Its never too soon to create and implement your ideal race day nutrition plan, in fact the more time you have to practice this in training the less likely you are to hit road blocks come race day. Training also offers a great variation of intensity, distance and environmental conditions to fine tune your fuel intake.
Here are some tips to get started with your ultra marathon & endurance training nutrition. If you work on these principles early on within your training programme you'll be set to lock in a solid and achievable race day nutrition plan.
First things first, off-road ultra marathons & endurance events are a step up from your traditional marathon length event. This means for most of you there will be changes in your approach to fuelling for these event. The simple fact these race lasts up to 12 hours + you’re not only exercising for a long time but also skipping meal times.
Remember that there is no "one size fits all" nutrition plan and every one of you is different and will have varying requirements to suit training and race day.
If it's possible to familiarise yourself with the foods and fluids provided at the Aid Stations on race day via the events website, this is a great way to start building these products into your training nutrition plan, so you can understand how these products work for you.
When training for durations of 1.5 hours and upwards an electrolyte and carbohydrate containing sports drink should be top of your list. Why not water? The carbohydrate and electrolyte content actually helps hydrate you i.e. pull water from your stomach to your cells. Not to mention carbohydrate helps fuel muscles and electrolytes help muscle function (all pretty essential for these events!).
How much you require depends on many factors such as size, gender, fitness level, intensity etc however as a starting guide aim for 500-750ml per hour. Aim to spread your hourly intake evenly over the hour so you get a consistent fluid delivery. If you are unable to reach your goal intake practice sipping at regular intervals and over time your body should adjust to tolerate larger intakes (start practising this for race day now)!
Regardless of weather, aim for a minimum of 500ml per hour. Note: it is particularly important to ensure you use hydration containing carbohydrates for energy but also electrolytes. You will be losing vital electrolytes in sweat and if these aren’t replaced (or you're drinking a truckload of plain water) you may be at risk of a very dangerous condition called Hyponatremia. Symptoms include confusion, nausea, headaches and even loss of consciousness, so be sure to replace electrolytes.
To ensure you adequately replace mineral salts lost from sweating during your run, we recommend you include PURE Electrolyte Replacement Capsules to your nutrition plan in addition to an electrolyte sports drink (particularly in the second half of the race) and your body will thank you for it!
Carbohydrate is petrol to your muscles so aim for 30-60g per hour of training. Start by working out how many carbohydrates you get from your fluid intake (remember you actually need to drink the amount you have set in order to get the carbs) then subtract that amount from your hourly aim. For example, if you are aiming for 50g of carbohydrate per hour 500ml of PURE Electrolyte Hydration contains 26.8g of carbs, just over half of your hourly requirements. The rest can come from a mixture of supplements (PURE Fluid Energy Gels, chews, lollies etc) and real food (bars, sandwiches, scones, muffins etc). Mix up your training foods so you can find what works best for you and also ensure you are training on a variation. You just never know what your taste buds accept or reject come race day!
Fat and Protein
Incorporate protein into your nutrition, particularly when training for periods of two hours or over. This will help support muscle function and repair during and after extended periods of exercise. The inclusion of fat can be helpful for long runs where meals are skipped or you're faced with hunger. Fat slows down the speed of digestion so start with small volumes and spread it out over your training run.
For those looking for a way to incorporate protein into training PURE Endurance Formula is specifically formulated for use during sustained strenuous exercise of 2 hours and over to provide carbohydrates, mineral salts and NZ Whey Protein Isolate.
Article by Marewa
Marewa Sutherland is a qualified Sports & Exercise Nutritionist (BAppSc, University of Otago) and co-founder of PURE Sports Nutrition.