In this running and nutrition guide, we’ll cover how to fuel yourself day-to-day to best prepare for your ultra.
This guide on running and nutrition will provide you with strategies to effectively fuel yourself on a daily basis in preparation for your ultramarathon. Being a successful ultramarathoner requires not only running prowess but also smart nutritional choices. To ensure success, you must excel in training and prioritize recovery by consuming protein-rich foods, consuming ample carbohydrates before difficult workouts, and experimenting with caffeine to enhance performance.
During your ultramarathon, fueling while on the move is critical for multiple reasons. As you run, your body depletes its glycogen stores, which leads to a significant decrease in performance once depleted (aka “the wall”). Consistently eating while running allows you to replenish lost fuel at the same rate you are using it, thus preventing depletion. Although eating while running can be challenging, practice makes perfect, so incorporate it into your training routine. Similar to race day, fueling during training will allow you to run farther and faster while improving your muscular and aerobic endurance.
What to eat
A good place to start when it comes to day-to-day running and nutrition is aiming for three balanced meals a day. This would consist of carbs, protein and vegetables. Good habits to consider are to eat more fresh food and less processed food.
Running puts a lot of stress on your body. You need to fuel adequately to ensure you can recover and repair, and therefore get stronger and fitter. We like to use the analogy between our bodies and a car – when you’re driving further, you’ll burn more petrol and need to fill up the tank more. The same can be said for your running. As you build up your mileage, you’re going to need to make sure you’re putting more into your ‘tank’ or eating more! This nicely brings us onto mention calories.
Calories put simply are a unit of measurement that refers to the energy in a given item of food. Across each day and each week, you’ll need to balance your calorie intake with the energy required to maintain your body’s function and movement. If not, you’ll either gain or lose weight. As you increase your running intensity, move more and burn more energy, you’ll need to increase your energy intake proportionally. The inverse is also true, that if you increase your running mileage or general activity without changing anything about your food intake, you’ll start to lose weight.
Understanding the relevance of calories is helpful, but by no means do you need to start counting the calories of each item of food you eat to be a good runner. It is valuable just having a rough understanding.
To give you a bit of a reference point, the recommended intake for an average male is 2500 calories daily, and 2000 for the average female. However, an ultra runner can use up to 8000 calories during an ultra so it’s important to optimise your fuel plan
When you think about the major food groups of fats, carbs and protein they respectively contain 9, 4 and 4 calories per 1g of each. As a result, consuming fat is going to be the most dense way to consume calories. Our bodies are also much faster at digesting carbs, hence why you should consume carbs while you are exercising.
TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) is made up of three figures. Our BMR (basal metabolic rate) is the number of calories it takes to run our vital organs and sustain daily life (60 – 75% of your daily calories). Our activity thermogenesis is the number of calories burned from moving our bodies (15 – 30% of daily calories). Finally, the thermic effect of food is the energy required to process and digest food (10% of daily calories). If you’d like to estimate your daily calorie intake or TDEE you can use a simple calculator online.
Fats v Carbs
Fats v Carbs is a common debate on the nutrition topic with lots of myths out there making the topic all the more confusing. While you need both to be a healthy adult, from a day-to-day perspective, neither is necessarily better than the other. You should look to meet your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) with a combination that suits your taste buds. They must keep you feeling full and energised throughout the day. Some people choose to consume more carbs and some a higher ratio of fats. Simply work out what suits you best, what foods you enjoy and take it from there.
Protein is the main nutrient source to help repair and grow your cells. As a result, when you’re looking to get stronger, faster and more powerful, while also recovering from your fatiguing training sessions, protein is going to be a key part of your running and nutrition lifestyle. You should look to eat 1.6 – 2 grams of protein per kg that you weigh. By aiming to have an element of protein within each meal, you’ll be fine! You can also look towards supplements that can support your training like creatine and BCAA’s
Contrary to popular belief, snacking is not bad! Often it can be helpful to have a snack before you head out running. Additionally, a mid-morning and late-afternoon snack between meals can help your concentration and increases your energy levels.
Whilst it may be tempting to order that muffin with your coffee (and that is totally fine), exercise moderation and try to balance the sweet treats with snacks that are lower in refined sugar. Try snacks such as nuts, rice cakes and nut butter, yoghurt and fruits. Or try a combo in a smoothie for easier digestion and instant hit of nutrients
If you’re craving another snack, we suggest having a drink first, waiting 30 minutes then seeing if you’re still hungry. Sometimes it may be that you’re just dehydrated!
On that note – hydration. An inactive adult should be looking to drink a minimum of 2 litres of water daily. However, if you’re exercising and/or have a high sweat rate, then you’ll need to consume significantly more especially in hot weather. We would advise that you hydrate regularly throughout the day to keep your hydration levels topped up! Spot the key signs of dehydration here
Fueling through your ultra is one of the most important things to learn, but it’s also about listening to your body on the day. You can practise loads but factors might come into play on the day that are new and will test your mental endurance such as heat, injury and the way you sleep. Read more here about timing your nutrition for you here
Overall it is important to find out what works for you. When it comes to nutrition, there is no one size fits all so don’t be afraid to try things out before settling for a routine that suits you in your running and nutrition lifestyle.