PRACTICE YOUR NUTRITION
by Gavin Markey of Tailwind Nutrition Australia
Now is the perfect time to practice your nutrition and make the mistakes in training, rather than on race day. We believe exercise nutrition should be simple and kept simple. The main reason is that our stomach can only digest between 200 and 300 calories per hour during exercise… and we at Tailwind Nutrition have put together some information to help you practice and understand your nutrition for ultra running.
General race nutrition advice from an expert in the field
We have partnered with Advanced Sports Dietitian – Alison Patterson – to provide you with some very useful nutrition information for how to prepare for, and get through the Margaret River Ultra Marathon. Alison is happy to provide some more basic advice and race nutrition tips or of you want a customised nutrition plan for training or race day then we encourage you to engage her on a paid basis.
Here’s Alison’s advice…
You’ve committed to the Margaret River Ultra Marathon now it’s time to get serious about your nutrition plans. Whether you’re a first timer or a seasoned pro there’s no doubt that what you eat and drink will make or break your race experience. Here are a few tips to get you to the start line in optimal condition and power through the day successfully, and without unwanted surprises!
Match your carbs to your training
Most trail runners know the benefits of carbs and many of you have probably experienced that dreaded ‘hit the wall’ feeling when your fuelling plans haven’t quite gone as you hoped! As the main fuel for the body during high intensity exercise, having insufficient carbs in your diet means your training is likely to suffer. At lower intensities (e.g. easy/recovery runs) your body can use fat stores as fuel, but as soon as the intensity ramps up (and you start puffing), your body relies on carbs to fuel your muscles and your brain – without them, the quality of your session is compromised.
Importantly, “adequate” carbs doesn’t mean “eating heaps of carbs all the time”. Put simply, timing is everything when it comes to carbohydrates and you should periodise your carbs to match your training needs. Heavy training days need more fuel, and subsequently more carbs. On the flip side, fuel (and therefore carb) needs are lower on easy training days or rest days. There may also be times where it’s useful to train with lower glycogen stores in your muscles to simulate the latter stages of the event. Finding the balance in your daily carb needs an individual approach and working with an Accredited Sports Dietitian can help you find the right combination for fuelling, recovery, adaptation and performance.
Protein is important for back-to-back training sessions
Training for the Margaret River Ultra Marathon requires a high volume of training, and often this means long training runs and some form of training on most days of the week. Without sufficient protein after a session, muscle repair and recovery, and therefore your training, can be compromised.
The body needs ~20-30g of protein after training to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis – which promotes growth and repair. This protein hit can either be eaten as a specific recovery snack, or your next main meal. If the time between your training sessions is short (less than 8-12 hours), getting this protein in within 60-90 minutes after you finish training is important.
Some examples of suitable recovery snacks and meals that you may like to try after training include:
- Fruit smoothie
- Flavoured milk
- Poached eggs on toast
- Muesli with yoghurt, nuts and berries
- Tuna on crackers
- Grilled salmon with a grain-based salad (e.g. quinoa/couscous)
- Chicken stir-fry with rice or noodles
Remember to hydrate
Understanding your individual fluid needs is the first step to developing a hydration plan for event day. It’s impossible to give a general recommendation for hourly fluid requirements as each person has a unique sweat rate that ultimately determines fluid needs. It’s best to assess your sweat rate in conditions that are as similar as possible to event day (e.g. during a training session at race pace in weather conditions as close as possible to what you expect on the day). Once you have a clearer understanding of your sweat losses and fluid needs, additional planning can be made to determine the timing of fluid intake, type of fluid and whether or not additional salt is required to supplement your electrolyte needs.
Practice and Refine
Training sessions are the ideal time to refine and practice your event day nutrition. Practicing your event day nutrition plan in training allows you to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. Trial and error can determine what sits well in your stomach, what makes you feel nauseous, what’s awkward to eat on the move, what foods are easy to carry, etc.
