Fueling for an Ultra
There are a few commonly accepted rules when it comes to fueling for endurance events. Whether it's a distance event, timed event, obstacle event, you need fuel and hydration. You need a lot of it. And you need to set yourself up for success before even hitting that start line of an ultra.
You may have heard them all before but let’s give a refresher:
Don’t try anything new on race day. If you haven’t eaten it while sporting before, race day isn’t the day to test it out.
Your body can only handle ingesting between 200-300 calories per hour. This means you’ll run a deficit regardless of what you do food wise, but eating less or more will cause you some major stomach and energy damage on course.
Ideally, breakfast is eaten 3 hours from start time, with a 100 calorie carbohydrate snack 30-45 minutes prior to start.
Utilize water stations
Things always go wrong in endurance events. Statistically speaking, the longer you’re on course, the more likely an incident will occur. I’m so pleased to say that my nutrition and hydration were not among those incidents. Let’s make sure they aren’t part of yours! If you're new to this, take my success and mold it to your own needs and stomach wants.
Here's my snapshot.
Racing for the Food
Goals Vs Reality:
Normally, my morning race routine is set. I’m all about the overnight oats, drinking too many liquids, peeing a million times, and rolling out.
Saturday morning I woke up wanting something heavier. It’s unusual to wake at 3am and want real food, so I decided I should listen to my body’s unusual request. The most important piece to remember with breakfast is that you HAVE to give the bod enough time to digest whatever you’re feeding it, especially if it’s more than just simple carbohydrates. (If you’re doing an endurance race, it better be more than just carbs for breakfast.)
2 cups of water, one with GQ-6 + ReFUL Energy + Hammer Ignitor
Munk Pack at the start line
Goals Vs Reality:
My original goal was to keep eating 100-150 calories per half hour. This doesn’t always work out, though, if you hit a rugged and obstacle-ridden section of trail. Ultimately, the point was to not go an hour without a couple hundred calories added in the quickly depleting tank.
I also focused on the water. I wanted my Osprey to be empty by the time I got to the bins (halfway mark) even with stopping at nearly all the water stations.
Electrolytes were fine for the first hour with GQ-6 in my pack and pre-race fueling, so salt tables started on the second hour, with 1 tab/hour consumed.
1.5 liters of water with GG-6 hydration base and ReFul Energy
Tortilla+ 2 Gardein chickenless tenders + Organicville Ranch
2 Munk Pack pouches
Pulling into the halfway check point, the legs were happy, stomach was happy, cravings were nonexistent, and I didn’t have the dehydration headache that often hits me around the half marathon distance mark. Patrick, Jeremy, Fontaine were already there and Patrick tossed me an apple as I sat down.
I chugged…er… I mean… calmly sipped… a bottle of cold water mixed with GQ-6, had a Hi Ball, and another jerky. Changed socks, repacked the pack, laughed with friends for far longer than I should admit, and off we went.
Goals Vs Reality
Do everything exactly as lap 1 was handled.
Seems like a reasonable goal, given how successful lap one fueling was, no?
In reality, it’s harder to remind yourself to eat in the second half of a course. In lap one, you eat out of fear. You don’t want to hit an energy crashing crisis and be miserable the rest of the race. In the latter half, all you can think of is the finish line and how you don’t want to feel weighed down at the end from all the food and water.
The pack was packed identically to lap one, but maybe ¾ of that was actually consumed on course. Luckily, I had done such a solid job in the first half, that it didn’t hurt me the second half.
I finished the race happy, energetic, with no headache or case of the muscle shakes.
Notes for future endurance
Test eating protein and fat during training. Protein really helped me out, eating about 10g at a time per hour. It worked for me. It may not work for you.
Mix up salty and sweet. It’s inevitable that you’ll get tired of something on course. I struggled with sugary stuff, so I was grateful to have hearty food, oatmeal (Munk Pack), and salty jerky.
Chia seeds are your friend. Huma has chia in it, as does the Munk Pack Peach flavor. You can easily make your own sports drink and add chia seeds to it as well. Chia helps you stay hydrated as it holds 30 times its weight in water as well as retains electrolytes. It means being able to drink water without having to pee every 5 minutes. Chia for the win!
Ice Ice Baby. Freeze some water bottles for your bin. They may not be frozen when you get to them, but they’ll still be cold. There is nothing like ice cold water 14ish miles into a race. NOTHING.