Ultra diet for the Ultra athlete
Harriet Miles explains why optimal nutrition is crucial
Optimal nutrition is important for sustaining performance, increasing recovery between stages and avoiding injury. Research suggests that race nutrition goes further than the basic knowledge of carb loading and glucose gels. It’s a more complex equation, determined by factors unique to each event.
Carbohydrate or fat?
Fat is a more concentrated energy source than carbohydrate with approximately twice as many calories per gram. During an ultramarathon the proportion of carbohydrate to fat used by the body for energy won’t be constant. This is because of the variation in duration, terrain and gradient. During periods of moderate exercise, it has been found that fat oxidation provides the greatest percentage of energy used. This is commonly seen during uphill sections where athletes will often walk to conserve energy, suggesting it’s not as simple as claiming that carbohydrate supersedes fat or vice versa.
Sodium supplements have been explored as a way of increasing hydration and replacing sodium loss due to sweat or over-hydration. However, despite 96% of ultraendurance runners admitting to using sodium supplements, recent studies have shown no benefit.
Foot care matters
Blisters have been proved to make it harder for athletes to achieve adequate energy intake during multi-stage ultramarathons, as well as having a negative impact on peak performance. Recovering from these skin injuries, self-management, and awaiting and receiving medical attention all detract time and energy from in-race food intake. Blisters have also been associated with slower race times, due to more energy used, a greater chance of additional injury, and a greater need for optimal nutritional intake.