Ultra Eating: Fueling for an Ultramaration

I learned a lot about nutrition and fueling by preparing for and running the Yeti 100 Mile Endurance Run.  Everyone is unique, and different courses dictate different nutrition needs, but I’ve provided some guidelines that will help you best prepare for your race.  Remember the adage “We are an experiment of one” when reading through these guidelines.  What works for one person may not work as well for another. Testing your fueling plan during training is best, but always be prepared that race day may confront you with a new set of conditions.

The distance of an ultra is not always as important to consider, as much as the time that you will be out on the trails.  For a technical 50k, you could be out in the woods through lunch and dinner.  In ultras, one of the most important lessons is to eat early and eat often.  It’s also wise to take a gel within 30 minutes of the start of a race.  Then, continue to consume small amounts of nutrition about every 20-30 minutes.

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Cloudland Canyon 50 Miler

Well trained athletes can burn up to 600-1000 calories per hour of exertion.  However, our stomachs can only process about 200-400 calories/hour on the move. This number will vary based on the size of the runner, effort level, temperature, and how easy it is to process the food.  A typical athlete can store glycogen to fuel the demands of 90 minutes or less of activity.

fueling-properly

What types of foods to eat: the desire to consume food wanes the longer you are out on the trail.  That said, the food that you craved at mile 20 might sound very different to you by mile 66.  Conventional running fuel includes: gels, energy chews, sports bars, and sports drinks. Each of these products offer an option with caffeine and/or electrolytes. Gels are relatively easy for the body to digest.  The type of sugar depends on how quickly the energy lasts over time. Sugars like honey act quickly but wear off fast as well.  Maltodextrin offers a slower release of energy over a longer period of time.  During a run, most of your calories will come from carbohydrates.  Make sure to consume fluids with food so that absorption can be facilitated.

 

Aid station food can offer a good variety to the fuel that you packed in your drop bag (gels can get very old after hours of sucking on sugar).  Be careful trying new things, and don’t rely on the aid station to have your favorite trail snacks.  Examples of aid station fare include potatoes in salt, chips, m&ms, pie, brownies, soup, grilled cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwich wedges, gatorade, and water.

I had stomach issues during the first ~half of the Yeti 100, and I’m not completely sure why.  The best I can explain is that it may have been nerves. Either way, I knew that it was important to continue eating and drinking.  Otherwise, I did not have any issues eating, but my desire for food started to diminish.  Many runners experience nausea toward the end of the race (another reason to front load the calories if you can).  Ginger chews and ginger ale are good remedies for an upset stomach.

Here is a troubleshooting table that may be helpful to share with your crew so they can help you if things start heading south:

ultra-troubleshooting

Below is an example of the food that I had planned for the Yeti 100. I also had a lot of different kinds of food packed in a bin for my crew to have available just in case I craved an Oreo or a potato chip.  I pumped/breastfed throughout the race, so I also calculated extra demand for calories to produce breastmilk. Toward the end of the race, the only things I could tolerate were Starbucks frappuccinos, Honey Stingers, and Cliff Shot Blocs.

yeti-nutrition

There are a lot of running books that have complete chapters on fueling for an ultra. Here are a few books that I recommend:

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Do you have any fun fueling stories?  Experiences are the best way to learn!

Goals for the next (marathon) training cycle

img_20161015_172000My husband and I took a road trip this past weekend for a fun weekend of hiking and hanging out with friends.  On the way, I asked him what upcoming goals he has for the future.  (Sidenote: they say the best marriages are those where the couple talks about the future together.) My husband’s response was like any normal person related to his hobbies and his career; mine however, are all running related. Haha.  (No, but really, there are always goals about being a good mom and wife, finally making it to work on time, and organizing my house.)

First, my big goal for this next training cycle is to run a sub 3 hour road marathon.  It gives me a knot in my stomach to even write that, but my coach believes in me, and I’ve gotten faster by running through pregnancy and now running post-partum, especially after training with my coach for my 100 mile race.  So, now I’ve put it in writing, and I can start chipping away at my big goal!

I’ve got my big goal, but in order to give myself the best chance of a successful training cycle, here are my three sub goals:

  1. Nutrition: reduce the processed food that I eat and reduce the sugar in my diet.  I am a chocolate bar-oholic.  I do pretty good throughout the day, but at night I eat a lot of candy.  Sugars increase inflammation, and I am already stressing my body enough with all of my running and strength training.  I’m kicking off this goal with the 7 day challenge to eat real food proposed by mskatieblaze here.
  2. Sleep: I have said this for a year now, but really, this time I mean it. My (one year old) baby is still waking up several times in the night. That means that I really need to get to bed earlier to get a semblance of good rest.  It’s a shame to not give my body time to repair and get stronger after all of my strength work and running.
  3. Stretching/foam rolling: This should be a no-brainer, but I know that I’m not alone in this struggle. We’d all rather get in just one more mile than cut the run short to do some foam rolling and stretching.  I just signed up for a program that sends me a new range of motion activity every day.  I’m excited to see how much it helps my performance and recovery.

What are your upcoming goals?