Ultra endurance races and nutrition

Ultra endurance races.....

..... Are races that exceed the distance or duration of an equivalent Olympic event, and or an event that can exceed either 4-6 hours. Pushing your physical ability to the extreme in competitions such as..

Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) which is 166 kilometres (103 miles) an ultra marathon, with a total elevation gain of around 9,600 m

 Marathon des Sables (MdS, Marathon of the Sands) is a six-day, 251 km (156 miles) ultra marathon (see picture).

Race to the stones UK 100km (62 miles) in Oxfordshire to finish next to the 5,000 year old stone circle in Avebury.

Ironman Triathlon  Organized by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) consisting of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run, raced in that order and without a break. This Ironman triathlon is one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world. One of our Wrexham athletes Shaun O Keefe was successful in completing this event in Hawaii Kona this year.

More and more people are competing in these races; the competitors are not all professional athletes as they are also juggling home and family life with a full time job. Success depends on training and the ability to consume enough nutrients to enable you to perform and complete the ultra. Heat, humidity, altitude, terrain and availability of food and fluid all have to be considered very carefully.

Endurance athletes each have their own strategies for obtaining energy and fluids during the activity, this is not easy as the wrong food/ fluid consumed at the wrong time will have a performance-decreasing effect. Good nutrition is vital pre, during and post, here are some basic evidence based principles to consider if you are planning on competing in an Ultra.

-          Experimenting with food and fluids whilst training is the key to finding something which is well tolerated. Evidence has shown that if you do not “train” your gut i.e. eating on the go you are twice as likely to develop nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting during the ultra.

-          Fluid requirements, depending on temperature you can lose from 3-5 litres of fluid in a marathon. Fluid and electrolyte strategies that replace sweat loss and keep you hydrated need to be met.

-          Maintaining adequate energy intake, an iron man event could use up as much as 8,500-11,500 kcals (calories), this is a huge amount required and needs careful snack and meal planning.

-          Primarily sufficient carbohydrate intake before and during the event to sustain energy level.

-          Protein intake has to be factored in to maintain muscle strength to aid endurance.

-          Consider a variety of food/fluids to use e.g. you will get bored of the same food/drink half way through.

-          Fat requirements on the day are low fat as high fat can cause nausea, vomiting and or diarrhoea.

-          Expect to feel sick as evidence as found that 1 in 4 competitor’s feel nausea/sickness competing in ultras.

The above advice is a very basic, there is a lot more to nutrition with regards to planning for an Ultra. Way before the event ensuring that your current diet has the correct vitamins and minerals is vital in your training schedule and performance. I offer individual dietary assessments and use up to date software to analysis your dietary intake. I compare your diary with your individual requirements and provide advice to help you achieve a balance. 

Fluid, carbohydrate and protein requirements must be calculated and well timed in order to compete an Ultra endurance race, if this not done correctly it can lead to poor performance, tiredness fatigue, and possibly non completion of a race. If anyone is planning on competing in an ultra then seeking individual dietary guidance from an experienced Dietitian is vital, for further information please contact me.