Ultra Eating

If you are expecting to find a blog about eating competitions, sorry this is not the blog for you! Instead, this blog is focused on proper eating during long distance endurance events, primarily endurance running events. I’ll focus mostly on running this time because iron distance triathlons, endurance swims and bike rides have different nutrition need and tips than running events although some basic principles are the same.

Ultra-distance events require a special approach to eating than shorter distance events for some pretty obvious reasons– most notably you’re probably exercising over several traditional meal times.Ultra distance events can last anywhere from 5-6 plus hours to well over 24 hours and over this time your body is almost constantly in motion….think about that for a minute…moving for 24 + hours solids. Wow. Clearly that is going to take a toll on your body physically and mentally. The goal in those races is often to delay fatigue and one way to do that is to make sure you’re fueling appropriately. You need calories to function, but how do you eat enough while you’re moving? How do you eat without getting a stomach ache or feeling sick? I can’t tell you how many people I have met at races who have made the awful mistake of eating too much or eating the wrong thing a the wrong time…

Here are some tips about ultra-eating: (full disclosure, I’m a Hammer sponsored athlete so I’m using their food as example–why because they’re awesome and I love them!)

  1. Temperature and pace will influence your ability to digest food. If it’s hot out your body is sending blood to your skin to help cool down your body…This means that you have less blood available to help digest food. Keep this in mind during a run or race that is hot — you may have to alter your eating plan.  This is also true if you’re racing very fast. Your body is busy going fast, not processing food. You’re ability to digest goes way down as your speed increases. It’s important to eat easily digestible foods under these circumstances– gels or drinks with the calories you need are great to eat.
  2. It’s best to stay AWAY from solid foods during races--most of the time. I hate to be a little wishy-washy on this but there are times it’s okay or necessary to take in solid food. However, overall it’s best to steer clear of solids when racing. Solid food takes a long time to digest and in races it will just sit in your stomach for a long time while most of your blood is being used to make your legs and arms move.  Sports nutrition that is designed to be easily digestible is best for racing conditions. My only caveat with that would be long ultra races 6+ hours. Often we’re exercising in our aerobic zone in these races and our body is better at processing solid food. This doesn’t mean have a meal, but part of a PB&J is A-OK. — okay okay, as I said I’m a bit wishy washy about this.. I did once have most of a barbecue sandwich during a 10 hour race and it was awesome! However, you really need to watch out for the gut-bomb that can ruin your race. IMG_9102
  3. If you are racing longer than 3 hours, you’ll need to incorporate protein–but not if your race is shorter. Protein seems to be the fancy, popular trend these days, but most people don’t need it while racing and training. There are so many gels now with protein and really you don’t need it. BUT if you’re racing longer than 3 hours your body will need some protein. There are drinks such as Perpetuem and Sustained Energy as well as a number of gels that have protein now so you won’t need to eat a steak while you run!
  4. How much should you eat? The general rule of thumb is about 120-180 calories an hour depending on size. A gel typically has about 100 calories and if you pair that with some electrolyte drink such as Heed you’ll meet your calorie needs.  Foods that have complex carbs and not simple sugars are best and luckily a lot race nutrition is formulated like that. Simple sugars provide a burst of energy that will quickly fade– flash and crash! Complex carbs provide more prolonged energy
  5. The most important rule to remember is: you’re primary goal is NOT to replace all the calories you’re using during exercise! You are ‘replenishing not replacing’.  It’s NOT 1:1 calories out calories in. Instead your goal is to perform at your best with the least amount of calories. WHY? The more calories you ingest, the greater the chance of GI distress. You want to race optimally, but you want to train your body to do so over time without needing a ton of calories to do that. “Less is best”! Read about it in Hammer Nutrition’s education series.

Good luck as you go long. Avoid the trotters-trots, the runners-runs, the hershey squirts– don’t eat too much of the wrong food at the wrong time!

Hammer on! Siobhan

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