Everything you need to know about fuelling for the long haul...
There comes a point in the lives of most recreational athletes when they find themselves eyeing up an ultra-endurance event. Running 100 miles across a mountain range or cycling from sunrise to sunset may seem crazy to friends and family, but once you’ve conquered the Olympic distance triathlon, a city marathon or that century cycle, it’s understandably tempting to see just how far you can really go. You need a new challenge.
When it comes to Ironman, ultra marathons and ultra bike races, there’s a lot more to consider than just physical training and kit. Pushing your body to its limits means thinking about how to fuel your mind and muscles with a smart approach to endurance nutrition. And a good fuelling strategy can be the difference between a date with the dreaded bonk and a DNF, or getting that hard-earned medal firmly around your neck.
So before you step up and go long, here’s everything you need to know about endurance race nutrition.
Endurance race nutrition:
Why you need to think differently for all-day efforts
Unlike fuelling for shorter events, taking on sports gels every half an hour or so isn’t going to cut it for most people during an ultra endurance race.
A review published in Research in Sports Medicine found that 60 to 96 per cent of ultra-athletes experience gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, stomach pain and vomiting in workouts lasting over four hours.
That’s because when you workout, your blood flow goes towards your working muscles and the amount of blood going to your gut is lower, meaning it may not function as well as it usually does and that can lead to GI problems if you take on board too many synthetic products with artificial ingredients or eat too much of the wrong thing.
Therefore it’s wise to mix up your nutritional sources, eating real food in the right formats such as gels, bars and hydration.
The most important nutrient during endurance exercise are carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel for energy and are stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen. When you’re exercising for longer than 90 minutes, these stores become depleted and fatigue sets in. So if you want to keep going, you need to keep your glycogen stores topped up by fuelling regularly.
How much should I be eating?
British Cycling recommends taking on around one gram of carbohydrate per kilo of bodyweight per hour during racing – if you weigh 70kg, this would be around 70g of carbs.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommend 30-60g carbohydrates per hour for moderate exercise and up to 90g during ultra-endurance events.
As an example, that’s the equivalent of one pack of our brand new Cubos chews (42g carbs), one Veloforte Nectar (22g carbs) and half an Avanti bar (20.25g carbs).
What should I eat during an endurance race?
What you eat during an endurance event is very personal, no two athletes will follow the same strategy. However most athletes choose a mix of real food and sport-specific nutrition products that provide the carbohydrates you need without the bloated heavy feeling that eating ‘proper’ food – like bowls of pasta – alone can bring.
Mixing it up also gives your tastebuds something to look forward to, which can be a boost mentally and crucially keeps you eating at a time when it’s common not to want to.
Practice in training to find what works for you is essential. You need to think about the energy payload, the taste and also the practicality of what you can carry in your jersey or waist belt. And what’s faff-free so that 15 hours deep into a long day when your head has gone, you’re not fighting a packet.
Veloforte products are all designed to tick all of these boxes. They’re packed with natural energy, nutritional value with every bite and they’re easily portable and are great choices for ultra-endurance races. Try adding some of the following to your race-day arsenal:
Veloforte energy gels – designed for rapid-release energy each sachet contains 22g of carbohydrates. The dual-source, all-natural glucose fructose mix is proven to up your carbohydrate absorption and takes some of the pressure off your gut. For an extra mental kick go for Doppio, which contains 75g of natural caffeine from guarana.
Veloforte electrolyte drinks – Created from real fruit and the purest electrolytes, they are designed to help re-energise as well as replenish salts and potassium through sweat. Attivo and Vivo contain 22g of natural carbs as well as pure electrolytes, Solo focusses on just electrolyte replenishment. Attivo also has 75g of natural caffeine from guarana.
Veloforte Cubos – when you want something soft, fruity and delicious to chew on, these 100 per cent natural vegan energy chews contain 42g of dual-source carbohydrate per six cube portion. They’re available in three flavours, Amaro (Sour Cherry & Guarana), Citro (Citrus & Ginger), Fresco (Lemon & Cool Mint), with Amaro giving you an extra caffeine hit too, with 75mg coming from the guarana.
Veloforte energy bars – natural, powerful & delicious these award-winning and easily digestible energy bars contain around 40g of carbohydrates per bar. Choose different flavours so you’ve got something new to look forward to as you motor through the miles. For handy bitesize peices, our mixed bites bag is ideal.
What about the aid stations?
While some ultra events are self-supported, many have aid stations with a mixed range of foods on offer such as cola, crisps, bananas, chocolate bars, cakes, soups and sandwiches... A bit like a child’s birthday party.
