Help with Nutrition

On Friday night Cara came round for tea and a chat about how best to eat during an ultra. Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking more and more about my plans for this year and what I need to eat and drink to avoid a repeat of least year’s whw race when I struggled at Bridge of Orchy.

A conversation with Cara at our club Hogmanay Race came just at the right time. Cara has done a lot of research into nutrition and ultra running and was interested to see what I do and whether it fits with the research she’s done.
So after a lovely meal (thanks Katrina) we sat down for a couple of hours and talked food! Cara very kindly put a paper together for me with the main areas of interest.
During our conversation I realised that by trial and error, chatting to lots of other runners I’ve got a number of things about right (and lots wrong!!) but I didn’t really know why they were right or wrong.
Cara really helped me to work out some principles and ideas plus some great tips on things I can do to fuel a 95mile race.
Over the coming weeks and months I’m going to be trying them out but for now here are the main points I learnt from our chat. As with all things food it is very personal but hopefully there will be things here that might help you as well!
# The body can burn up to 600kcal per hour during exercise but can only absorb 250-300kcal
I’ve known that for a good while but what I’ve not really appreciated is what does 250kcal look like. I reckon I’ve been trying to eat too much at times. If you eat more than 300kcal it’s not doing you any good as it just sits in your stomach.
# Variety is really important
Don’t eat the same stuff all day. I’ve been very bad at this. One year Baked beans were the answer and that was all I ate. Another year grapes. But what I really need to do is a whole variety of food. Last year’s race I only really had sweet stuff and my body rejected it!
# Glycamic Index
All a bit technical this bit but basically there are low and high GI. Low GI is good for a long slow effect and high GI will give you a sugar spike. We need both so variety again important.
# Need to start eating early
No good waiting for a few hours when your glycogen stores are low. Need to keep eating a little and often. Been okay with one but good to be reminded of the importance and why.
# Eat different foods at different times
I explained to Cara that after 12hrs or so I find it really hard to eat any real solid foods so she gave me some great ideas of how to increase the density of food and drinks. I’ll be trying out some of her ideas on my long monthly training runs. So I’m going to be splitting my whw race into three sections with different foods for each section with the idea of trying to keep eating 250kcal an hour throughout the race.
# Use natural foods
Cara encouraged me to make all my own food and drink. Gels are okay but it’s far better to make your own then you know what’s in there and whether it’s good for you. Plus it will save money!!
Even recovery drinks. Eating a banana within 30mins of finishing a long run will really help the body to recover.
# Use training runs as practise for the race
We talked about training in a fasted state and we both felt it wasn’t worth it. The benefits are unproven and it makes the run less enjoyable. I want to enjoy my long runs as much as possible! So I’m going to continue to make my training runs as close to race conditions as possible in relation to pace, gear and especially food.
# Record what I eat
I’ve not been very good at recording just how much I eat and drink on training runs and races. So this year I’m going to record everything and work out just how much I’m actually eating and how I feel. Oooo …. another spreadsheet to play with!!
I’m sure there is lots more we talked about but that will do for a start. I’m looking forward to working harder on my nutrition and being a more scientific about it. We’ll see if it makes any difference!
This morning I was up at 6.15am and out running by 6.50am. I was meeting David at the steps leading up to the Braes at 7am. It was really dark and really wet underfoot after all the rain we had yesterday. But at least all the snow and ice has gone.
We did the big loop the other way round this week for a change and added in another loop to make it up to 15miles. We had another great run together and I just hope David didn’t get too bored as I chatted all about all I’d learnt from Cara on Friday!!
One interesting thing happened though.
I decided to work out what 500kcal would be and aim to eat that on the run. We were going to be running for 2.5hrs so I figured that was about right.
My 500kcal was made of ….
1 slice of wholemeal bread – 95kcal
40g of peanut butter – 260kcal
15g jam – 35kcal
1 banana – 90kcal
3 jelly babies – 60kcal
David didn’t eat anything as his fruit pastels froze! I reckon we are running at a very similar pace at the moment but after about 2hrs we had a short sharp hill to run. I was feeling good and ran up the hill whereas David had to walk and said he felt he had no energy to run it.
So coincidence or something more important? I definitely felt really strong right through the 15miles. Food for thought as they say.
So another good week. Here is how it worked out compared to the plan ….
15.32miles in 2hrs 37mins 07secs (10.16pace)
This entry was posted in advice on race nutrition, Long run. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Help with Nutrition

  1. WHW Runner says:

    I think nutrition is a fascinating subject John, and one where there is a lot of scope for all of us to improve our performance. We've arranged for the Head of Nutrition at the Institute of Sport to speak at the WHW Training and Inspiration night on 9 Feb. She should be interesting to hear.

  2. Grellan says:

    Thanks for the food tips John, very informative and although it is a personal thing the general principles are ture for everyone.

  3. ann says:

    If you are going to do this tough stuff that you do, you really do have to analize what you eat. If you put the wrong fuel in a machine, it doesn't work so well .. duh?
    I used to be involved quite a lot in swimming and couldn't believe that the competetive swimmers didn't think about what they were eating around race time.
    My partner and I don't run here in La Palma, but we might walk fast for 7 hours or over rough terrain for 10 hours and we are still exploring this whole food thing!

  4. Andy Cole says:

    Interesting as always John. I agree that it is a surprise to discover how little 250kcal (60g of carbs) is – eg if you're drinking Coke you won't be able to consume much at all in the way of food. In a way this is a relief because I think many of us were just trying to eat too much during long races and feeling psychologically down when we “couldn't eat enough”. But Andy DB also made the point to me that as you slow down you can absorb more carbs – 250cal is when you are running steadily, if you slow to a jog or walk you have more capacity to digest – logical but a bit counter-intuitive. I think your experience with David losing power at 2 hours is spot on. I'm still experimenting with training on no fuel (not certain whether I'll continue with this, think the jury's still out), and the point at which it starts to feel harder is always around the two hour mark.

  5. Ali says:

    Peanut butter. Jam. Bread. Banana. Jelly Babies. It seems the secret to ultra-running nutrition is to eat like a six year old.

  6. Andy Kerr says:

    Did you experiment much with Hammer's Perpetuam liquid nutrition? I'm using it on the bike but tend to be bored of it by the time I hit the run of an ironman and take some gels amongst other things. A bit different from your racing, but keen to hear.


  7. Fascinating debate John. My main concern is that 250kcals every hour, for 20 hours is a lot, when you are running for performance and not just jogging along. This 250kcal figure came from treadmill research lasting a couple of hours. The theory has then been extrapolated upwards to cover ultras – always a dangerous thing to do. Look at it this way – most of us could go down the pub and drink a pint an hour, for say 3 hours. But a pint an hour for 20 hours??? Point made.

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