THE ULTRA MARATHON – WHAT TO EAT ON YOUR BIG DAY
What we eat and what agrees with our particular body and digestive system varies greatly from person to person. When running an ultra marathon our bodies need fuel. The question is which fuel is right for us? Michael Arnstein is a New Yorker who runs ultra marathons. He is a fruitarian and his fuel on ultra marathon day is between 40 to 50 bananas and it works for him. In 2005, ultra marathon runner Dean Karnazes ran for over 80 hours without sleep. In 2006 he ran fifty marathons in fifty states in fifty days. Karnazes often has a pizza delivered to him halfway through a race. These ultra athletes have very different ideas on diet but what is certain is that their choices suit their bodies.
Avoiding stomach problems on race day is vital. It is therefore essential that you work out which foods suit you BEFORE race day and remember, under no circumstances should you try something new on that important day. Scott Jurek, an extreme athlete of note, has this to say to ultra marathon runners, “Always familiarise yourself with a new food or drink before training. Many runners have experienced stomach distress when they have tried a new nutritional product in a race situation for the first time.” Marshall Ulrich is an ultra running champion and has also conquered the seven highest mountains in the world, he has some very simple, but sound advice, “Listen to your body and eat what you crave! Your body is smarter than you are and will tell you what you need. Remember to eat a balance of carbohydrate (simple sugars), proteins and fats. Use the aid station, and, if you have a crew, make sure they have a wide range of foods for you. Sometimes it’s easier to get your calories from liquid sources or energy gels during a race. Try these during your pre-race training and see what works for you. Of course, stay hydrated, and don’t forget to take in electrolytes, including sodium!”
HOW MUCH FOOD AND LIQUID?
Generally, when running an ultra marathon, you would consume between 200 and 350 calories an hour, depending on your build. Start off with a good breakfast. What you eat entirely depends on what suits you. Some athletes will have a large bowl of oats, a banana, coffee and water, while other athletes will consume a positive feast of up to 1000 calories, including foods such as sweet potato and spinach. All endurance athletes seem to include good coffee and lots of water with their breakfast. Christopher McDougall of Born to Run fame is quoted as saying that ultra marathons are “eating and drinking contests with a little exercise and scenery thrown in.” Some of the aid stations put on a positive banquet for runners. It is important to work out exactly what you want to eat and drink, and when. Try it out before the big day so that you know what you body can tolerate. Many athletes find that on long runs, such as 100 mile runs, they obtain their calories from food for the first half of the race and find that during the second half, they prefer to get their calories from liquids. Frequently, when running, not only can you forget to refuel but you can seriously lose your appetite. You cannot afford to have a dip in your blood sugar levels, so setting a timer to remind yourself to eat and stay hydrated is always a good plan.
HALF MARATHONS AND FULL MARATHONS
Whether you are running a half marathon or a full marathon, you body will need to stay hydrated and fuelled during your run, although many people running a half marathon feel it is unnecessary to eat during the race. Prepare your body before the race by eating good quality natural foods, getting lots of sleep and make sure you are fully hydrated days before race day. On race morning, get up early and have breakfast at least two hours, if not more, before the race starts. It is important to have the fuel but it must be digested before the race begins. Stay hydrated throughout the race and keep up your carb intake. Carbs can be taken in liquid form or as food. Remember to experiment with different foods and liquids BEFORE race day, so that you know what your body needs and to ensure that it doesn’t react badly to a newly introduced food. It can be very tempting to try that new, highly expensive sports drink which they are handing out at the refreshment stations – resist.
