Running an ultra distance is an incredible challenge which creates some nutritional challenges too. I normally advise a low carb diet for the whole population including athletes but when you’re training runs are burning literally thousands of calories, it can be difficult to eat enough to refuel efficiently and not lose weight. The nutritional demands for an ultra runner are massive and refuelling in the right way is very important to help recovery, reduce injury and fight illness. That said, there are ultra runners who eat low carbohydrate diets so it isn’t impossible.
Depending on the distance you’re covering in your ultra will depend on how many calories you’ll burn. Most sports watches and fitness tracking apps etc will give an estimate of what you have burnt during the time. When it comes to ultras, it’s about getting anything into you which will stay down, doesn’t upset your stomach and provides some energy. Trying to follow a rule e.g. you need to take on 1000 calories per hour can lead to additional stress if you’re worrying about consuming enough. My advice: eat/drink what works for you. Mentally, you’ll be in a much better place if you know your fuelling plan is going to work. Find out works for you early on in training so you have time to get help if you’re struggling.
Your nutrition prior to the event is key and should be as much of a priority as your training. Yes, you’re burning thousands of calories but if you’re replacing them with thousands of empty calories, you’re training will be seriously affected. What you eat during training will affect illness/injury frequency and recovery, energy, training performance and ultimately your race.
Although eating low carb can be difficult for ultra runners, you can still adopt many of the principals during training. Avoiding inflammatory foods such as pasta and bread is really important to help keep your gut healthy. If you’re eating more carbs and stocking up on these, you may be more at risk of gut problems on your runs. It’s also important to monitor your dairy intake and make sure you don’t have a slight lactose intolerance.
In general, I would suggest eating a healthy balanced diet, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and fish with unrefined carbohydrates as additional energy sources. Foods such as wholemeal, buckwheat or spelt pasta, brown rice, sweet potato, couscous, bulgar wheat and quinoa make great carbohydrate sources but are less processed than others. Brown rice and quinoa in particular are great.
For additional calories, make sure you eat full fat foods, use proper butter or coconut oil and stock up on nuts, cheese, avocado which are calorie rich but nutritious foods. For sweet fixes, investigate making primal or paleo cakes which are still calorific but don’t contain all the sugar and flour found in standard cakes.
Some suggested foods to eat whilst running:
Tubs of rice pudding/jelly
Chocolate spread sandwiches
As you can see, not the healthiest of choices but these foods tend to work well for a lot of people. I can’t emphasise enough the need to find what works for you though and how will you store it? If you have a support team, there are more options as you can keep food cold but if you’re on your own, you are quite limited.
Any questions? Drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07912 556470. Appointments are available at Accelerate Performance for nutritional consultations