Nutrition during ultra runs

Nutrition during ultra running

Whether we feel we need it or not, the body needs regular intake of nutrition during an ultra run in order to function in an optimal way . It is not always easy to fulfil this need – to ensure sufficient intake of energy – after having been running for 4, 10, 20 or 40 hours.

Train for food intake

Your taste and smelling senses can change a lot after many hours of running. Some sense impressions get magnified, and the range of emotions can swing like a yo-yo. If you for example normally is fond of tomato soup, it is not sure that you are able to take it at all during a race. It might be that even the slightest smell of the soup makes you feel “sick”. Your whole physical system may be unbalanced after having run for hours, and it is important to try to get some intake which you have tested during training, and which you know may work for you. I deliberately write “may work”, because it may also turn out that it doesn’t work for you at all in your next run….

Vary the nutrition

It is important to have a variation in taste and texture of the nutrition during an ultra run. Too much of one type of food, or only one type of drink, does not function “in the long run”. The trick is to vary between the types of nutrition you know that your body can take. Some runners can run on only gel for a whole day and night, while others make it on just water and bananas. But for most people it is necessary with more and other types of nutrition. Potato mash and soup are quick and good sources of energy. These are easy to swallow, without needing to chew while running. Some get tired of chewing too much, or cannot bear eating anything taht has to be chewed.

Stop running when eating and drinking

It is obviously a big difference in the need for nutrition between a 50 km and a 100 miles run. For some, a 50 km run is the gateway into ultra running. For this distance you don’t need any other type of nutrition than what you need during a marathon, you just need a little bit more of it. It is however wise to stop and spend some extra time for the intake of drink and nutrition along the way. You will normally be rewarded for this at the end of race, and will catch up on others who have stopped to stretch on cramps, or who are exhaused due to lack of nutrition.

Test during training, not in competitions

During a 100 miles distance in terrain you will normally be out running for 20-30 hours. You need a lot of nutrition during this time. If you want to participate in such races, it is of outmost importance to train for eating during long runs, before the actual race. Find out what kind of and how much nutrition and drink your body can take, and what works best. New shoes should be tested and adapted during training, not during a race, and the same principle applies for nutrition. Try to avoid new types of nutrition during competitions. It may work well, but in the worst case, you cannot make it to the finish because the body can’t keep it.

Don’t skip food stations

Nutrition during running is more important the longer the distance and duration becomes. To find the correct intake and your own needs and limits is crucial in order to achieve your goals within ultra running. In the same way like you are training physically, you need to train the body to endure intake of a lot of nutrition during long and heavy physical load. During a long ultra run, it may be periods where you feel that you don’t want any intake of anything, but do not run away from the food stations, you may regret it!

Read about how to train for ultra runs here:

Good luck!

Author: Gjermund Sørstad

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