Food & Energy


Article By: Monique Ryan R.D.

Experience From - Blake Wood, Stan Jensen, Karl King #1, Mark Williams , Karl King #2 , Jay Hodde , Dr. Bill Misner , Jay Hodde #2 , Mark Williams , Robert Thomas , Karl King #3 , George Beinhorn, Shawn McDonald ,

Monique Ryan R.D.

Find the Right Fuel the Hours Before You Race

Race day has arrived. You feel confident because training has been going well. Last night you devoured a large carbohydrate meal and enjoyed a good night's sleep. This morning, you are as ready as you can be. But are you really ready? What about what you ate or drank the few hours before the race?

Many factors make pre-race eating challenging. Early starts make timing tricky. A stomach tied in knots hardly promotes an appetite. And then there is the fear of your meal "talking back." So why bother with food at this tumultuous time? Because research is constantly proving that you should. It appears that carbohydrates consumed several hours before and right up to race time can significantly improve your performance.

Part of the problem is basic physiology. Athletes who race at high intensities for longer than 75-90 minutes are at risk of draining their precious carbohydrate stores. This is especially true if they have difficulty taking in enough carbohydrates while racing. Why the fuel drain? The longer your muscles work hard, the more you dip into your glycogen reserves. When your muscle reserves run low, your body relies on blood glucose. This blood glucose can be supplied by glycogen broken down from your liver (a limited supply) and carbohydrates you consume while cycling. Or it comes from glucose supplied from the pre-race meal you are still absorbing! And not only can pre-race eating keep blood glucose high, it can also "top off" muscle and liver glycogen stores, helping you start the race with the fullest tank possible. Several well-designed studies support the cause of fine-tuning pre-race eating. One study had subjects cycle for 95 minutes to drain carbohydrate reserves before completing a time trial. Those who consumed 312 g of carbohydrates four hours before cycling, completed the test, on average, eight minutes faster than cyclists who consumed no carbohydrates.

Another study had nine, well-trained cyclists perform intense exercise to exhaustion. Those who drank five grams of carbohydrate per kg of weight from a concentrated carbohydrate solution three hours prior, exercised an average of 17 percent longer than cyclists who took a placebo. It's important to note that both these studies used large carbohydrate amounts. These study results should inspire ambitious duathletes and triathletes to experiment with pre-exercise eating during training.

There are several ways you can find your new winning food combination. Eat before various "start times" with higher portions than normal. Use both liquid, solid and in-between food consistencies to find what "sits" best. And your hard work will not only pay off on race day, but also improve the quality of your training.

When to Carb Up

Many athletes who experiment with large portions find they work especially well with 3-5 hours to digest the food. But what about the hour leading to training or race time? In one study, cyclists who were fed 75 g of liquid carbohydrate one hour before, completed a time trial faster than those who ate nothing. Another group of researchers also found good results with carbohydrates one hour before. Subjects given 70 g of carbohydrate from oatmeal could exercise longer before reaching exhaustion as compared to those who got a placebo. And in a third study, subjects who consumed a carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink one hour before running showed improved performance as compared to those who drank water. Are you wary about consuming various carbohydrates or sugars the hour before exercise? Traditionally, athletes have been warned against consuming sugar immediately before exercise. Previous studies showed that this reduced blood sugar levels. But recent studies contradict these findings. Lowered blood sugar, if it occurs, is transient, and more importantly, doesn't affect performance. But it is possible that there are some sugar-sensitive multi sport athletes out there, so experiment in training.

Even if you do perfect your pre-performance eating, do consume enough carbohydrates during exercise. While one study showed an 18 percent improvement with pre-exercise carbohydrate and a 32 percent improvement with carbohydrate during, the two combined produced a 44 percent improvement.

How do you incorporate some of these concepts into your own training and racing? Look at the list of carbohydrate foods and portions. Try to take in about one 0.5 g of carbohydrate per pound of weight for every hour you have to digest. If you weigh 150 lbs. and eat three hours before racing, you should consume 225 g of carbohydrate (150 lbs x 0.5 g/lb x 3 hours = 225 g CHO).

For close-to-starting-time eating, try getting your carbohydrates from easily digested foods. Check out your favorite sports drink. Depending on the brand, 16 oz generally supplies over 30 g of carbohydrate. Or you may want to down a tried-and-true energy bar favorite. And many athletes do well with liquid meal replacements. Everyone will have a personal winning food/liquid pre-race combination. Clearly itŐs worth experimenting to find out just what yours may be.

