Up until a few years ago, I was mostly a marathon girl. When it came to fuelling, I finessed the number of gels that I would need for the distance, which sports chew stored best in my running shorts and I’d test out whatever sports drink was to be served on-course.
I continued to be lured into longer events with the estimated hours of duration being into the double digits. After a few botched attempts at fuelling with protein bars and sugary sports drinks, I realized I was into a completely different type of racing. This one necessitated its own type of food plan. I have tested out various styles of fuelling since then by playing with the levels of fat, sugar and carbs and have netted out on a formula that works perfectly for me. If you’re in the same boat, you may want to take a page out of my book.
Under six hours
If my event is longer than a marathon but shorter than six hours, I keep things close to what I would consume on a standard marathon race course, but I fold in additional solid food. A recent example is the Raid the Rib Adventure Run which spanned five hours and had me scrambling over the Niagara escarpment with a team, gathering checkpoints. In a race this length, I eat a large breakfast and begin eating 45 minutes to an hour into the event. I start with sweet option such as a sports chew, a granola bar or a candy. From there, I ensure that I consume at least 150 to 200 calories an hour and take a sip of water every 30 minutes and whenever I become thirsty.
At the aid stations at 2.5 hours and four hours, I take pretzels for the salt and a handful of candy. Because I’m moving at a much slower pace than running at a high intensity, I’m more able to consume real food, but I keep it as simple as possible to not overwhelm my digestive system.
As soon as my race is complete, I take down a protein drink and have a full meal within the hour.
Expedition length or stage race
If my event is in the multi-day range, I make sure to enter it with my stores topped up. I’ve found that most of my digestive issues occur in the first 24 hours of a race and disappear once body fully adapts to eating while moving. I am mindful of this and limit my protein in the first 24 hours as this tends to be dehydrating and leads to GI issues for me. During this time period, I eat granola bars, dried fruit, and pretzels. I consume electrolyte water and calorie dense drinks such as perpetuem.
After the first night of racing, I begin to more solid food such as wraps with peanut butter and honey, trail mix, jerky and my favourite chocolate bar: Snickers. One of my favourite new discoveries for my recent 72-hour race in Florida this winter was putting pre-made mashed potatoes into a baggie and consuming it like a gel. The mixture of salt, carbs and fat made for a perfect combination when drawing deeply on my reserves in the later stages.
The trick with these types of races is minimizing food fatigue. I bring a smorgasbord of options ranging from sweet, salty, tart and savoury to make sure I don’t get bored. Eating enough is difficult in these events and there are occasions that I cannot just listen to hunger cues but need to go by my watch, eating every 45 minutes to an hour because time melts the longer I’m racing.
When I complete the race, I will have a very similar recovery plan as a shorter race and get some protein in as soon as possible, followed by a warm, healthy meal within an hour.
Because everyone’s digestive system is different, it’s important to play around with what works for each athlete, but ensuring that you eat often enough and a wide variety is vital the longer the race goes on.
For more ultra endurance tales, you can find me on Instagram at @lacesandlattes and on my personal blog.