With a huge weekend of ultra-distance OCR’s on the horizon (New Jersey Ultra Beast & Toughest Mudder South), we thought it was a good time to go over arguably one of the most important pieces of the ultra-distance puzzle, and one that can make or break your race, your nutrition plan.
If you ARE racing one of the ultras this weekend, do not completely stray from your current plan, assuming (and praying) that you have one. We will give you some tips at the end of this article of how to tighten up the plan you’ve already put in place with only a day or two left before the big race.
If you ARE NOT racing one of the ultras this weekend, but are going to be doing a race that will take you over 4 hours this season, follow along, and we’ll give you some tips at the end of this article of how to start putting a plan together for your big race.
First things first, and a bit of a disclaimer here: EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT. There is no “right way” when it comes to perfect race nutrition. Everyone’s body, digestive system, and diet are different. That being said, there are some basics that are similar for everyone, and beyond that there are techniques that we know work for us! (Coaches Spencer + Luke here)
At the most basic level, its is obvious that during a race, you will be burning calories. So it should be just as obvious, that you need to try to replenish as many of those calories as possible. You WILL NOT be able to take in as many calories as you are burning throughout the whole race. It is just not possible. On average, most people can absorb between 200-280 calories per hour while RUNNING. (That is the main key here – obviously you could eat a 600 calorie pint of Ben + Jerrys in an hour if you were just walking down the street). If you are hustling, running, trying to be competitive (with yourself and/or others), and trying to make cutoff times, 200-280 per hour is where you’ll likely fall.
Knowing that, this is what you want to target for calorie intake, per hour, for races lasting longer than 4 hours. Here are some quick tips on eating during your race:
- Initially these calories should be coming predominately from carbs.
- Plan to eat 100-140 calories every half hour vs all 200-280 every hour. This makes it so you don’t have to eat a lot at once, but also it passes the time quicker and gives you something to look forward to.
- Start in the first hour! Seriously – 30 minutes into the race start eating. You know you’re going to be in a deficit, so don’t overlook that first 200+ calories you can work in during the first hour!
- Stick with what your body knows. Races are not the time to be experimenting with something you’ve never tried before. Stomach issues can be unpredictable, but sticking to what has worked for you in the past, and what your body is used to, will give you a better chance for success.
Since you will burn more than you can consume, your body is going to be in a calorie deficit. Knowing this, it’s important to manage the inevitable “low point” you may experience at some point during the race. If you’ve never experienced this feeling, its when your body throws a TV time out. You are basically at the mercy of your body playing catch up, and simple movement begins to feel daunting. Recognizing that you are in a low point and working to move through it is a major key during long races. DON’T let it get to you mentally, most people check out mentally when these lows hit and that compounds the problem. Stay calm, continue with your caloric plan, and realize that this feeling will pass.
If you’re racing this weekend:
- Don’t change up the food you’re planning on eating with only a few days before the race. Make sure you don’t have anything in your plan that you’ve never experimented with during exercise before (if possible).
- Look at the calories in the nutrition you plan to take, and try to divvy it up into 100-140 calorie servings. (Or at least look at what the calories are for each item)
- Plan to eat every 30 minutes – starting at the first 30 minute mark.
- Eat the entire 100-140 calorie serving. If you have something like Clif Bloks that are 200 calories per pack, just know that each 30 minutes you have to eat half of the pack.
- Have a plan for what order you’re going to eat things in – you will undoubtedly stray from this during the race based on how your body feels, but it’s better to go in with, and start with a plan. BUT don’t stray from the calorie intake plan. 200 calories per hour at least 🙂
If you’re planning on doing an ultra this season:
- Start your nutrition plan now.
- Begin to experiment with portable nutrition options – especially during long runs! Try them out a few times, during different duration runs, at different points during the run, etc. See how your body reacts.
- If doing an 2 hour+ long run, experiment with sticking to same calorie intake parameters (200-280).
- Try GUs vs gummies vs hydration solutions.
- Send us an email to start working with coach Luke – maybe the best tip of this whole article! 😉
Good luck to everyone racing this weekend, and if you’re going to be at Toughest Mudder Atlanta, we’ll see you on Everest!
Spencer & Luke
Coach Luke is a long-distance machine, with dozens of trail ultras under his belt including: 7th place finish at 2017 Georgia Death Race (70+ miles), 4th place finish at 2016 Hellgate 100k, 2016 Grindstone 100-Miler, and 75 miles at 2015 World’s Toughest Mudder. Learn more about coach Luke here.
Coach Spencer only has experience with ultra nutrition from the 2016 Quebec Ultra Beast, but he followed all the above recommendations, and it helped him complete an ultra beast course that had one of the highest totals of vertical gain, and DNF’s. Read about his experience here.