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Nutrition and Hydration

Because Food Becomes You

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Nutrition Basics

Nutrition and hydration is a vital element of any training and racing regiment and it can determine the success or failure of an athlete. Nutrition, and not necessarily training, is the limiting factor in ultra-endurance sports. Even the best-trained athletes have only enough glycogen in their muscles for a couple of hours of hard racing. Fluid stores vanish even faster. So eating and drinking before, during, and after a long race is crucial. In addition, during ultras, thoughts about food, its taste, and energy is provides, can become a motivating factor and help to take mind away from boredom and pain, but also may became a constant nightmare.

Digesting food while we are at rest is very different process from when we are in motion. At rest, digesting is one of the body's main functions, and most of the blood supply is diverted to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. In motion, blood is diverted away from the GI tract to the muscles to deliver oxygen and nutrition to the muscles to create adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the substance that fuels muscles. Decrease the intensity of the motion, and there is enough blood left in the GI area to continue digestion/absorption process; maintain high intensity, and no blood can be spared.

If food (due to inadequate blood supply from the intense exercise and/or food contents) will remain in the stomach and will not be allowed to enter the intestine, it can result in cramps and nausea and it will result in minimal flow of nutrients from the intestine to the blood. As some of the blood supply may be directed to help to digest food that entered intestine, it will divert blood from the muscles to the intestine with a resulting feeling of muscle fatigue.

Your training should tell what foods work best. Make each long training session an experiment in nutrition.

During endurance events it is common to get tired of eating. Your mouth and jaw muscles are tired, your stomach upset or just un-interested, and few foods taste good. Again, experiment and train for this before the event.

Eat small portions often (as opposite of large meals few times). Gorge - and blood supply may have to make a choice between the stomach (to help with digestion) or the rest of the body (muscles, other organs, and even brain). It may decide to contribute too much to the stomach with a resulting feeling of depleted energy, sleepiness and apathy.

Eat aggressively the day before the event. The goal is to cram your muscles with glycogen. Emphasize carbohydrates like pasta, bread, vegetables, whole grains, and fruit. In fact, it is smart to begin boosting carbo intake two or three days before the race day. Same with fluids, start hydrating at least day before the race. Without this pre-hydration, your performance may plummet after a couple of hours of racing. And do not ever rely on water alone.

Smooth pedaling motion in cycling means you can eat just before a long ride without risking stomach upset. And you will need a full "tank" because cycling consumes about 40 calories per mile. A 100 miles incinerates about 4,000 calories. Many long-distance riders add some protein and fat, perhaps as scrambled eggs or an omelet. They feel that these foods supply energy for a prolong period comparing only to pure carbos.

During the event, remember to drink before you get thirsty. Your sensation of thirst lags behind your need for liquid. Hydrate often and in small portions. Consider a back-mounted hydration pack for convinience, and as an obvious and constant physical reminder. Monitor your urine, it should be plentiful and clear/pale yellow.

Re-hydrating is especially important on multi-day stage events. If you get a little behind each day, too soon after a couple of days you will be severely dehydrated and unable to race on the same level. Same applies for muscles - you need to replace glycogen by eating immediately after a race.

Liquify food. In liquified form food is easier to consume and digest.

Eat a well-balanced diet. Do not neglect getting all the necessary vitamins and minerals. Certain supplements (as sodium) are just as important to success in training and racing as nutrition or training. See more data of certain supplements at Supplements Page.

Provide enough coolers, for cold foods, drinks, water and ice.

Support crew is responsible for nutrition and hydration aspects. Purchasing supplies, cooking, blending, density of drinks, and feeding procedures should be pre-determined with athlete.

Do not mix waterbottles for pure water, carbo-replacement drinks, or liquid foods. Mark them ahead of time or color-code them. Make sure there is an adequate supply of water bottles and other food containers.

Nutrition Logistics Checklist

General Hints

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Solid Foods

Race-proven Examples

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Liquid Foods and Beverages


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