Cross country mountain biking is fast paced and the ground is often rough with roots, rocks and other obstacles which make opportunities to refuel few and far between.
Races last around 1 hour 30/40 minuets so taking on board fluid and energy is very important for maintaining race pace and also not feeling like death afterwards!
My go to snack for during races is energy gels. They are really handy because you can bite the top off, hold it (usually squirting it all over yourself and your bike) and drink/swallow it when ever possible.
My first ever gel was a sticky sweet mouth drying disaster! It was like trying to swallow superglue, not pleasant and distracting in a race!
Since this first experience I have tried a variety of different makes of gels from Holland & Barrett and other stores with no real luck.
Then I tried the Science in Sport energy gels which have a more jelly like consistency and are not as sweet they contain 22g of carbohydrate and mostly are caffeine free. They are easy to digest and during a race can be swallowed easily. During an average race of 1 hour 30 mins I would eat two or three of these to maintain my energy levels.
The other gels I have found work really well are High Five these gels have 23g of carbohydrate and are as easy to use as the SIS ones. The big difference is actually something simple and that is the packaging design, I have had a couple of issues trying to rip the tops off and cycle at the same time with the High Five gels. Once the top is off however the High Five gels are brilliant and give a great tasting energy boost. My favourite flavour has to be the Mojito although you really have to drink after taking this as its slightly too sweet.
As with all performance products especially gels I think some of the energy they give you is phycological! However in a race if this works then that is all that matters.
I would recommend trying out a couple of different brands during training and see how they sit with you, this is the best way to pick your race energy products.