Supplements and nutrition to optimise ultra running performance during training and races is a key component to an ultra running strategy. In many cases it can be the difference between finishing or having a DNF (Did Not Finish).
I am not a nutritionist and my advice in this article is as a result of my experience through trial, error and a sore stomach. When advising people on nutrition for running I always precede my advice with “Nutrition for running is very personal and a once size fits all approach cannot, and will not work”.
Even when experienced ultra runners compete in an ultra run or marathon they often find that what worked in training may not work during a race. This is why I like to have variety in my approach and I don’t get too rigid during a race. That been said, here is some of the things I like to use.
Daily supplementation use: For stress on the body and immune system I take a vitamin B supplement each day to support my nervous system. A vitamin C, which is as an anti oxidant and a zinc tablet to support repair of skin. Most days I will also take magnesium in the form of powder or a dissolvable magnesium tablet mixed in water to support absorption through the gut. Warning!!! If you are taking magnesium, make sure you take it on a full stomach or with some food. If you don’t you may develop stomach cramps and diarrhoea. It is also best taken at night. Magnesium supplementation has been shown to increase/support stage 3 sleep or deep sleep. This stage of sleeps supports physical repair and growth.
During training and races: I only consume calories (gels, food, drinks) when I run in excess of 20kms or 3 hrs. This allows me to get better at burning fat as a fuel source and makes me less reliant on sugar spikes throughout my training runs (I also like to suffer more in training to be stronger for the race). This can be a delicate balance when you are training in extreme environments such as heat, humidity, cold or at altitude. When we train at altitude our bodies can burn up to 20% more calories per day. When we train in extreme heat or humidity the rate of which we sweat is a factor as is our previous days hydration, caffeine and alcohol consumption. In other words if you start a run dehydrated its going to be hard to replenish. Check out Andy Dubois article on hydration and performance at http://www.mile27.com.au/dehydration-impair-endurance-performance/
Gels are quick and easy to use and are a great way of getting calories in quickly. They come with caffeine or without caffeine. Excessive amounts of caffeine throughout the day may cause you to vomit, so be careful!!! Dried fruit such as mangos, figs, dates and apples may also be good small snacks to consume throughout the run.Many people also use small fun size chocolates and nuts.
Avoid bread, sandwiches and highly processed carbohydrates during the run if possible.They may make you feel bloated and drained.
You will also require a hydration/calorie dense drink to consume such as E3, it contains maltodexrin, dextrose, fructose, protein and sodium chloride. Check them out online and order at http://www.e3champion.com.au/e3-formula
No matter what you choose, experimentation,trial and error is key to deciding which energy gel, drink and food is best for you. I would also recommend not mixing these supplements into your hydration system in your pack. I keep this specifically for water. Sometimes when mixed in it can block up the hose and cause problems. In separate bottles I mix in E3 and drink from these.
What about pre workouts drinks and caffeine? Caution is advised when consuming pre workouts, as the level of caffeine in these can be the equivalent to 6-8 shots of coffee. Whilst you may get a buzz out of it, excessive levels of caffeine can lead to tremors, poor decision-making and lack of accuracy. If you are running at night be mindful that caffeine/pre workout takes 1 hr. to peak and has a half-life of 4-6 hrs. This may delay the onset of sleep.
Post run food : You will loose sodium/salt during the run due to dehydration. One of my favourite post race/training run things is a chocolate milk, sprite and hot potato chips with extra salt. I find it difficult to eat large quantities after so I just nibble my way through small portions and often go back for more 2-3 times depending on how I feel.Bananas are also a good post run recovery food as they contain high levels of potassium to aid with relieving cramps. Avoid alcohol if possible. You may feel like a celebration drink but it will serious hinder your recovery. You may even wake up later in the night with nausea and vomiting.
Blood pressure and food timing: Many runners including myself often have low blood pressure after a race. When you are running your heart rate will be in excess of 100 bpm for the duration of thr race. If you are fit and have a low resting heart rate this maybe a problem. When you finish the race and relax, your heart rate will drop quickly and may affect your blood pressure. Changes in your body position may quickly result in you feeling dizzy and in some cases passing out. So after a run you should walk around for awhile, try to relax your body and mind and take some deep breaths. Change into warm dry clothes as soon as you can. Avoiding eating post race for at least 30 minutes. You heart will be pumping blood to your extremities and will be trying to feed your muscles with oxygen. If you eat too quickly, the heart will now have to pump blood to your stomach to aid digestion. This often causes a change in blood pressure and causes many people to pass out.
Note:My next ultra run will be the Ultra Trail Australia 100km formally the North Face 100km. This will be my 7th time attempting this and hopefully a 7th finish. Happy running 🙂