MULTI STAGE RACE NUTRITION
Every extreme athlete knows that you have to train your digestive system, just as well as you train you body and mind. You must know which foods you are intolerant to, which foods increase your stamina and which foods slow you down. daily food plan will ensure that your daily recovery is not hindered. Over time you will discover the right eating plan for you. A few weeks before a race, slow down your training programme and concentrate on fuelling your body with good nutritious food and gets lots of sleep. A week before the race, start drinking lots of water (perhaps up to 8 glasses per day) to ensure you start off fully hydrated and to help avoid cramping. The evening before the race eat a good balanced meal of tried and trusted foods. Two hours before the race begins eat a wholesome breakfast – perhaps porridge and a boiled egg or a good quality muesli. Staying hydrated during the race is vital and will vary from person to person and depends on how hot it is. The average person will need at least 250 ml of fluid every thirty minutes. MTB Adventures South Africa recommends “1g of carbohydrate per 1kg of bodyweight per hour (up to a maximum of 80g per hour). For example, if you weigh 60b kg: drink 500ml of energy drink and eat one banana per hour.” Again, the important thing is to listen to your body. As soon as you have finished the day’s race, start drinking and eating to get your body back into a state of equilibrium. Here's a video from James Parkes, working for Exeter Rugby Club, talking about nutrition for recreational athletes:
TO CARBO LOAD OR NOT TO CARBO LOAD – THE BANTING DIET
For years sports scientist Professor Tim Noakes, along with most nutritionists, has advocated carbo loading for athletes, he even wrote about it in his book The Lore of Running. Noakes also planned the food programme of a well known South African health hydro, based on his belief of eating a diet which is high in carbs and low in fat (HCLF). So why has Noakes completely reversed his advice and become a champion of the Banting diet and now likens carbs and sugar to nicotine and heroine? After much research into our modern day diet and the increase in obesity and ill health, Noakes found a diet put together for a William Banting by his doctor, William Harvey way back in 1862. Banting was a morbidly obese undertaker who lived in London and was suffering from many health problems which Harvey put down to farinaceous foods. He put Banting on a low carb, high fat (LCHF) diet and Banting not only lost his excess weight but his health improved beyond recognition. Noakes points out that a LCHF diet is what our ancestors ate before the advent of agriculture, fast food and genetically modified foods – this is the diet he says we were built for. Noakes, in his book, The Real Mean Revolution, gives the following advice to people who exercise, “If you are exercising heavily, simply increase the amount of fat you eat until you reach a point where you are no longer starving. This takes time but if you listen to your body, you’ll get an idea of what you need.” The scientific and medical community have criticised Noakes for making statements which are not scientifically proven and have also pointed out that no one has any idea what the long term effects of a LCHF diet on the body will be. However, there are many people who subscribe to the Banting diet (LCHF), Noakes included, who say they are performing better than they ever have done. There are many diets and ways of eating out there which claim to be the path to optimum health, but one size rarely fits all. The majority of health academics do not believe in extreme diets and advocate eating a diet which has a healthy balance and suits the needs of the individual. Dr. Celeste Naude of Stellenbosch University says before radically changing a diet, people should have “a complete assessment of nutritional health, taking into account medical history, other medical conditions and medication, the individual’s weight, height, physical activity level - a total risk profile – as well as food preferences, income and other environmental factors. The approach to an overweight guy in his 30s with no other risk factors will differ from that of an overweight guy in his late 40s who has had a heart attack and suffers from high blood pressure.”
VEGAN AND VEGETARIANS
Scott Jurek is an endurance athlete of note and became vegetarian in 1997 and vegan in 1999. He has a passion for life and is often seen cheering on other competitors after he has crossed the finishing line. Jurek firmly believes that a plant based diet is not only good for the environment but is also good for health, vitality and vigour Jurek says when he is training or running, he needs between 5000 and 8000 calories a day, “and I get all that from plant sources. It’s not hard either. I like to eat and I don’t have to worry about weight management. All I need is a high-carbohydrate diet with enough protein and fat.” Jurek commented that when he switched to his vegan diet, competitors and audience alike both thought that he wouldn’t finish a race. He surprised them all in not only finishing in excellent times, but also saying that he hardly ever gets any inflammation or stiffness after a run.
It is interesting to note that a great many endurance athletes prefer to eat good nutritional food on their journeys, rather than manufactured bars and jelly beans. Dr. Allen Lim is a sports physiologist and one of the top cycling nutritionists of our day. He has produced a marvellous cookery book, together with Chef Biju Thomas, called The Feed Zone Cookbook: Fast and Flavourful Food for Athletes. It has recipes for whole foods which give you the balance you need for top performance. As an example, Dr. Lim has made rice cakes with a difference. They are made from white calrose rice and scrambled eggs, to which you add the flavour of your choice – bacon, herbs, raisins, cheese or peanut butter. These freeze really well and are easy to digest. Take a few of these rice cakes, some dates as a natural source of sugar and carbs and add a coconut water to two for rehydration and electrolyte replacement and you should have a very successful run/ride. This article was brought to you by Tuvizo, the reflective vest and reflective gear company.