Fueling in an Ultra
In an ultramarathon race, fueling is critical to success. These tips represent my thoughts and experiences. If you have tips you'd like to add, just let me know.
1 General Tips
- Digestion becomes more difficult as the exertion level increases. There is only a limited supply of blood in the body, and it cannot fuel both the muscles and the digestive system if they are both working hard. This means you need to slow up to fuel properly.
- The foods that work for you at one distance may not work for you at a different distance. There seems to be a tendency to need more fat and Protein as the distance increases, but this is not a hard rule.
- What works for you on one race may not work for you on another; be adaptable.
- If you have a bad reaction to some foods, it's probably best to avoid them. For instance, I find that any type of soda makes my stomach very acidic.
- I have found that eating whatever appeals at the time works consistently well for me. If I eat what I believe I should eat, then I have problems. I think my appetite reflects my body's underlying needs in a way that my conscious mind does not understand. I have yet to have a problem when I eat what appeals. This also means sometimes I don't eat anything if nothing appeals.
- Generally speaking, junk food is your friend. In an ultra, foods that are easily digested and high in calories are a good thing. I eat what I believe to be a healthy diet normally, but on a race, it's whatever appeals at the time.
- Anti acid and anti gas tablets can help. I carry a Portable Pharmacy
- Carry a quart Ziploc bag and carry some food with you between Aid Stations. It's better to eat while moving, even if you're only doing a slow walk, than to be stationary.
- Overheating can cause nausea. It took me a long time, and a lot of suffering, to work out this simple fact.
2 Types of Fuel
Here are some personal observations on different foods for ultras. Your experience will differ!
- Cookies – My ultras are normally fueled with Cookies. Newman's Own does a ginger Oreo style cookie that is wonderful ;}
- PB&J – A great source of carbs, fat and Protein. I love PB&J.
- Peanut Butter and Honey – My adaptation of PB&J, mixed together and put into a squeeze tube. Easy to digest, easy to eat and very high calorie density, provides carbohydrates, fats and Protein. Good stuff.
- Cheezits, crackers – When my appetite swaps from cookies to Cheezits, I know I'm short on salt.
- Cake – I am partial to cake, but it is hard to carry and can be very messy
- M&Ms, Chocolate – Combining sugar, fat and a stimulant; what more could you want?
- Ensure, Protein drinks – These do not generally work for me, but others do very well on them.
- Gatorade, sports drink – A good way of getting fluids, but not much in the way of calories.
- Soda – as mentioned, this upsets my digestive system, though ginger ale is okay for me.
- Pretzels – A good source of salt and some simple carbs. Pretzels can appeal when my stomach is unhappy.
- Pizza, hamburger, Hotdogs – I only go for these on very long, slow races, but when they appeal, they work very well.
- Chicken Soup – On a cold race, chicken soup helps warm you up, hydrates, provides electrolytes, and comfort.
- Red Bull – This can help provide me a lift, especially when it's getting dark.