If your event has an aid station see if they can tell you what they’ll offer so you can practice during training to see if the foods agree with you or if it's the sort of food you want to eat. Beware, often the food they have isn't what you've trained with, and there's no guarantee that the food you want will still be available when you stop... so make sure you have the natural real-food you need already with you... another reason why the Cubo and Nectars ranges are so effective... they're extremely light-weight (33-50g), portable in size and brilliantly powerful.
When should I eat during an endurance race?
Start your fuelling strategy around 60 minutes after the start of your event.
From then on you should be taking on fuel little and often. Bitesize Veloforte Cubos are perfect for this. Carbohydrates can take up to 15 minutes to be absorbed into the bloodstream depending on the individual so don’t leave it until fatigue kicks in. You ned to be feeding for the road 30 minutes ahead of you, not the road you're on, so it's critical to feed and drink before you get hungry or thirsty.
What shouldn’t I eat during an endurance race?
There are no hard and fast rules about what you should and shouldn’t eat but fatty foods and large amounts of fibre can cause GI issues. Similarly, some people find artificial sports products can give them an upset stomach, which is why all Veloforte products are made using only natural, tasty ingredients that are proven to perform.
What if I feel too ill to eat?
We’ve all been there. Towards the end of an ultra-endurance event when you’ve got 300km under your wheels or 40 miles under your trainers, the thought of forcing food or a gel down can make you feel nauseous.
In this case, you may find a sports drink easier to swallow. Liquids, such as Veloforte energy drinks, are easier to digest and gentler on the stomach they're designed to have a more savoury flavour profile (from the natural botanicals like Basil and Sage) and they're infused to refresh like an iced-tea rather than a fizzy-pop.
If you really can’t face it, studies have found that just swilling a sports drink around your mouth can trick your brain into thinking carbs are on the way and reduce fatigue. In one study, cyclists rode for two hours and then did a 30-minute time trial. They were almost 2 per cent faster when they swilled a sports drink.
What should I eat in the days before an endurance race?
You’ve heard it a hundred times but we’ll say it again, don’t try anything new on race day! During training practice your fuelling strategy, eating and drinking what you plan to use on race day. That way you can ensure it agrees with your stomach and gives you the energy you require.
Trialling your endurance fuel also acts as a form of gut training. According to one study runners who consumed 90g of carbohydrates an hour in a 2:1 glucose-fructose blend when training at 60 per cent of their VO2 max reported a decrease in gut issues on race day. The runners in the study consumed the carbohydrates every day for two weeks in order to build up their gut’s tolerance.
Two to three days out from your race, start carb loading to ensure your glycogen stores are full. Aim for around 10 grams of carbohydrate per kg of body weight. So if you weigh 70kg, you should try and eat around 700 grams of carbs per day.
It’s also important to get to the start line well hydrated, even one per cent dehydration can have a negative effect on your performance. Start hydrating around three days before the race. We’d recommend consuming at least two litres of water a day. On race morning aim to drink 500mls of a Veloforte hydration drink 1-2 hours before and 150-200mls immediately before you begin.
The day before your race avoid anything excessively spicy or fibrous in your diet as this can mean more toilet-related pit stops than you’d like.
What foods increase stamina and endurance?
If you’re looking for some performance-boosting endurance food to help you over that finish line you may want to try beetroot.
Drinking beetroot juice raises nitric oxide levels in your body, which can increase blood flow, increase lung function and strengthen muscle contraction for better endurance performance.
Bananas are also good for those eating for endurance. A great source of carbohydrates, one study found that eating a banana before a 75km cycling time trial was just as effective as a carbohydrate drink.
7 Tips to Fuel Well for Endurance
- Eat small and often – this will keep you topped up and help avoid tummy meltdown. Velforte cubos and mixed bites are ideal for regular snacking
- Mix it up – flavours, textures, sweet and savoury will help you avoid palate fatigue
- Don't wait for the fuzzies – if your knees go wobbly it's too late
- Don't only eat at aid stations – it can be tempting to use aid stations to denote your fuel stops but that can be a mistake. Your body needs fuel when it needs it
- Think about the terrain – if you know there’s a big hill coming up for example, make sure you eat to give you energy to climb it
- Walk and eat – unless you're elite and you're scoffing on the move, in running ultra events it can be useful to eat during walk breaks and to walk out of aid stations if you've just filled your belly. This will help everything digest and makes the whole process much easier
- Put your fuel where you can reach it – if it's in your backpack or saddle bag, when your brain goes to mush (and that will happen) you'll be too lazy to reach for it. Move a small selection to the front pockets or your jersey at aid stations so there are no barriers to eating.