Fuelling for a 50+ miler…
Nutrition is key and it’s not just about stuffing in enough carbs to get you round a race, the differences between good and bad nutrition are literally a pain in the bum! Forgive the pun, but there are so many off the shelf quick fix products, like gels you are instructed to take every 20 minutes or a drink for carbs, a drink for electrolytes, salt tabs, the list goes on and by the time you’ve bought them all you‘ve spent a pretty penny and are then faced with how you fit them in your pack and what combination to take them in.
I’ve been there and, after a few dramatic failures with race nutrition and the above products, one even involving paramedic attention, I realised it was time to sort out an improved plan of attack. I sought out help from the guys at Mountain Fuel back in 2014 and, by making some simple changes, have had a much more positive time of things in my ultras. The key to me is how easy Mountain Fuel is on the stomach and its balanced slow release of energy which means I don’t need to consume a lot compared to gels and other products.
As ever, these are just my own personal thoughts on this matter and you are free to take from this what you wish (or even ignore everything). Always try things out in training and, even if something doesn’t work for you, it was still worthwhile and you can cross it off the list. We are on our feet for a long time, often mentally battling with ourselves due to niggles and pains, so to me it’s about using fuels that help to make me feel better before, during and after my ultras and eradicating those fuels that can have a negative impact. A fuel should be balanced so that you can take a relatively small amount but still have the ingredients that your muscles require for effective and sustained energy and muscle replenishment through carbohydrates, amino acids, minerals and vitamins.
The most important rule I try to follow is to avoid processed sugars, which give that wonderful fast hit but is, inevitably, followed by a crash some 30 minutes later. Instead, I try to maintain a drip feed of slow release energy. This plan is built on the foundation of the Mountain fuel Xtreme Energy drinks. I tend to vary the concentration of the mix as the race progresses; starting on 1 sachet to 500ml of water for a few hours, dropping to three quarters of a sachet to 500ml through the middle and finishing with half sachet mixes. This is something you need to play around with in training. If I feel the need for a change, I just take plain water for a while.
To top this up, I choose from a variety of items which I carry, all of which I know work for me. It is really easy to make bad decisions nutrition-wise in the heat of battle, so my philosophy is to carry tried and tested items so, regardless of what I take, I cannot make a bad decision.
I usually take flapjack early on (I make my own utilising Morning Fuel or have used Chia Charge) and I love the Mountain Fuel pancakes for their simplicity on the stomach. I had a torrid experience after trying to run a 33 mile ultra using gels and have pretty much avoided them since, but with some simple mixing I can now get the psychological crutch of a gel without the associated gastric issues by making my own healthy Mountain Fuelled version of a gel. For some variety, I carry beef jerky (Jack Links) which is a great change of flavour; just a 1” square every 90 mins or so and this can even just be chewed and spat out if you are not ready to stomach it.
All this needs to be easy to hand (thank goodness for race vest packs) otherwise, as you get tired, you tend to neglect nutrition.
All I would look for at checkpoints is something savoury like soup with a small slice of brown bread dipped in. Plus, obviously, the pleasure of a fruit smoothie at Kentmere.
Although this doesn’t sound like much, it is there to top up the energy I’m getting from the drinks and I have enough variety, along with some savoury snacks from checkpoints, to keep the palette happy and the psychological confidence that what is going in will power me through.
There are many things that can have a negative impact on your performance, a large percentage of which you have no control over. To have a successful race you need to try and control those factors which you can and nutrition is one of those variables; knowing you have a proven plan in place can take some of the stress out of the day and, therefore, increase both your enjoyment and your performance.
My next blog will share my thoughts on the step up from a 50 to a 100+ miler.
Mountain Fuel note: It’s fantastic to have Dave in our team of Mountain Fuellers as we’ve been able to try and test many different strategies across a wide variety of race conditions. It’s not just about hanging on to the finish and then being broken post race, our collective fuelling strategies have helped Dave achieve podium and top 10 finishes at Lakeland 100, Hardmoors 110, Hardmoors 55, Lakes 3 x 3000 and a top 200 finish in the at UTMB but what is most satisfying is how well he is able to recover and enjoy (if you can call it that) the events themselves.