One of the most important aspects of ultra running is fueling properly. This has been something that I’ve been trying to figure out in conjunction with my 50k training, and here’s what I’ve learned so far.
When I first started running long distances, it took me some time to adjust to eating while on a run. I didn’t often feel hungry in the middle of a run, so it was strange to make myself eat. Soon it became second nature—I would take GU/Chomps/ShotBlox/Sport Beans every hour or so, swig some water, and keep going.
Eating while ultra running is an entirely different animal. You burn more calories on the trails, plus you’re out there for longer periods of time, so you have to take in a lot more calories. I have learned over the past few months how ultra runners eat differently. They are more likely to eat real food like sandwiches and soda to take in as many calories as possible. But it’s a Catch-22—you want to eat so that you have enough energy, but you don’t want to eat the wrong thing and throw up all over the trail.
My last long run is a good example of what happens when you don’t fuel properly. I had eaten two Chomps (66 calories) over a span of about two and a half hours. At some point I noticed that I was feeling funny. Not sick, just…strange. I described it to my friend Dan as floating outside my body. I ended up having to sit and eat a few packets of Justin’s Nut Butter to get some energy back. That was a wake-up call for me before the race this weekend. I need to learn how to eat on a schedule—whether I’m hungry or not—to avoid bonking.
Like I mentioned when I first registered for the 50k, one goal of mine was to learn how to fuel properly while on the trails. I eliminated GU entirely from my fuel, because I suspect that it may have played a part in my stomach issues post-run. I replaced it with Justin’s Nut Butter, and I usually keep Chomps, ShotBlox, or Sport Beans with me to suck on for the sugar. I also switched to drinking a 60/40 mixture of water and Gatorade.
I am all about snacking on M&Ms and potato chips on the run, and while I haven’t tried potatoes dipped in salt yet, I’m sure that I’ll be a fan. I also haven’t tried eating an actual meal—like a sandwich—while running. I haven’t had the need to yet, and the thought still makes me wary.
As a whole I have been making an effort to eat much healthier. Zack and I have gone almost completely vegetarian, switched to drinking soy and almond milk, and shop primarily at Whole Foods and Earth Fare. We try to eat as clean as possible, though I have been known to eat a cookie or eight. We feel better physically, and knock-on-wood have avoided the flu and other crap that went around this winter.
My plan for the 50k is to keep at least two nut butters with me and have my handheld filled with water and Gatorade. At every aid station I will refuel, refill my handheld, and grab whatever else catches my eye. This race will be a great learning experience, because I will not only learn what works for my body, but I can also watch what other runners do and learn from them. Fingers crossed all goes well!
What is your favorite fuel while running?