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.


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.


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:


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.


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


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

Protein bar recipe: when you know that you shouldn’t snack on candy bars

I’m the first to admit that I have a sweet tooth (my husband just came backIMG_20161013_082943.jpg from Costco, and my candy SHELF in the pantry has been replenished), but these homemade protein bars have been a great alternative to eating candy bars when I’m hungry.  Below is my go-to protein bar recipe.  There’s room to add or change some of the details according to your preferences. If you don’t take anything else away from this post, here’s my contribution–please consider never rolling another protein ball again.  Save yourself a ton of time and just press the “batter” into a pan, cut squares, and refrigerate.  🙂

I double the recipe and most of the time my husband and I go through both batches in a week.  If you don’t eat a double protein bar platter in a week like me (ha!), you can freeze what you don’t eat and save yourself the time of making weekly batches.

First, mix these ingredients:

  • 3 c oats
  • 1 c flaxseed
  • 1 1/2 c almond butter, peanut butter, or any other nut butter (below I have hazelnut butter and peanut butter)
  • 1/4 c coconut oil
  • 2/3 c honey
  • ~1/4 c chia seeds (optional)
  • 6-8 scoops of protein powder (this ends up being about 1 1/2 c of protein powder.  Below I mixed vanilla whey and chocolate creatine)

Save these ingredients for later:

  • 12-16 pitted dates
  • ~1/2 cup dried tart cherry
  • ~1/4 c cocoa nibs (optional)
  • Can also add coconut flakes or any other healthy goodies

After mixing the ingredients, divide the contents (because a double batch does not fit in the processor) and put in the food processor.  Blend and then add 6-8 pitted dates and about 1/4  c of the tart cherries. The dates and cherries help hold the bars together.  You can substitute with something else, but make sure that its consistency is on the sticky side.

Once blended, press into a pan.  I like to use a ziplock bag on my hand instead of using a spoon.  I also started pressing bars into the pan instead of rolling into balls because it saves a ton of time and stores nicely.


Next add cocoa nibs (of course this is optional).  I like to blend mine to chop them into smaller pieces.

Once you have the first half of the batch pressed into the bottom of the pan, you can go ahead and cut the squares or wait until later.  Add wax paper on top.  Blend the other half of protein bar mix and press on top of the wax paper.  Add the second portion of cocoa nibs on top and cut into squares.  You now have two layers of protein bars in one pan, thus saving time and space.

If you cut the bars into 6×10 portions for each batch, each bar is ~50 calories and 3 g of protein.  Refrigerate or freeze the bars and enjoy!


(If you want to see pretty pictures of food (and tasty recipes), I suggest you check out Katie’s blog.)

Do you have a favorite special ingredient for your protein bites?

Nutrition with a cherry on top! The miracle of Tart Cherries

Now that I am having to slow down and recover from my surgery, I decided to take a bigger look at my nutrition to see where I can make improvements.  Given that I am a candy-oholic and a dessert-oholic, this is an easy task. I’ve heard a lot of podcasts and read articles that mentioned tart cherry as a superfood to try, but I wasn’t sure that I was sold on the benefits.  As I noted in my post about Diet Cultsthere are a lot of hocus pocus ideas about the value of superfoods, and I thought that tart cherry might qualify.  But it only takes a quick journal search to see that there is a lot of documented research on the efficacy of tart cherry for the athlete.


These tart beauties have become one of my favorite snacks!

Tart cherry is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has been proposed as a potential natural substitute for ibuprofen, or other NSAIDS. Right about now, I am pretty familiar with the urge to take pain meds to relieve discomfort from my surgery, so it is good timing to learn more about natural substitutes for pain relief!

Tart cherries are rich in anthocyanins, a class of antioxidant phytochemical found in plant-based foods. All red fruits and vegetables are said to have this property, but tart cherries pack a bigger punch. Tart cherries are known to protect against heart disease, cancer, insomnia, and other age related issues.  Importantly, several studies have also corroborated the efficacy of tart cherries to help protect muscles during strenuous exercise and to facilitate the repair of damaged muscles.  Great news for the endurance athlete.

Research conducted at the University of Vermont on 14 male participants against a control group showed that cherry juice decreased symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage after being consumed twice a day for eight days. Most notably, four days after eccentric exercise, athletes showed strength loss averaging 22% with the placebo but only 4% with the cherry juice.  

Another study, titled “Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial,” showed that endurance runners who consumed 355 mL bottles of tart cherry juice twice daily for 7 days prior to the Hood to Coast relay race, and on the day of the race, experienced significantly less pain after running about 26 km over a 24 hour period compared to the control group. The researchers concluded that ingesting tart cherry juice for 7 days prior to and during a strenuous running event can minimize post-run muscle pain. (I ran a 200 mile relay race in 2014, and I can tell you, any reduction in pain for an event such as that is worth investigating!)


I haven’t tried the tart cherry juice, but that is next on my list.

So how much tart does one eat?  I found a few different suggestions, but the most consistent serving size that I found was that one serving of cherries is equivalent to ½ cup of dried cherries, 1 cup of frozen cherries, or 1 cup of juice.  There are 100 tart cherries in every 1 cup (8 oz) glass of juice. Study participants most commonly consumed two 8 oz servings a day.  I recently started buying dried tart cherries from Sprouts, and I have no idea how many servings I eat in a day, but I love going to my pantry and grabbing a handful at a time.  I also started adding them to my homemade protein bars.

What superfoods are in your running arsenal?  In addition to tart cherries, I also like to add chia seeds and cocoa nibs to my treats.

Do you take pain relievers before or after a hard workout?  I try to avoid medicine as much as I can, especially while I am still breastfeeding.  It’s tempting sometimes though!