Food Portions Carbos (g)
Cranberry juice 12 oz 54 g
Banana 1 Medium 27 g
Dry cereal 1 oz 25 g
Cooked cereal 1/2 cup cooked 15 g
Bread, bagel, English, muffin 1 oz 15 g
Fruited yogurt 1 cup 43 g
Jelly 1 tbs 13 g
Rice 1 cup cooked 50 g
Energy bar 1 serving 40-60 g
Carb-electrolyte drink 16 oz 30 g
High carbohydrate beverage 16 oz 80-100 g
Meal replacement 12 oz 60 g

Blake P. Wood

Edward Reilly wrote:

"Just about when do I HAVE to risk eating something solid?"

Ed writes this after specifically mentioning 50k. In every one of my hundreds (6 of 'em), I've had a very rough spot at about 30 miles or 6 hours, where I suddenly feel very tired, sluggish, and out of energy. It lasts for about 30 minutes, and then goes away. I theorize that this is where my body has finally used up all the glycogen I brought with me in my muscles to the start line, and the 30 minute lull is what it takes my body to kick in replacing it from what I've been eating along the way. Furthermore, I think this is the classic "hitting the wall" symptom in marathons. Good conditioning can delay this from 20 to 30 miles, so that it wouldn't show up in a marathon, but it's still lurking out there beyond, in ultra territory.

Stan Jensen

When you start feeling weak or your stomach starts rumbling, you've probably waited too long. Try making "eating" a part of your training. There's lots of food types available at most ultra aid stations (e.g. melons, potatoes, etc.), so see what you can handle. I don't think I could run for 5+ hours without eating.

Karl King #1

First of all, what is "real" food? Are Coke, M&Ms, pretzels and Snickers "real" food? From which tree were they picked? How about condensed milk or Ensure - are those "real"? How about honey - is it "real" or is it from the Bee factory? Is anything from MickeyD's "real"?

A mathematician would say that this is a complex issue, so there must be a real part and an imaginary part. Finishing a 100 miler on imaginary food would be difficult indeed.

Muscle fibers use Adenosine Tri Phosphate for their energy requirements. Is ATP real food? Mitochondria produce ATP from molecules such as glucose, acetyl coenzyme A, and individual amino acids. Are those real food? At these molecular levels, the body does not know or care where the molecules came from.

In the digestive tract, what we eat is ripped apart by hydrochloric acid and a host of enzymes. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich does not ooze unchanged through the walls of the small intestine. For food to be taken up by the blood stream, it must be in very simple forms, which come from digested, or broken down, food. You can input the food as pizza or as a simple mix of carbo, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals. Your digestive tract will process as needed, which may be a lot, or it may be very little if the bulk of the work is already done before you eat.

The debate of "real" or something else is missing the point. Which is, that for good digestion and energy flow, the body needs a mix of carbo, fat and protein in "normal" proportions. What is "normal"?

Studies of Tour de France finishers show a remarkably similar macro nutrient profile despite the fact that different riders make different food choices. What they take is 7-10% protein, about 20% fat, with the rest coming from carbohydrate. One can concoct all the advertising hype and stuff about 30-30-40 plans, but when high performance is required, "real" people do not use 30-30-40. My experience and study suggest that 10-15-75 ( protein, fat, carbo) is a workable choice for 100 mile runs. Very fast, competitive runners may need more carbo than that.

Nearly all of the "energy" products on the market do not come close to meeting that kind of profile. Exceed, PowerBar, GU, etc either have insufficient fat, protein or both. The problem isn't that they aren't "real", it is that they are not formulated for being the sole source of energy in a very long event. And, some of them have ingredients such as fructose that will ruin one's digestion during the event. There are a lot of runners out there who had a miserable run or a DNF not because of their training or the course, but because they consumed a poorly designed energy product.

Most people run long ultras with too little fat and protein. The stomach and small intestine become overly acid, and nausea is the result, with puking the final chapter. What is "real" food? In this context, it is food that contains fat and protein. Peanut butter, cheese, milk, mayo, hamburgers, hot dogs, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, etc are all effective not because they are in some sense "real" but because they are supplying the fat and protein not found in common energy products. I know from personal experience that if you have an "engineered" food that does supply the proper mix of nutrients, one can run for more than a day with no with no stomach upset.

