I was once asked by someone whether we stop and eat lunch during ultra-distance running of 56 miles/90km. I obviously laughed at first but later I realized that this was a genuine question considering that for that distance some runners finish over 12 hrs.
My experience over the years has taught me that matter nutrition and supplements are by in large a personal choice. What you eat and when is really determined by many factors including health-related conditions, in my personal case suffering from IBS ( Irritable Bowel Syndrom), there are certain foods that I can’t eat immediately before and during the race.
The issue of managing your race fuel starts at training, and at best from a good eating habit lifestyle. If you have developed a discipline of “clean” eating habits, you will find it easy to manage your fuel intake during the race. It is very much important to know what works for you.
The week leading up to the race is so critical, you have the challenge to balance your race tapering and fuel intake. If you obsess with weight like me you will have difficulties because 3 months prior to the race you might have dropped weight to your “ideal race weight” only to pick up few kilograms on the last two weeks before the race as you eat more than you work out. But the goal is to run efficiently, so the weight management suffers.
There are common nutritional needs for every runner that must be met, somehow, before a race is resumed.
Your main fuel source is carbohydrates and fat, the body stores the former and reproduces it as glycogen which is critical for your sustenance during the long run. The fat, on the other hand, is as important but is about 15% less efficient than carbohydrates as energy sources. The energy in the body is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles.
It is important to note that the glycogen stores get depleted after 60-90 min of exercise and this is the ideal time to replenish and top up. What it means is that you want to fuel up around these times but others like to use distance, for example at every 9km I will replenish using either race food or using my favorite Cytomax Tangy Orange Sports Performance Mix
You can also take potatoes, bananas, mageu and sports drink of your choice.
This happens as a result of sweating but there are also other factors including certain medications that might exacerbate it. So, if you are on meds it could be advisable to check with your doctor.
Fluids and electrolytes are essential to the body to produce energy and contracting muscles. A person loses 1litre of water for every kg of weight they lose, and as a rule of thumb, a person needs to replace 500ml to 750 ml per hour.
So there is an issue here of over-hydration when runners stop at every aid station to have water, I am not mentioning the time wasted during the process. Here I discussed the amount of time wasted on water point station Ultra Marathon Training Guide-Comrades Marathon Training Tips
Magnesium and sodium are the two most important electrolytes that are critical for any endurance sport. There are many products out there which provides a good amount of these, magnesium is good for the conversion of glycogen to glucose, and therefore important for the provision of energy. It is important for protein metabolism, which is vital for strength and power and lastly for muscle recovery, which prevents cramping and fatigue.
One of the most difficult things which we struggle with as runners are getting a good balance of hydration such that we neither dehydrate nor overhydrate. There are many factors that can contribute to finding oneself on either side of the extreme.
Naturally, during endurance exercise, we lose both water and electrolytes ( sodium and magnesium). The challenge is to know which one to replenish at what point, at the time you would think you need water whereas you need electrolytes.
I must say knowing which one to take at a given point comes a lot through practice. If you are a careful athlete, you will be able to study your body in different weather conditions and be able to work out when to drink what. I emphasize this with my runners that each person must train and understand their body’s needs as they train so that come race day they are not overwhelmed with water stations at every 3k.
I sometimes see runners eating a watermelon and immediately drinking water, that’s too much water already, as a matter of fact, I would rather eat watermelon more and drink less water if any because in there you have enough water to sustain you from one point to the other.
It is recommended that you start your race adequately hydrated, as a personal preference, I drink 1 lt of water at least an hour before the race, and sip between 300ml and 500ml of my electrolytes. In this way I avoid aid stations for about an hour or so, better still, as I carry my electrolytes with me I am able to maintain the discipline of not overhydrating myself.
Over-hydration, water intoxication or water poisoning
During running we lose water and electrolytes mainly sodium (salt) and magnesium. Athletes tend to correct water loss and forget to correct the electrolytes, which leads to low sodium levels in the body (hypernatremia). At worst water poisoning during endurance exercise can be deadly.
Overhydration will cause your legs to be sluggish and running becomes more difficult, you may even start cramping and wonder why because you think you have had enough to drink, no you had too much water which flashed out sodium and magnesium that are supposed to protect you against cramping.
The best way to avoid this situation is to balance your water intake with your electrolytes, do this during your training, find the best method for you and take that to your race.
Always carry a rehydration solution with electrolytes for long runs and any race longer than 15km. Drink when you are thirsty not in anticipation of being thirsty. Avoid alcohol the day before the race (alcohol causes dehydration)
Plan your nutrition intake, know what to eat the night before the race and a pre-race meal. I love my oats meal and coffee. Get yourself hydrated in a week leading to the race, as a personal rule I drink 4lt of water per day because of high-intensity workouts I do, so I don’t change this at any point.
Don’t stop at any and every aid station, but when it’s hot don’t forget to spray your body with water from the head down to keep it cool.
I would love to hear from you what you think about this article, is there something that you think I missed? What works for you when it comes to this subject. Please leave your comments on the relevant section below and also note that your email address is not shared with anyone. Looking forward to hearing from you.