtney training and nutrition tips
Kate Courtney. Photo: Red Bull

She takes supplements and eats Greek yogurt before bed.

Greek yogurt helps satisfy her sweet tooth, and because of the probiotics it contains, it’s better for her gut health than ice cream – which leaves her feeling pretty terrible. “Greek yogurt is a great source of protein before bed,” says Courtney. “For me, it’s also a healthy way to have a little dessert snack that serves a purpose.”

The supplements she takes include fiber (which she discovered she was deficient in most of last year) fish oil, a multi-vitamin and vitamin D. Most of the time she’ll wash it down with some Sleeptime tea.

She stops drinking coffee seven days before a race.

Why? Because that’s the amount of time it takes to detox from caffeine. “For me, abstaining from caffeine in the time leading up to a race helps ensure that I get the biggest response from my body on race day,” says Courtney. But she does have a bit again on race day. “My race day caffeine is Red Bull,” she explains. “It works well for me, so I use it in hard training and on race day.”

She trains on a bike seven days a week.

On top of that, she also strength trains two to three times a week in the fall (or one to two times per week in the spring), and does yoga a few times a week. She follows that up with regular physical therapy and massages. “I have a PowerDot that I use for recovery, and I travel with NormaTec boots,” explains Courtney. “We have team masseuses, too, so that’s always helpful.”

She meditates and takes a nap daily.

Courtney’s morning routine begins with a 10-to-15 minute meditation session using the Headspace app. It’s perfect because she can take it with her traveling so she’s able to meditate everyday. But the most important part of her recovery and wellness regimen? Napping. “I cannot express how important naps are,” she says. “It’s the deepest rest you can get during the day and it’s something I focused on this year. Between strength training and riding, on a double workout day, I like to nap in between for 45 minutes to an hour. But I try to nap every single day regardless.”

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