Again, the commonly available energy products are not well designed for long ultras, and may cause a lot of the problems runners experience in these runs. Maybe one of the reasons that Kenyan and Tarahumara runners do so well is that they are unaware of such products and eat the stuff they've learned over the centuries works well for them. I'll bet it isn't loaded with fructose/sucrose and citric acid, but it does contain modest amounts of protein and fat.

Anybody out there have some specific information on what the Tarahumara have been eating for the last 100 years?

Mark Williams

"Adding to the informative post from Jay Hodde and Matt Mahoney on energy use in ultras, it should be noted that the runners who win races consume a lot of carbohydrate calories during their ultras. The biochemistry of the human body is such that top performance requires energy from carbs."

That would come as a surprise to James Zarie, 3 time winner of the Spartathlon (154 miles) and a world class multi day runner... I asked him what he ate during the Spartathlon a couple of years ago. He ate small bread roll at around 50 miles, and the occasional piece of water melon. He only drank water.

Personally I'm inclined to agree with Rich Schick (although I don't take it quite to the same extreme that he does)... train on low calorie intake, then whatever you can handle during the race will be more effective. And if you cant handle anything, its not a disaster.

Karl King #2

One of the problems with studies of ultra runners and their performance is that it is so difficult to set up controlled conditions which would evaluate different protocols in training and execution of a run.

The obvious question is if James Zarie (as Mark Williams wrote) would have run faster had he trained and raced with a higher carbohydrate intake. It would be instructive to take 10 different sets of identical twins, have one twin of each set train with water only, the other twin train with a higher carbohydrate intake, and then have the twins enter the same run and compete against each other. Would the low energy or high energy intake twin run faster?

It would be very interesting to survey the top 20 men and top 20 women ultra runners in the U.S. and determine their average calorie/mile intake when racing. A statistical distribution could be presented. That would show general trends across a population, rather the case for one or two individuals.

The subject may be great fun to debate for men, but there is a serious consideration when it comes to women ultra runners. Studies show that low energy intake in women results in higher levels of stress hormones, which deplete calcium stores more rapidly. That can lead to serious levels of bone loss. The losses are corrected when additional calories are taken during training.

I saw a case of this first hand with my training partner. When I first started training with her, she ran on water only. She was quite thin and running good times in marathons and 10Ks - when she wasn't injured. She ran only about half the year because she suffered a series of stress fractures. She then started running with a simple sports drink for extra calories. She put on a few pounds, and her times slowed a bit, but she suffered no more stress fractures.

Jay Hodde

Karl wrote:

"As I recall, Jay Hodde ran for some time with only water because he did not like the sports drinks he had tried, then found one he liked and now runs ultras with a sports drink. It would be interesting to read about his findings on those two different strategies."

Well, as an experiment of one, I've had good luck with the sports drink I have chosen. My times are faster, and I have a lot more energy through the course of the event. I can't however, credit the drink for all of my enhanced performance, as training and experience must also play into the success.

The drink problem for me was more complicated than just not liking the drink -- I would just throw it up. It was useless for me. I instead chose water for my first ultras, and had few stomach problems.

When I tried the new drink, I found that I could stomach it -- as long as it wasn't that icky orange flavor. I now use it (along with water) on a regular basis for any run longer than the marathon.

Dr. Bill Misner

My Doctoral Dissertation concerned itself with whether human musculature would efficiently-immediately perform endurance activities when fueled with an admixtures of 40% Carbohydrate, 30% Protein, and 30% Fat. In a rather thorough review of research literature, I found numerous studies which support of the principle of adaptation, I.E. whatever food sources you ingest, your body is able and apt to adapt and oxidize food-fuels for the extreme demands of endurance performance. Dietary Analysis shows that most endurance athletes ingest between the ranges of 46-65% Carbohydrates, and 30-38% Fat.(Misner WD, DIETARY ANALYSIS OF ATHLETES, 1996-1997) Of the Dietary Analysis queried from a field of 26 athletes, only 2 of the athlete's normal dietary intake approached the 40-30-30 protocols, or 8%. Natural foods containing a 40-30-30-(CHO-PRO-FA) makeup are few: Wheat Germ 41-28-31, Mushrooms 41-28-31, Brewers Yeast 36-36-27, Turnip Greens 44-36-20, Endive & Celery Stalks 38-19-40, Cabbage & Asparagus 38-19-40. Does not sound too appetizing, unless you are deviated from taste population norms substantially.

