With the ultra marathon season on the horizon I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the idea of ultra specific race nutrition. Through my own training and racing I tried many approaches to my nutrition and through readings and trial and error I have come to follow the following guidelines.
At the core of ultra race nutrition is the idea of consuming small amounts of carbohydrates every 15 minutes and to start each long workout or race fully loaded and not getting behind in calories. Also the longer the event the more calories needed.
In my readings by Trent Stellingwerff and Asker's Jeukendrup, Trent drives home the point of 15 grams of carbohydrates every 15 minutes in 150ml of fluids and Asker has some specific ideas based on distance.
Asker showed some interesting data showing a pronounced trend that faster times were correlated with higher carbohydrate intake per hour in ultra events and suggests that ultra-endurance athletes should aim for up to 90 g/hr of carbohydrates, and he showed some data from Ironman triathlete Chrissie Wellington who set a new Ironman world record in 2010 using this approach.
Asker's guidelines with suggestions based on Trent's "Rule of 15"
In terms of tolerating high carb intake, it’s definitely an individual thing, but you do get better at tolerating high loads with practice. In his example of triathlete Chrissie Wellington, she was consuming 86 g/hr in 2007 and in 2011 was apparently taking quite a bit more than that, because she’s managed to train her system to tolerate it.
Another change Wellington made was that she takes just carbs, no protein. In Asker’s opinion he found no benefit from adding protein — so eliminating the protein might make it easier on the gut.
Also he noted that his recent studies have found no difference in absorption rate for bars, gels and fluids, so you can mix and match to find what your stomach tolerates best. He makes no reference to non sport nutrition products in terms of absorption rate but I would think that certain foods such as cooked sweet potato would also be a good addition to your mix of foods.
The thing that stands out for me is that when you consume food like soups, potatoes etx in an ultra event be very careful to keep to the rule of 15 in that you do not consume more than 25 grams of carbohydrates in 15 minutes as your body will not be able to tolerate the large increase in calories, i.e. do not come into transition and sit down and consume a pizza, have the pizza cut up into small pieces in a zip lock and consume in small portions as you walk the uphills.
It takes about an hour for the rate of carbohydrate uptake to reach maximum. So if you only start taking carbohydrate s after an hour, there will be a delay before those carbohydrates are being fully utilized, so it is best to start right from the start utilizing the rule of 15 deciding how you want to consume the calories utilizing gels, bars, sports drink and in what combination.
Given all this, the thing that strikes you the most, is how am I going to carry all these calories so that I can consume them in such small amounts throughout the event. This is where a little planning can go a long way and breaking down the legs and deciding how long each leg will take and how many calories you will need using any number of hydration packs and handhelds.
The take home message in my mind is not so much what you use as fuel but how you consume that fuel and if you can take small sips, small bites and start early you will stay well stocked and energy levels will remain even throughout your event.
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At Fast Trax we suggest you apply Dr Trent Stellingwerff's Rule of 15 to your race nutrition needs with 15 grams of carbohydrates every 15 minutes with 150ml of fluids.
Recent study's have shown a significant positive correlation between higher CHO intake rates and faster finishing times in marathon races. Thus, we suggest half marathon and marathon runners alike attempted to maximize their fuelling and hydration plan by consuming ~15 g CHO in ~150 ml of fluids every ~15 min during the race.
Marathon performance is influenced by dedication to handle training loads in an intelligent program. However, a well practiced marathon nutrition plan can certainly facilitate the quest for marathon success which is why we suggest practicing your race day nutrition on each of your half marathon and marathon specific simulation runs.
When planing your nutrition plan for your upcoming half marathon or marathon aim too drink frequently, drinking 150ml of sports drink every 15 to 20 minutes. The sports drinks provides a portion of your required carbohydrates and the electrolytes you need to avoid cramping.
If you are using the aid stations it is a good idea to grab a cup of water as you enter the aid station and a cup of sports drink as you exit. Since you’ll undoubtedly spill some just grabbing the cup, you’ll now have a good chance of getting the 150ml you want. Be patient in the aid stations and don’t just gulp the fluid and toss the cup. Crimp the top of the cup and run with it as you drink. Then, grab the second cup and do the same.
Over and above this, as you will not receive all the carbohydrates you need from sports drink alone, I would suggest carrying a small gel flask with four gels mixed with water and sip on this though the race or better yet take a swig of gel as you approach each aid station, grab a cup of water as you enter the aid station to wash down and then a cup of sports drink as you exit. This way you receive the fluids, carbohydrates and electrolytes you need to fuel your body for the entire event.
I believe by following this strategy you will maintain your blood sugar levels, have energy for your working muscles and help restock your energy stores for afterwards. Compared to drinking just water for the duration of the marathon I feel it also helps in post marathon recovery, so you can be back on the roads training again with minimal loss of fitness.
Simple Race Plan
Detailed Race Plan
Overall the best strategy is to complete your prerace meal with 300-400 calories of complex carbohydrates and a little protein 3 hours before event to allow time for digestion so that you can push harder and feel great.
But, there is no need to sacrifice critical sleep just to squeeze in a meal if you need a few more hours of rest. If you begin fueling 10-20 minutes after the start of your event, your performance will not suffer.
Being hungry before you exercise won't hurt performance. If you must eat something, about 10 minutes before the start consume 100 calories of a nutrient-dense fuel such as a gel.
The night before an event, eat light and clean with no refined sugar, saturated fats, or alcohol. Eat until you are satisfied and no more.
For maximum glycogen replenishment, consume 30-60 grams of quality complex carbohydrates and 10-20 grams of protein as soon as possible after your event.
Detailed information on how to apply Dr Trent Stellingwerff's Rule of 15 to your specific race nutrition needs with 15 grams of carbohydrates every 15 minutes with 150ml of fluids.
Hope this helps and good luck in your upcoming marathon!