Monday, October 21, 2013

Fueling Strategies for Endurance Athletes

Yesterday I wrapped up my last long training run for my upcoming 50 miler! I can't believe how fast the last 6 months have flown by, it's been quite a journey and fun experience. My run was on the later half of the Mountain Masochist course and the perfect opportunity to nail down and practice my race day nutrition strategy. Needless to say I've learned a lot about fueling during extended workouts this season and I've experienced it all: I've bonked, over-fueled to the point of GI distress, run through extreme cramping, run out of water, run out of food and tried new sources of fuel. Though it's been a process of trial and error and I've had my share of obstacles along the way, it has paid off by more intimately coming to know what works best for my body. More so, I've learned that fueling is not a perfect science, it takes practice and a willingness to be flexible in order to optimally adapt to real-time conditions and obstacles. And after watching the Kona Ironman, I realized that even the Pro's have days where they struggle with their nutrition. It's comes with the territory that is endurance racing.

That being said, here are a few things I've learned along the way:

  1. Eat and drink early and don't stop, even if you're within 30-60 minutes of the finish line and "think" you can make it in just fine.
  2. To prevent GI distress, eat the least amount of calories you need to optimally sustain your efforts hour after hour. It's easier to compensate by eating more than it is to reverse over-doing it. 
  3. Similarly, don't forget to take the conditions into account and adjust your fueling appropriately: climbing, heat and humidity can slow the body's ability to digest the calories you do consume.
  4. For extended events/training sessions especially: stick to complex carbohydrates, avoid fructose (refined, not from fruit), sucrose and glucose. You're looking for long-term energy not a short-term boost.
  5. The being said, the body doesn't have a gas tank, you have to feed the fire gradually. If you tend to lose track of time (like me), setting a timer on your watch to go off every 15-20 minutes as a reminder to eat/drink can be beneficial.
  6. It can be beneficial to carry a flask of concentrated calories and plain water separately. That way it's much easier to adjust your caloric intake without having to over drink and flavored water definitely gets old after a while.
  7. Don't overemphasize sodium (especially via salt tabs), the other electrolyte minerals (potassium, magnesium, chloride...) matter too. Again, take conditions and your personal sweat rate into account and adjust accordingly.
  8. Trust your body's natural compensatory processes and don't over fuel (regarding calories, fluids and electrolytes)-- this is important to remember both prior to events (carb-loading) and during!
  9. Along those same lines- listen to your body's cravings and utilize those aid stations! Don't go overboard feasting on sweets, but sometimes flat soda, chocolate or salty chips can be beneficial if that's what your body is able to tolerate best at the time.
  10. Practice, practice, practice! And come race day, be flexible and prepared! Have a plan for navigating obstacles, listen to your body's cues and cravings and adjust your nutritional strategy as needed. 
It's peak fall season in the Blue Ridge Mtns!
These guidelines are based on both my nutritional expertise and experience as an endurance athlete. Ultimately it's up to you to decide what nutritional strategy works best for your body during training and racing because everyone is different. Also, while these are geared towards longer running races they could also be applied to other endurance sports.

Last but not least, be sure to check out this awesome write-up about about the Virginia Tech Ultra-Marathon Team and Hydration!

MMTR 2 weeks and counting!

Here's to fueling and running (mostly) happy!

1 comment:

  1. Great info Kristen! Nutrition scares me the most.


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