Eating on the (Ultra) Run

Updated: Aug 28, 2021

Ultra runners will face a rollercoaster run with nutrition because of the length of the event, distance between aid stations, changes in the environmental conditions, fatigue leading to poor decision making, and food or flavour fatigue. There are certainly a number of different factors to take into account while training for an ultra run, but one of the most common ones that stop runners from crossing that finish line would be undereating.

There's no shortage of different nutrition brands out there, so you will be needing to test a few gels and hydration tablets/powders out during your training. you will need to try out different food as well, I wouldn't recommend just fuelling on gels you will need real food.

Fueling BEFORE your Ultra

You may want to start eating a few carbohydrate meals 1-2 days before race day, just topping up your glycogen levels. This doesn't mean go stuffing in as much as you can with these meals, you want to look to consume around 400-600 calories mostly made up from carbs. Just make sure you don't eat too much as you don't want to feel bloated on the lead-up days. On the morning of your race, try eating a light carb meal about 2 hours before, again nothing too heavy as you don't want t feel too bloated. a small snack about 30 minutes before the start. Try staying hydrated throughout this time as well, sipping away on fluids.

During your Ultra

You really want to start fuelling early, any time from 45 - 60 minutes. Waiting until you are hungry and you will struggle to top up and catch up on calories.

On runs lasting longer than an hour: Bring some form of nutrition along to keep you energized and aid in recovery. For most runners, this means taking along snacks rich in carbohydrates, such as energy gels, chews and fruits. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Most runners will want to limit their intake of carbohydrates to 30–60 grams per hour. Sixty grams per hour is the maximum amount that most people’s bodies can process and eating more than this may cause an upset stomach.

  • Aim for about 200–300 calories per hour. With 1 gram of carbohydrates equaling 4 calories, aim for no more than about 240 calories of carbs per hour. (Everyone’s metabolism is a little different, so that’s why we recommend the 200-300 calorie range).

For runs that last five hours or more: Consider mixing in some fat that will help you feel satiated and provide a break from all the gels and chews. Things like energy bars, nuts, beef jerky and jam sandwiches can be a good choice. Also, listen to your cravings. Your body does a surprisingly good job of telling you what it needs. If you’re consistently doing long endurance runs, a small amount of protein (about 15g p/h) may help speed your recovery.

Remember to aim for 200–300 calories per hour. Many pre-packaged energy gels, bars and chews come in portion sizes that make this simple to do. You want to have a good selection of sweet and savoury foods as you will go through a roller coast of wanting different foods.

At the start of your race you may get away with gels or more sweet foods but later on, you may need some more savoury real foods.

What to Eat After a Long Run

After your long, strenuous runs, it's super important to refuel. Plan to eat foods high in carbohydrates and with some protein within about 1–2 hours of completing your run to help replenish your glycogen stores, replace lost electrolytes and rebuild muscle that was broken down during your run. I personally like to do this by downing a pint of chocolate milk, it works for me, you can find some recovery drinks that are formulated with a mix of protein, carbs, fat and electrolytes. A healthy meal with good nutritious ingredients works just as well.

Takeaway Tips

Everyday nutrition - It's not just your racing nutrition that will aid your running, you need to check your everyday eating, just because you run plenty shouldn't mean you eat what you like. Having a healthy, well-balanced diet made up mainly of carbohydrates, followed by fats and protein will help keep you energised.

Practice your nutrition - remember you need to practice nutrition throughout your training. Different foods at different stages of your runs. Some find keeping a food log helps.

Set a timer- It’s easy to zone out on a long run and lose track of the last time you had a sip of water or sucked down an energy gel. Many runners like to set a timer on their watch to sound an alarm every 20–30 minutes as a reminder to eat and/or drink 80–100 calories.


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