The way to an Ultramarathon finish line is through your stomach

The gut is the gateway to fuelling your legs for Ultra-Endurance Races….so why do so many people get this pivotal step so wrong, with gut issues ranking in the top 2 reasons for DNFs in ultra races!

You train for literally months, you sacrifice sleep, family time and beers on a weekend to prepare your body and your legs for the endurance required to survive 50-100+ kilometres of gruelling terrain.  So how, during months of training your legs and your mind, did you not think about how you were going to fuel yourself through this race?

We asked one of our resident Sports Dietitians, Peta Carige, to tell us the Do’s and Dont’s when it comes to fuelling for your next Ultra Endurance Race.

You’ve seen plenty of runners with gut issues. Do runners typically seek advice early in the ultra career or after a few misadventures?

I know I’m biased as the first thing I think of is food and nutrition, however it continues to amaze me how many clients I have come and see me who have done multiple ultra endurance events and suffered with severe gastro-intestinal tract (GIT) upset, vomiting, cramps or diarrhea and have only just thought they should maybe check their nutrition to see if that could help??

So are some runners just destined for GIT issues or is it something you can fix?

Changing your nutrition and hydration will help for two main reasons. Firstly, as soon as you become dehydrated your GIT is more sensitive to becoming irritated. So managing your hydration is an easy way to minimize your risk of GIT distress.

Secondly, the type of food and drink you consume has a huge impact on not only your GIT, but also your energy and ability to survive such a gruelling challenge on your body.

OK, hit me with your best tips.

So without doing a full race nutrition plan these are my five top tips for fuelling your next ultra endurance race:

Early and often. This holds true with hydration and food. DO NOT let your stomach become completely empty or dehydrated, because then when you put food or fluid in, it will dislike it and possibly reject it. You have to remember that if you don’t feed/hydrate your GIT your body will prioritise blood to your muscles (rightly so, you are asking them to run for 6-16 hours), therefore if no blood is going to your gut, it won’t work very well, therefore causing distress.

Hydrate with a variety of fluids. Always aim to start and continue with 50:50 water and electrolyte drink to help minimize your dehydration and help you retain what fluid you do drink. However, in addition to this you need to have a few more different tasting drinks in your support kit bags as you go so you don’t get sick of drinking. I would suggest flat coke, soda water, cordial, different electrolyte drinks, electrolyte shots, juice.

Start with real food. This is probably the biggest mistake I see when I attend these events. People start and ‘think’ they are going to finish on nothing but sports drinks and gels. Six to sixteen hours is a very, very long time to have only processed sugars and usually the back end of the race, they can-not stomach anything let alone the 5 gels they have on them. Try and start with as much real food options as possible and keep the processed, high sugar options towards the back end of the race when they will have the biggest impact.

Alternate sweet and savoury. Flavour fatigue in ultra-endurance races is real and easily avoided. You need to have a variety of snacks/foods that are sweet and savoury so you are less likely to have flavour fatigue and stop eating along the way. It sounds simple, but rarely implemented. PLUS, you need to trial all foods you plan to eat on your run in your training runs ideally, always remembering the first rule; early and often.

My favourite savoury options. Most people have no problem coming up with sweet snack options so here are a few of my savoury suggestions to add to your race bags this weekend: Boiled chat potatoes with salt, beef jerky, savoury protein balls (homemade), sweet-corn and ham fritters, zucchini slice, pretzels, salted or salt and vinegar crisps, pizza shapes, two-minute noodles (obviously not whilst moving).

Nice tips. If someone is reading this right now and they’ve got a history of gut issues in races, what’s the plan from here? What if their race is only weeks away?

It’s never too late to have a think about how you are going to construct your nutrition to best fuel your gut that therefore fuels your entire body. Obviously if you would like a race plan, please get in contact, otherwise happy snacking.

Fruit – whole Boiled potatoes + salt
Dried Fruit Beef Jerky
Trail mix with chocolate or dried fruit Savoury Protein Balls
Lollies Sweet-corn/ham Fritters
Gels Zucchini slice
Protein balls Chips / crisps
Protein bars Pizza shapes
Sports Drink Trail mix with salted nuts or pretzels
Coke 2 minute noodles
Chews/jubes Electrolytes and soda water

Written by

Travis Waite

Trav is a Physiotherapist with an Exercise Science background who specialises in shoulder injuries and gym-based rehab. He believes that injury rehab is an opportunity to work on performance and to emerge better than before you were injured.

Travis Waite