Advice on eating during single-day ultras, by
Australian ultra-runner David Criniti
“Your body is like a car”, my P.E. teacher once told me; “and like a
car needs petrol to run, you need petrol (in the form of food and drink)
to run”. “Beaut”, I thought, and promptly took up long-distance
running, as it seemed a good excuse to pig out!
The further and the faster a car travels, the more fuel it requires.
Similarly, the further and the faster we run, the more fuel we require. As
such, in a 100km race, which is going to take even the worlds best runners
more than a quarter of a day, a lot of energy is required. The good news
is that during the race, you get to be a bit of a glutton, guilt free.
Mars bars, doughnuts, lollies, coke are all part of many ultra-runners’
Now I don’t know a hell of a lot about cars, so I’ll leave that
analogy there, and quickly summarise the basic principles of energy
consumption that work for me on the single-day ultras.
1 – Eat regularly:
I never go more than half an hour without putting something solid in my
mouth during an ultra, even if it is just a couple jelly-beans. It keeps
the energy levels fairly constant. If, on the other hand, you wait too
long before refuelling, you may run out of petrol before the next BP (back
to the car analogy again, sorry!).
How regularly you can eat may also depend upon the spacing of aid
stations, but assuming they are 3-5km apart, at each one you may like to
grab a light snack such as:
Small chocolate bar
Piece of fruit
Lollies (snakes, jellybeans, etc)
2 – Eat light.
Your legs are doing the hard work, and hence they need the blood supply.
If you eat something heavy, you will start getting more blood travelling
to the digestive system, to help you process that T-bone steak, and your
legs may find themselves without enough blood to keep them moving
efficiently. So for your legs’ sake, stick with light snacks that
don’t require too much energy to digest. Taking small bites, and chewing
well can also reduce the amount of energy required by the digestive
3 – Eat for now and for later.
I look to a combination of two types of energy to keep me going throughout
Energy for now - Foods high in simple sugars (Eg:
Jelly-beans, snakes, sweet spreads such as honey or nutella, etc.): These
provide energy in a form that is quickly absorbed by the body and will
provide you with a noticeable (but short term) pick-me-up. Great for
immediate effect when you’re going through the bad patches.
Energy for later - Foods high in complex carbohydrates (Eg:
bread, pasta, etc): These provide energy in a form that is absorbed
more slowly by the body. Because it is absorbed more slowly, it doesn’t
give that immediate pick-me-up, but it does last longer than the energy
provided by simple sugars.
The two types of energy complement each other well, but I find that both
are necessary during an ultra, but neither one, on it’s own, is
sufficient. I find getting both types of energy in the one snack seems to
work pretty well. Eg: Nutella sandwiches have a high simple-sugar content
(nutella) and a high carbohydrate content (bread).
Same goes with doughnuts; the dough supplying the carbohydrates, and the
cinnamon or icing sugar providing the simple sugars.
4 – Wash it all down. Eating is extremely important to keep energy
levels high during endurance events, but equally, if not more important is
drinking. I try and leave no more than 15 minutes between drinks, even if
it is just a cup full. Keep the drinking regular but light, just like the
eating. Remember, “a man is not a camel” – you can’t drink heaps
now, and store it for later. You’ll just get bloated, and probably sick.
Finding the right amount to drink can take a bit of trial and error, but
if you drink small, regular amounts, it is easier to modify than if you
are drinking large quantities less often.
Well, that’s the gospel according to Dave. Hope it was some help, but if
it wasn’t, remember, there’s thousands of people out there, all with
their own interpretation. Whatever works best for you is most important.
Appendix: My food / drink consumption during a 100k race
Note: Everyone has individual tastes. I haven’t put this here in order
to say “this is what you should eat during an ultra”. Rather, it is a
guide as to what types and amounts of food may be useful in providing your
body with sufficient energy to successfully complete a single-day
Each lap (laps were 6.25km, with 2 aid stations split fairly evenly) I
would have 2 of the following:
Mars bar (fun size)
2 lollies (either snakes or jelly babies)
Choc chip musli bar (chewy)
Nutella spread on white bread
i) Banana’s are the type of food that needs to be
eaten in small bites and chewed well to avoid digestion problems.
ii) Even if I was feeling full, I’d still get a
small feed in, such as a couple snakes or lollies, to keep the energy
At each aid station (approx every 3 kms), I would
1 cup water
1 cup sports drink
After spillage, I’d estimate I got 150-200ml per cup, which means I was
drinking up to 1.6L per hour.
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