I found many numerous studies which show that if an athlete habitually ingests a high percentage of fat in his/her diet, but trains their body toward endurance fitness, that their body will slowly adapt dietary intake conversion of dietary fatty acids to energy-substrate mitochondrial fuels upon demand. When, however, I reviewed other studies by Hultman 1967), Costill(1981), Noakes (1988), and Sherman(1983), I found that untrained athletes stored 14 grams/kg. glycogen(from dietary Carbohydrate) wet muscle weight, whereas trained fit athletes scored a whooping 38 grams/kg. wet muscle glycogen! Costill's 1980 research showed that the athlete who trained on a 70% carbohydrate(CHO) caloric percentage intake, not only stored more glycogen per wet-muscle weight, but also was able to train at a higher pace/rate/duration than the athlete who ate only 40% carbohydrates by percentage of calories eaten in 4 days. Long slow-distance runners tend, however, to store higher levels of muscle-triglycerides than do shorter distance runners. Dr. D.C. Nieman in "The Sports medicine Fitness Course", Bull Publishing: Page 141, states that fat oxidation cannot sustain metabolic rates much above 50% VO-2 Max rates. This rate of expenditure/effort would be adequate for 24-hour events but inadequate for optimal performance in distances of 50 miles or less. When Carbohydrate(Carbs or CHO) is oxidized from wet-muscle-glycogen to form energy from ATP synthesis, it doubles the rate of fat oxidation into the same ATP substrate.(1.0 mol/min for Carbs-0.5 mol/min for fat) Push the pace in an all-out sprint, then CHO selection jumps to huge 2.4 mol/min, while fat oxidation still remains 0.5 mol/min, or 5 times slower than the CHO to ATP sprint rate. It is little wonder why sport scientists recommend a diet of 55-70% Complex Carbohydrates, less than 30% Fat, and the remain 15% in Protein.

What were the conclusive results of my Dissertation? We concluded, after testing 21 athletes in 8 states, in a variety of endurance activities, that the human body would adapt endurance performance to dietary intake of 40-30-30 energy substrates consumed 2 hours prior to and every hour during training upon demand. We documented a statistically significant 95.23% performance adaptation to the 40-30-30 caloric protocol prior to and during endurance activities.

After careful review of the other research literature on a wide variety of fuel selection protocols, I concluded that the same diet that enhances optimal health is the same one that maximizes optimal endurance performance. The results from my research concluded that the 40-30-30 dietary plan neither optimizes performance nor health, but may testify to the adaptability of human physiology to fuel selection upon demand.

Jay Hodde #2

Rich wrote:

I find no argument in what you state and in fact you echo my sentiments. Eat a balanced diet and train hard. Yet I'm still left to postulate that my original premise that a weekly (more or less) single fasting long training run might help in adaptation of the body to utilize fats more efficiently during ultras. This is in no way inconsistent with maintaining a balanced diet overall.

But is a single long training run each week sufficient to help the body adapt to more efficient fat utilization? My gut instinct would tell me that it is not, based on my knowledge of adaptation in general.

Mark Williams

Karl wrote:

"It is interesting to note that with consistent training, the human body can adapt to almost any energy intake strategy. Rich gives us his thoughts on a minimalist energy intake. At the other end of the scale is Yannis Kouros. The following excerpts are taken from Dr. Tim Noakes' "Lore of Running" pages 352 and 353 where he discusses Kouros' 1985 960km Sydney to Melbourne race ( which he won ).

His daily energy expenditure ranged from 15,367 Kcal on the first day to 7,736 Kcal on the fifth day, and his daily energy intake varied from 13,770 Kcal on the first day to 7,800 Kcal on the fifth day. Overall, his total estimated energy intake ( 55,970 Kcal ) exceeded his energy expenditure ( 55,079 Kcal ).

To maintain this high rate of energy consumption, Kouros ate every 15 minutes...

Carbohydrates provided 96% of his total energy intake.

Clearly, two factors contribute most significantly to Kouros' success. First, he has a remarkable ability to go without sleep for prolonged periods. Second, he has a capacity to maintain a high rate of energy consumption during these races. This parallels findings in cyclists competing in the formidable Tour de France. Only those cyclists whose rates of daily energy consumption equal their rates of energy utilization are able to finish the race."

