Chapter 11 – UltraEndurance Events
Ultraruns. Full Ironman triathlons. 24 hour road races. Adventure races. For a pokey turtle like me (or at least, I was when I started!) these races hold a particular fascination – I may not be fast, but I can endure! The accomplishment of finishing an event like this seemed ridiculously unattainable. Now, with planning and training, not only is it possible, I know I’m going to do it one day. Part of that training will be nutritional, and this chapter had lots of tips.
Before the Event: Ultra endurance events require particular attention to nutrition – failure to meet nutritional needs can lead to kidney failure, heat exhaustion, hyponatremia, hypoglycemia, and hypothermia. Training leading up to the race is about teaching yourself how to hydrate and meet your nutritional needs in ways that work for you. You need to manage stress, to avoid nausea and GI upsets before the race. You need to know what aid will be available, and practice to make sure you can tolerate it. If you can’t, you have to figure out how to carry what you need.
Part of training will be mental; teaching yourself to eat and drink when you don’t feel like it; finding ways to combat becoming bored with tried and true training foods. Practicing with different foods, drinks, gels, prerace meals, and other elements can help make race day go more smoothly.
During the Event
Just consuming calories during an event isn’t enough; an athlete needs to understand how long it takes the body to convert those calories to fuel, and consume the right amounts at the right times. Scientists believe the average body can process 280 calories from carbs per hour. Consuming 25 to 60 grams of carbs per hour will fall into this range. Early in the race when you are burning stored glycogen is when you need to start supplementing carbs to prevent creating a large deficit.
Flavour Fatigue – You’ve trained successfully with a handful of favourite foods, and on race day the sight of them make you feel ill. It is important to have multiple flavours and items to choose from on race day, in case you cannot stomach one or two. Often later in ultra races, sweet foods are unappealing, so having salty foods like crackers with cheese or peanut butter, hard boiled eggs, and potatoes can be a better option.
Real Food – For most ultra length events, gels and sports drinks will not be enough. Some athletes have success with more concentrated energy drinks, but in many cases, real food is required to help you get to the finish line. Especially in races longer than 10 hours, race at more moderate paces, food such as fruit, bagels and energy bars should be digestible. Real food like this, with some protein and some fat, will take longer to break down, help prevent queasiness, and help combat brain fog.
The Right Amount – Too little fuel can lead to serious medical issues, bonking, and not completing the race. Too much food can slow you down, and lead to a failure to complete as well! Balancing calories needs, and timing them correctly is something that has to be practised in training. Too much food or fluid can lead to vomiting, which can make dehydration worse.
Sodium – Hyponatremia is a greater concern for ultra endurance racers, especially during the heat. In an effort to prevent dehydration, taking in too much water without being aware of sodium requirements is a high risk. You need to know how much sodium is in the foods you plan to fuel with, and adjust accordingly. A general recommendation is 200 to 500 milligrams of sodium per hour, but this can vary. Salty foods may be more easily tolerated than salt tablets, which can cause stomach issues.
Your Brain – Fluctuating blood sugar levels can affect your concentration and your judgement. Making sure to have carbohydrate sources available that will digest quickly is important – gels, juice, soda, sports drinks or candy all work.
Ultrarunners – Racers need to prepare by knowing locations of aid stations, and planning what to carry. Dehydrating is a risk, and drinking enough is critical. Creating a calorie deficit by not eating enough early in the race is another issue. Failing to consume enough sodium is another common mistake made by ultrarunners.
Ironman Triathletes – Eberle recommends replacing 30 to 50 percent of calories during the race. This works out to approximately 250 to 400 calories per hour. Most of these calories should be carbohydrates, and a small amount of protein and fat will help also. Most of these calories will be consumed during the bike portion of the race. Eating and drinking right up to the start of the swim will help prevent a large calorie deficit from developing during the swim portion of the race. Once on the bike, fluids should be consumed as soon as tolerable, but within 10 minutes of beginning the bike portion. By 20 minutes into the ride carb replacement should begin. Pack individual feed bags with multiple choices in case some of them are not appealing. On the run, fluids, gels and a banana or energy bar may be good choices.
After the Event
Good nutritional choices after the race can improve your recovery. Try to avoid both plain water and alcohol, and hydrate with sports drinks, soups and juices. Liquid meal replacements, milk and some dairy products may be well tolerated too.
This chapter was fascinating, full of the kind of details I’m looking for while dipping my toes into the waters of triathlon. I’m closing this post with a very scary video my husband found on YouTube showing what happens when you bonk!