Certain cynics amongst our running group regard an ultra marathon as a long picnic walk with a bit of running thrown in. They aren’t entirely mistaken as eating during an ultra is part of the fun right? However, these individuals prefer running 26.2 miles on tarmac, so the closest they come to race nutrition is two days carb loading and forcing down a couple of energy gels when their glycogen levels start to drop at mile 20!
As ultra marathon runners, we understand the need to keep energy levels topped up as we need to be on our feet for a long time. We have found that when eating during an ultra, little and often is vital and it’s important to start eating early in the event – we have usually opened the picnic hamper before the end of the first hour.
The Science Behind Energy Intake During a Race
According to the science, an average sized person should be aiming to intake approximately 250 calories or 62g of carbohydrates per hour during the event. Personal experience has taught me that I cannot solely rely on energy gels for these calories – unless I want them rapidly leaving my body from both ends after about five hours!
Pre-Race Carb Loading
Similar to our marathon running friends, we find that carb loading for two to three days prior to the event is important. We aim for three healthy carbohydrate based meals a day, topped up with mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks. Be sure to eat something simple and not spicy or rich the night before the event. This was a valuable lesson learned by one of us during one particular event but we will save that story for another time.
Fuelling Our Run
During the event itself, we fill our hydration packs with a mix of savoury and sweet foods and have a planned schedule of what we will eat and when – we try to avoid too much sugar early on. We have tried all of the food below on several occasions during our training runs and have mastered the art of eating during an ultra. But what do we eat?
A Mix of Sweet and Savoury
Everyone is different and your dietary requirements will depend on your lifestyle and whether you eat a plant-based diet etc. These are just the things that work for us – there are many things that don’t so we go with what we know!
Savoury foods include;
- Vegetarian sausage rolls (the Linda McCartney ones are especially good),
- Homemade marmite & cheese pastries
- Cheese sandwiches on white bread
- Ella’s pouches – you can buy a variety pack of 4 month puree options
- Granola – make sure you have some water to wash it down with
Sweet foods include;
- Jam sandwiches on white bread (trust us – this offers an instant hit of energy)
- Soreen Malt Loaf (we actually are never without one of these in our backpacks)
- Ella’s Pouches (Mangoes, Pears & Papayas)
- Drumstick Squashies – these were discovered after 20 miles of a particularly gruelling training run and were at the time, the best thing I had ever tasted.
Hydration is Critical
I should also mention the importance of taking on fluids. We use a mix of water and electrolytes to ensure we stay hydrated throughout the event. We have been known to have a small black coffee early on, and reserve flat full-fat Coke for a special pick me up during the last third of an event. Don’t underestimate the amount of fluids you will lose when running an ultra marathon of any distance. And yes, you will probably need to be OK with nature wees!
Test it Out Before Your Event
A word of warning about aid stations, as these can resemble the food table at a kids birthday party. You should only eat something you have tried before and know you are comfortable running with it, there is nothing worse than stomach cramps or an upset tummy when you are half way through an ultra marathon distance.
Oh, and one final note; don’t forget your banana! You will need this to refuel immediately after the race.
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