I can understand this in TDF riders... they are only (!) out racing for about 5 hours a day, and most of the calorie intake occurs before/after the ride. Similarly for the trans America foot race... there is no doubt that failure to eat enough will result in disaster... but that doesn't mean they necessarily eat vast amounts while running (perhaps some of the competitors could comment)...

Bob Slate described James Zarie's eating habits during the Hiroshima to Nagasaki (stage) race... he ate relatively little during the runs, but made up for it in between (and from some of the stories I've heard at the Spartathlon, I think bob may have been understating the amount of food James put away between stages :-)

But from the above post, I have to admit I find Kouros' eating ability amazing... even more so than his running ability :-)

I'm wondering how much of that intake was while running (a.k.a the Sydney to Melbourne race is not a stage race?). Presumably the day one total is high because of food consumed prior to the start, and the last day probably includes food consumed after the finish... that still leaves a lot to be accounted for! Did he really eat all that while running, or did he take eating/sleeping breaks too?

Im sure we can both go on finding examples of runners who eat lots vs runners who hardly eat at all :-) but speaking of the Sydney to Melbourne race, there was also a 60 year old who won it one year, who only ate watermelon throughout the race...

Anyway, back to the original point which was "it should be noted that the runners who win races consume a lot of carbohydrate calories during their ultras". My first reaction to this was, well probably a lot do, but there are certainly plenty that don't... so I gave a counter example.

But now I think about it, what does "a lot" mean in that sentence? I can only suppose it means "more than those who don't win", since there is no other point of reference... and I'm beginning to doubt that is correct. I am almost certain that a calorie/mile profile of the runners in a ultra of say 50 to 100k would show that the front runners eat the least, and the back of the packers eat the most. I really cant believe that Don Ritchie was wolfing food down while averaging sub six minute miles when he set the 100k record :-)

And having brought up the rear as a pacer at WS a couple of times, I also have to doubt that Mike Morton could have been putting away as much food as some of the folks on 30 hour pace...

I seem to recall a post to the list (I think by Tim Noakes) a couple of years ago, describing the prevailing attitude to running 100s 20+ years ago... which was not to eat *at all*, and to only drink water at 40 & 70 miles... and there were some pretty impressive performances on that regime (he was _not_ suggesting that this was a good way to run 100s, and nor am I, just pointing out that it really doesn't make a lot of difference to performance, providing you train appropriately).

"If a runner enjoys running ultras on water only ( essentially a starvation diet ), more power to him/her. My personal preference is to train myself to run in a well-fed condition. I just have no desire to starve myself when I'm expending 8,000 Kcal/day."
There is no question that you must replace the calories you burn, regardless of how much running you are doing. If you are expending 8000 Kcal/day you must be running around 50-60M per day... If you are really doing that then I stand in awe (and perhaps you should send your totals in to Matt... you would be the only person running fast enough to make the 100 year cutoff :-)

If you are simply saying that you wouldn't want to starve on the odd days that you run a 50 mile race then that's different... I would typically eat around 2000Kc the morning of a 50, probably around 500-1000 during the race and spend the rest of the day eating. Taking a few days carbo loading into account too this hardly amounts to starvation :-)

Robert Thomas

Upon examining any sports drink or food that contains only carbohydrates, BCAA, whey protein and MCT in it's formula, you can immediately see that with so few ingredient types included that the scope of the performance expectations one could achieved is severely limited. Yes all these four food types are very important. But there is obviously far more to consider about a high performance sports food, above and beyond these four ingredient types and what they have to offer the athlete. Any sport food formula containing only these four food types can hardly be considered the final word on what an ultra drink, ultra gel or any endurance food should be.

There are really two distinct food types to consider when thinking about what foods to ingest during an ultra event. First and most important is your primary carbohydrate fluid replacement drink; this type of drink should contain much more than just electrolytes, carbohydrates and water to be a modern and High-Tec formula. Then there are all other food types that would be more like complete meals, these foods could be bars, gels, drinks and real food, these foods would contain complete proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber, in various types and amount. Other foods beyond what is included in a primary drink become more important with increasing time of the athletic event. I think you need two different types of food because at it's simplest meals that contain large amounts of compete foods displace carbohydrates that you need for energy and slow down the absorption of water. If you eat complete foods to get the carbohydrates you need to maximize performance, you will ingest to great an amount of other food types like protein and fats along with your carbohydrates. The pre event meal should contain all your sports supplements and load you up with carbohydrates, fats, and proteins ETC. When you start your event you want to be energy replete. Then you start off using your primary carbohydrate drink. Only later in the event do you start eating complete food sporadically. You don't eat a steak diner at 20 mile into a marathon. It may be a good idea to eat that same dinner before you start or at 75 mile in a hundred mile run. Of course your drinking or eating you primary carbohydrate drink or food from start to finish.