Things to consider when determining your event day plan, which you should practice in training, include:
- How much carbohydrate you need to take in during the run each hour. General requirements suggest ~30-60g of carbs per hour is a good starting point but the exact amount will depend on a number of individual factors such as your predicted finish time and previous experiences.
- What type/s of carbohydrates you’ll use during the run (e.g. gels, sports drinks, carbohydrate rich foods, etc).
- Whether you want to use a combination of sweet and savoury carb options. Gels might be great for a few hours but it’s easy to get sweetness fatigue if you don’t mix things up with savoury options.
- How you will use checkpoint nutrition stops to your advantage.
- How you will practically carry your nutrition (e.g. bananas squash easily, dried banana chips don’t)
- How you will carry fluids – hydration backpack, drink bottles or a combination?
Refining and practicing your event day plan will make sure that you feel confident in your nutrition on the big day. The less nutrition decisions you have to make during the day, the more you can concentrate on running and enjoying the experience.
EVENT DAY NUTRITION:
1. Load up
Most competitors are aware of the need to carbohydrate load before the event to optimise the body’s muscle glycogen (stored carbohydrate) levels. What is sometimes overlooked however, is the timing and amount of carbohydrate needed during the loading period – it’s more than just big bowl of pasta the night before racing.
Carbohydrate loading should take place over the 48 hours prior to event day and usually requires somewhere between 6-10g of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight (which is equal to 420-600g for a 70kg athlete). This is a big range and it’s important to know your individual target – this will help to have your muscles primed to run but without feeling heavy or nauseous at the start line. It’s also a good idea to think about lowering your fibre intake in the days leading up to the event to avoid unwanted toilet stops!
2. Don’t ditch last chance fuelling
Breakfast on the day of the run is your last chance to top up your fuel stores and prime your body for the long run ahead. Too often, athletes get nervous and ditch breakfast at the last minute. This can leave you behind your fuelling target from the start and it’s almost impossible to catch up once you begin running.
If you’re a nervous athlete, or someone who struggles to eat on the morning of an event there are a few things you could try:
- Add in an extra carb-rich supper snack (e.g. fruit salad with custard) the night before to reduce the amount you need to eat in the morning
- Keep your breakfast light – try toast or crumpets with jam
- Use carb-rich liquids (e.g. sports drink, juice, flavoured milk tetras) as part of your breakfast fuelling plan – liquids empty more quickly from your stomach than solids so can be easier to digest if you’re nervous
3. Stick with your plan (but have a back-up)
You’ve practiced your nutrition plan in training and you know it works so stick to it! There’s no benefit in trying something new on event day and more often than not, trying something new does not end well. Having said that, it’s important to have a back-up plan ‘just in case’. For example, it’s worth leaving some extra gels at a checkpoint in case you’re finding it hard to get down the energy bar that you intended to eat.
An important note to remember is that it’s really hard to catch up your nutrition if you fall behind with your plan so set an alarm on your watch to remind you to eat/drink and don’t ignore it. You might not always be feeling like eating but it’s important to keep dripping in carbs over the run to keep your energy levels up right the way to the end.
4. The one-percenter worth a shot
There’s no question that carbs and hydration are the two main nutrition strategies that determine your event day success. However, if you’re looking for an extra edge, something that might just bump you up a place or two in the rankings, consider caffeine. Caffeine works to reduce your perception of effort, meaning that you can sustain a higher intensity/output for longer. It also helps with concentration, which can be important during some sections, the trails. Many sports gels contain caffeine but flat cola soft drink or caffeinated tablets such as No Doz are also useful options. The most important thing with caffeine is to practice using it in training to find the smallest amount you need to take in that gives you a performance boost. This is usually between ~1-3mg caffeine per kilogram body weight (~70-210mg for a 70kg athlete). More is definitely not better when it comes to caffeine – too much can actually impair performance so it’s essential to find your individual sweet spot.