Race Nutrition: an experiment of one

not exactly the race food I would chose!
not exactly the race food I would chose!

I could already see the finish. It was just a km or so of downhill, a shortish road section (also downhill) and then a run across the beach of Hout Bay to the finish line. Yes you guessed it I was getting to the end of the Hout Bay Trail Challenge. What I did not realise at the time is that I was in third position. Then it hit me, or more like I hit the brick wall.

Luckily Stevie had advised me to pack a Energade drink as a backup. I grabbed it and a crack appeared enough for me to climb through and finish strong.

That was my introduction to fueling in 2006. It has been a continuous journey since then to find the best solution.

A few years later I was running the same race and I caught Jayde on the tar down to Constantia Nek. He was cramping. Out came another Stevie miracle. I had packed a little sachet of salt (the ones that you can apparently get when you go to a fast food restaurant). I handed him one of these. He put it on his tongue and swigged some water down. Be warned that the salt tastes pretty hardcore when all you have been pushing down your throat is sweetness. But I have found the effect to be pretty instantaneous.

At some point I found Gu and I have migrated through the entire range of flavours. My favorites are Peanut Butter, Chocolate Outrage and when I can steal one away from M: Espresso Love. I also love the Roctane super charged Gu which is the bomb when you are doing short intense efforts and you simply absolutely have to leave no stone unturned and need power now! Hands down Gu is my go to when I am running short efforts. Mark and Rebecca have been fantastic in their support and encouragement and their dedication shows.

The problem I have found is that for longer efforts I find it really hard to consume sweet things all day. I need variety otherwise I just shut down and then nothing will go down.

At some point during my Addo 100 miler run I felt nauseous. It was dark and I was alone on a long uphill stretch to the turnaround. I opened a hammer gel and forced it down knowing that if I did not I would pay later. I was on a strategy of a three hour cycle where I would take Perpetuem for one hour, a gel for one and then a bar for the third. My strategy was to keep things interesting so that I would want to fuel till the end. This worked pretty well. Later in the night I had a cup of tea and this was awesome. Tea always is! It was warm and the taste was different.

Then came along Mark Wolff and his low GI product. The first time I tried it I thought it was just a hoax. To be honest it left me depleted. It took me a long time to try it again. In the interim I worked on burning fat stores more efficiently. I changed my diet (Yes I tried the Low Carb High Fat thing and I lasted 4 days). I started to do longer efforts with water only and my body responded pretty quickly. The best I have managed is run 30 km with about two mouthfuls of water on a very hot day. I felt awesome at the end. The effort was ok and not super slow either, so very pleasing.

I started to introduce 32Gi endurance drink powder again and it worked much better for me. Currently I am using mainly 32Gi mixed very week in water bottles to stabilise blood sugar levels. For an easy ride I will mix one scoop of 32Gi in one bottle and the other bottle I have water. This helps to stabilise sugar lows. On top of that I eat Jungle bars for harder efforts or races. They are affordable (under R 10 a bar), taste good and at least look like they have some natural stuff in them.

So what am I getting at?

I have tried and raced successfully on all of the above. I do not regret using any of these products. In fact when the need arises I will go back to Gu and Hammer. Just like you increase your fitness over years and sharper your strengths towards specific challenges so your gut and nutritional system changes and evolves to meet current needs and training challenges.

I arrived at the first proper aid station into the biggest race in my life (UTMB 2010) at about 30 km. My strategy was to take all my own fuel and be completely independent of the seconding tables. I could hear the announcer and cow bells 15 minutes before arriving at the station. The crowds were huger than huge and I worried that I would not find my sister who was seconding me. I ran past tables of cheese, salami, soup and breads of every description. Then there were the many tables of sweets. I ignored all of these. I learnt a huge amount that day and you can read about it here. If I was to go back to an event like this then I would use provided nutrition much more. In fact I would train to consume breads and cheeses etc.

I like to train and race by feel. I try to have some idea of when I should consume calories but I assess how my gut and body feels at regular intervals and work out what I need from there. Yes this might not be as scientific but it works for me.

What works for me right now:

I like to separate nutrition from hydration. (When I drink something I drink to quench thirst not to consume calories. When I need fuel I eat something) This way if your body is feeling low on energy but your gut is bloated you are more likely to be able to consume something solid rather than force more liquid down your throat.

Portability is a bit issue. When running for long periods you want to carry something light and easy to digest as fuel. Gels seem to be the obvious choice however I will start to explore concentrated forms of 32Gi and see how that goes. (BTW I can’t use tabs of 32Gi as they seem to be too sweet for me and stop me consuming sweets pretty soon after.)

attempting to make our own rice cakes
attempting to make our own rice cakes

I just found an interesting piece by Allen Lim of Scratch Labs on why his rice cakes are so popular. Interesting theory. Update: here is the link to the video clip. I have tried rice cakes before but they were pretty dry. Basically what he is getting at is that regular energy bars do not contain enough water to help in digestion. This leads to GI distress. At the time we did not think this to be an issue at all but the above puts an interesting spin on this.

Full disclosure: I have been given product by each of Gu, Hammer and 32Gi at various points. I was sponsored by Mule Bar when they were still available in SA. For this I am very thankful! I am currently not sponsored by any company. I don’t think that any one brand is outright better than the other. Each brand seems to do one aspect really well and as such you should choose your nutrition according to your event and personal needs.

Your fueling strategy depends on where your body is at and what you have trained. Like the question – “What shoes do you run in?”

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What experiences do you have to share?



4 thoughts on “Race Nutrition: an experiment of one

  1. Far to much effort to have propper food, I seem to be fine with just a couple of Turbovites, but I don’t start the day without a protein shake. I find that really helps for the lond days on the mountain.

    That said the longest race in the last couple of years has only been about 5 hours.

    1. Great point. Can you just clarify what protein shake you eat and how long before you run? Turbovites look very interesting. Do you use the Original capsule with 100mg caffeine? You are obviously very well fat burning adapted. Obviously due to all the good brains you have;)

  2. Here is a great recipe that dear George Forder shared with me many moons ago. It works very well as a pre-run smoothie to fuel a long effort. He called it the Fireman’s smoothie as apparently iwhat sustains New York (Boston? Chicago? You get the picture) firefighters on a long callout. Combine a banana, egg/s, a big dollop of peanut butter, molasses or honey to taste, 3 tbspoons oats (I use Futurelife), milk or yoghurt, and if you like it, some allspice or cinnamon, etc. Whizz whiizz, glug glug, run, run, run. Awesome.
    I also tried low carb and hit the WALL. Now I just try to avoid pure sugar until very near the finish, eat whatever’s handy on the run, and suck on caffeine sachets when things start to flag/sag. Often, it works well.
    And yes. Tea. Tea is the business. Leave no tea opportunity untaken.

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