Looking at the primary carbohydrate drink or food that contains just the four-ingredient types BCAA, MCT, carbohydrates and whey protein. There is allot that can be right or wrong using these four ingredient types depending on exactly how a sports drink or food is put together.

The first consideration is palatability and taste; this is really a very important issue where most manufactures of sports foods go wrong, then the more important issues of what do each of these particular ingredient types included in the sports food have to offer.

Glucose polymers are a really great form of carbohydrates for energy during exercise. But there are questions about what type of glucose polymers are included in a powdered sports drink or food, are they the fast or longer absorbing types, are the polymers agglomerated for easier mixing or are they the cheaper non agglomerated type that clump when mixed with water. What are the total amount of glucose polymer calories and ratios to other ingredients? There are many energy-related issues as to why you might include other carbohydrate types (fructose, sugar, dextrose, ETC) in a sports food; these other carbohydrates are not apparently included in Clip or many other sports foods. Research has proven the superiority of mixing carbohydrate types in a sport food; that's if you do it right.

Whey protein is a wonderful product but at it's simplest it contains unnecessary amino acids for a primary carbohydrates containing sports drink, these unnecessary amino acids displace and dilutes other ingredients and carbohydrates making a primary carbohydrate drink less effective in providing muscle energy calories. Whey protein also can inhibit digestion, if your effort is low and if the included amounts are small this is less of a factor. If you ingest large amounts of a sports drink or food so you can have highest amount of energy giving carbohydrates available for your muscles; You can see with simple math, if that carbohydrate food has too much protein mixed in with it, you can ingest far too much protein during the course of the event along with your carbohydrates. A simple example of a 15 percent protein to 85 percent carbohydrate mixture would give you during a hundred mile run 225 grams of protein, if you ingested 50 grams per hour for 30 hours. If you ingested 100 grams an hour that would be 450 grams of protein in 30 hours and this discounts any other protein containing foods before or during the 100 mile run. You might think you should not drink or ingest that large amount of your carbohydrate containing sports drink or food. But to get the most out of a carbohydrate drink or food you need to eat 100 to approximately 120 grams of carbohydrates per hour of constant hard exercise.

BCAA can be a useful addition to the overall diet when running but again the use and need in a primary carbohydrate sports drink is marginal. BCAA are better ingested before and after exercise or in a secondary drink or food. BCAA have a bitter taste making a drink less palatable if they are included in any useful amount. But most sports formulas include very little BCAA, because they are very expensive and make the product cost much more to make. It's used as a marketing gimmick more often than not. It takes several grams of BCAA per hour of hard exercise to start having any real muscle sparing effect. There is limited and conflicting information on the performance enhancing effects during endurance exercise. Most of the positive effects have to do with recovery after exercise. Total diet and the total amount of all proteins in your diet before, during and after exercise has a strong influence in what positive effects can be derived by inclusion of extra free form BCAA in any of the foods you eat during exercise or in the primary sport drink.

MCT are always being touted as some sort of superior energy source. They are unique in some ways and have interesting metabolic effects separate from an energy providing substrate. They are a quickly metabolize form of fat and do give you quick energy. But compared to an all carbohydrate mix they are inferior, when mixed in with carbohydrates in low amount, MCT have some marginal usefulness. There is no clear-cut case of superiority when MCT are mixed in with carbohydrates in providing muscle energy, when compared with only carbohydrates. MCT are not very good tasting so any product that contains any usable and effective level will not taste as good as it mite. Most products only put in a token amount for marketing reason. Small amounts of MCT maybe useful in promoting some positive metabolic effects apart and separate from providing energy, but it takes many days of use for these effects to begin, but small amounts are next to useless in providing the large amounts of calories needed for energy while exercising. Ingesting large amounts of MCT quickly is unhealthy for you, because it puts too much fat into the blood stream all at once. So you can't use them for a primary fuel source even if you wanted to and you sure don't want to. I do think fat in the diet during long events is a good thing but there are many different types of fats and the final word as to which ones and at what amount are best suited for endurance exercise needs more study. The best advice about eating fatty foods in a race is if you crave it and it tastes good eat it.

