What to Eat Before, During and After an Ultra-Marathon
As Ultra-runners, we quickly learn that our Ultra-Marathon nutrition needs to be a priority.
Running kilometres after kilometres, back-to-back long runs, and hours upon hours of time on our feet require us to fuel sufficiently to keep up with our constant calorie burning, and according to our pace and body type.
How To Fuel As An Ultra Runner
Each individual has different nutritional needs, making it essential to learn what we each specifically require. Meeting with a nutritionist who is experienced in working with athletes and is ideally an athlete as well is a good recommendation to learn more about our personal nutrition and fueling for training and races.
Sports nutritionists will be able to give you the best advice possible to ultimately perform at your maximum capacity. They won’t skimp on your intake but carefully calculate your precise needs.
On a day-to-day basis, a well-balanced diet, full of protein and vegetables and our all-important healthy carbohydrates, and healthy fat will support our energy level, refueling and recovery, and overall health.
Pre-Race: The Carb Loading Phase
Before an Ultra-Marathon, 2-3 days to load up our carbohydrates sufficiently is a good efficient recommendation.
During those three days, our meals in general should be a bit more carb-based. This also includes mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks.
Each of us will need a distinct amount of fuel depending on different factors such as weight and metabolism, training intensity and race plan.
During a typical training week, to eat 11 portions of carbohydrates and fruit throughout each day is good energy fueling, but during the three days before racing an Ultra-Marathon, that could be up to 21 portions.
Quite a big difference, also there are a specific number of fats, proteins, and vegetables organized into our meal plan.
The recommendation for the 21 portions of carbohydrates are broken up in the following plan throughout the day.
Examples of what constitutes as 1 portion of carbs
Breakfast: 3 carbs = 3 slices of toast, 1 sugar = 1 teaspoon of honey - 2 fruits = 1 large banana
Mid-morning snack: 1 carb = 1/8 cup granola- 1 dairy = 1 individual-sized yogurt- 1 fruit = 1/2 cup strawberries
Lunch: 4 carbs: = 2/3 cups couscous + 1 cup sweet potato
Mid-afternoon snack: 1 carb = 3/4 cup cereal- 1 dairy = 1 cups skim milk- 2 fruits = 1 banana
Dinner: 4 carbs: = 2 cups pasta
These are mostly only the carbs. Adding the correct portions of proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats complete each meal and will provide all the essential nutrients.
In addition to our nutrition, we need to stay well-hydrated during the days leading up to our race. To consume a sports drinks full of electrolytes during the 3 carb-loading days will help provide good hydration and carb intake.
The Golden Rule Of Race Day
As ultra-runners, we need to apply the golden rule for ultra-running for everything we do.
Do not try anything new on race day.
This also includes the days previous when referring to food and hydration.
Our pre-race dinner can be similar before every race if we can feel the benefits of proper pre-race fueling and digestion.
Before an Ultra-Marathon or long-distance race, we need to make sure that we eat a light breakfast 2-3 hours before any race. We need to give our body enough time to process the food. An easy good fueling breakfast for ultramarathons can be a toasted bagel or bread covered with honey, or jam and maybe some nut butter.
Eating so far in advance will make us feel great for the race, but we might need a pick-me-up fueling before the start. Therefore, if we take a gel about 15 minutes before the race starts we will feel even more energized.
Ultra-Marathon Nutrition: Race Strategy
Each one of us must put together our nutrition and hydration race strategy well before the actual race, it should be part of our training plan. What we eat and drink during our ultramarathon needs to be practiced repeatedly in all of our long runs during the training process.
We need to try absolutely everything out there to see what works best for our body. There are many different gels, bars, gummies, carb, electrolytes and sports drinks which we need to test.
As ultra-runners, it is also essential to try some solid food while training. During a longer Ultra-Marathon like an 80K, 100K, 168K, our body will be craving for some real food.
It’s helpful to try it beforehand so we can get used to running while chewing a peanut butter sandwich or other types of easy foods.
For runs or races up to 80K we should consume 150-300 kcals/hour.
For longer runs or races we should consume 200-400 kcals/hour.
We should consume 30-60g of carbs/hour while running.
On the back of each product, there is a nutrition label for your reference. When checking, be sure you pay attention to the serving size and the nutrition facts.
Gels can range anywhere from 16-25 grams of carbs depending on which ones you choose, and sports drinks also have a wide range of carb intake. It is important to check every single label and calculate our intake with care.
We should choose to consume what works best whether we can digest and absorb gels, carb-filled hydration, sandwiches, or other types of basic fueling.
Figuring out our nutrition race strategy may take a while, and there might be a lot of trial and error, but to keep testing the proper nutrition during our training sessions will provide many race benefits.
Most of us focus on training our body and mind, but training our gut is just as important to avoid crashing, vomiting or other stomach issues and loss of energy.
The most important thing is to consume enough carbs during our race so we don’t collapse Controlling our food is one of the few things we have power over, so we should take advantage of it and give ourselves the best shot at finishing our race happy and healthy.
To figure out our Ultra-Marathon hydration, taking a sweat test will calculate how much liquid we will need to replenish per hour.
When taking a sweat test, we should focus on our race conditions so our results will be as precise as possible. We need to take into consideration climate, especially when we will be racing in hot and humid weather.
After calculating our liquid loss, consuming a minimum of 80% of that figure to keep us well-hydrated.
Sweat Rate Calculation: http://www.triharder.com/THM_SwRate.aspx
We Can Also Drink Our Carbs
We can hydrate and consuming our fuel/carbs at the same time when drinking sports drinks. This can be a good option to alternate consuming different types of combined carbohydrates and electrolytes.
How Much To Carry?
We should always bring a bit more nutrition and hydration than what we think we may need during a race. Especially if we don’t have access to checkpoints, or no support.
To ensure a successful recovery, we must continue to fuel our body after an Ultra-Marathon.
Everyone reacts differently upon finishing an Ultra-Marathon, some runners can feel super hungry and others, no desire to eat at all.
No matter what, we need to take a recovery drink within 30 minutes after finishing and be sure and eat some protein and carbs to replenish our body’s energy.
Ultra-Marathon nutrition needs to be taken seriously to obtain positive race experiences and outcomes. Taking care of what we consume will enhance our performance and help us push to your maximum capacity.
Good Run Fueling and Nutrition, More Energy, Feeling Better and Stronger, Great Long-Distance Run!