There was a post by Rich containing an abstract titled "Effects of medium-chain triglyceride ingestion on fuel metabolism and cycling performance", purporting the advantages of MCT mixed with carbohydrates. Itis clearly a flawed study; first the use of 6 athletes is to small a number to generate a really fair comparison, you need more than that. Secondly and more importantly the total calories where different between the carbohydrates only and carbohydrates and MCT trials. How can you compare less carbohydrate calories ingested with the carbohydrate only trail with more calories ingested with the carbohydrate plus MCT trial, it's a very unfair and unevenly weighted test of the effectiveness of the two different food trials. The mean difference of approximately 1 « minute resulting in 65.1 to 66.8 minutes total time between the two sets of trials is not a very great difference and can be accounted for by just normal variations in performance between the different trial. I do think 1 « minutes is a very important difference in an hour and 5 minute time trial, if you could prove that it's something your eating improving your speed. After studying this paper you can only conclude that MCT in the dose given mixed with carbohydrates does not harm performance, but does not prove any superiority over using only carbohydrate. This is a good example of why it's hard to know what your doing in trying to figure out what diets work best, when papers are published by respected author's that confuse the issues of what food types are better for athletic performance.

Lastly there is everything else you could possible include in making your primary sports drink or food the most effective performance enhancing formula possible. This is where the hard work begins and I will leave that for another day.

Karl King #3

Mark Williams and Dan Brannen provided a number of interesting comments. Thanks, Dan, for the info on Kouros.

Like Mark, I find Korous' ability to eat on the run amazing. I routinely train by taking 30-40 Kcal/mile, and run an ultra on 50-60 Kcal/mile. Taking in 100 Kcal/mile as Kouros did is more food than I can comfortably handle, and I train to eat on the run.

Mark wrote:

"But now I think about it, what does "a lot" mean in that sentence? I can only suppose it means "more than those who don't win", since there is no other point of reference... and I'm beginning to doubt that is correct. I am almost certain that a calorie/mile profile of the runners in a ultra of say 50 to 100k would show that the front runners eat the least, and the back of the packers eat the most. I really cant believe that Don Ritchie was wolfing food down while averaging sub six minute miles when he set the 100k record :-)"

From what I witnessed while crewing for Kevin and Kris Setnes in some of their ultras showed that consumption varies with the individual. A few ate little ( sorry, no quantitative data ), while others pounded sports drink, GU and Coke. As Rich noted, the body has a harder time digesting food when running ( blood flow is shunted away from the digestive system to exercising muscle ). So competitive runners tend to eat less than other who are running a more comfortable pace. But if we had the quantitative data, I think that some would be found to eat a lot of calories, primarily carbos. Obviously, this is calling out for a study of top runners so that we have some hard numbers.

"There is no question that you must replace the calories you burn, regardless of how much running you are doing. If you are expending 8000 Kcal/day you must be running around 50-60M per day..."

Sigh, I wish that were possible, but my mileage is rather meager. The 8,000 refers to running an ultra.

One interesting point that strikes me in the examples of very low calorie intake, very high calorie intake, and my own moderate intake is that whatever the value, the rate of calories in is stable. Gorging and then taking nothing for many miles is going to put the digestive system through a feed-starve cycle with big changes in insulin levels. That may explain why some runners have the "blues" in their runs. Rich's protocol of very low calories during the run will produce a stable insulin level, as will Kouros' eating every 10 to 15 minutes. The two levels may be different, but they should be stable. Over the years of training, I've gotten used to taking some sports drink every 10 minutes from the bottle I carry.

Mark says that:

"I would typically eat around 2000Kc the morning of a 50, probably around 500-1000 during the race..."

I'm lucky if early in the morning I can eat 300 calories before a 4 am ultra. But then I take 2500 calories during a 50 miler. So Mark is taking 2500-3000 calories for his run while I'm doing about 2800.

Thanks for sharing the information. Nobody has enough time to learn all there is to know about these matters by their own personal experience. The neat thing about the Lists is that by sharing information we can learn more than we ever could on our own.

George Beinhorn

The big problems in an ultra are: (1) Energy and (2) Health.

  • Energy
    Energy, Part I. Basic is a supply of fuel. If you haven't tested fructose-containing race drinks in training, I'd suggest you avoid them during the race. These include Gatorade, Exceed, etc. They can really give you a "bonk" at 18+ and 30+ miles. I personally pack little flat cosmetic squeeze bottles that I buy at the drugstore for 79 cents and fill with Energy Surge in a very high concentration. Use it for 30+ miles until it tastes yucky, then switch to Coke/Pepsi, etc. I'm working on more natural ways to do ultras and have had good preliminary results but am not ready to pass along advice to others.

    Energy, Part II. Take electrolytes. You can get Electrolyte Stamina Tablets (Trace Minerals brand) from some health food store. Other electrolyte pills will probably do you okay in a 50M.

    Energy, Part III. Plan your running and walking strategy wisely. Lots of people advise beginners to run 25 minutes and walk 5 minutes. But that is <> more stressful than running 5 minutes and walking 1 minute. 5:1 is magic. It really works. A friend of mine ran AR50 in 10:15 straight through, then came back the next year and ran 8:24 using 5:1, including a 20-minute stop to eat in his RV halfway through the race.

    Energy, Part IV. The brain is heavily involved in ultrarunning. Take care of it. I take along a couple of low-potency vitamin B's and take them at about 28-30 miles. Vitamin B is the cheerfulness vitamin, and it helps. Also, the brain is the most glucose-hungry organ in the body, and taking plain sugars at the aid stations late in the race can keep you going mentally, whether in the form of Coke or gummy bears or hard candies. In Enviro-Sports events, I would ask ahead of time wha will be available at the aid stations. One thing about taking simple sugars is, you don't want your supply to run out! You might even carry some hard candies in your belt pack or put them in your drop bag.

    Energy, Part V. What's your body type? Are you a lean, 2% body fat speedster? Or are you a typical slightly pudgy ultrarunner? :-). If you can tolerate caffeine, you might take along some GU. If you don't handle it well in daily life, don't expect to rely on it in a race. Sure it'll get you through but your mood won't be lighthearted and happy.

  • Health
    Health. This means feet. I wrap my feet comfortably in duct tape (not too tight, not too loose, no wrinkles) and have not had blisters in any trail races I've run this way. I also wear Trail Gators. Go cautiously on the downhills to avoid spraining an ankle.

    Mind: Be ready for "anything" including a DNF. It happens. When I DNF'd at a long trail race, a seasoned ultrarunner at the aid station cheered me greatly when he said, "Hey, don't worry about it. It's a learning experience. I've DNF'd in so many ultras I can't count 'em all." Every ultra is a crapshoot. Just do your best without holding expectations, and enjoy the great adventure. Best of luck!

    Shawn McDonald

    A steady caloric intake is very important in running ultras, even more so as events get longer (100 miles and beyond). Over the period of a few months you should be able to find a number of foods and/or beverages that you handle well (no or little stomach discomfort), that taste good to you, and that are "packable" while doing your long training runs. As to the rate of intake, try for about 300-400 calories an hour, which works out to maybe 12-16 ounces of a sports drink and an energy bar per hour. This is not a lot. Try to eat about every 30-40 minutes, as this keeps up your energy level without a lot of bulk for your stomach to handle at any one time. If you go with a mostly liquid food intake, try to take it at a rate of several ounces about every 20 minutes. Mix that in with some drinks of just water. If you handle solid food ok, there are lots of options. Sandwiches of various types, energy bars, fruit, pretzels (also for salt), and granola type mixes are good choices. Shoot for mostly carbohydrates, with maybe 20% of calories from fats and 10% from proteins. In the later stages of longer ultras (50 miles plus) you might get "tired" of the same old stuff and go to things like soup, energy gels, and supplimented drinks like Ensure that might be easier for you to digest.

    So I suggest you try out a number of different foods and drinks on your upcoming training runs. With the 300-400 cal./hr intake you replace about 50% of the calories you burn, keep up your blood sugar, and allow for continued burning of stored fats which in long distance races is a significant fuel source. If you do encounter stomach troubles, there are a few things to try to combat this. These would include things like antacid tablets, going only with liquid intake, and trying to ensure your salt intake is adequate. For some, drinking milk or eating higher fat foods will help a sour stomach. One other thing to try is eating while you walk for several minutes, and to eat on uphills a ways before you get to longer downhill sections. Also consider that you might have more stomach problems in hot or humid weather, so plan accordingly for those types of races with regard to your drop bags and what is on hand at the aid stations.

    Good luck with finding foods and beverages that work for you.