Updated: May 18, 2022
It's that time of year where for many of us the long runs are starting to get longer and we are turning our focus towards our summer racing goals. This is the time for our run training to start getting race specific and a big part of that is thinking about what we are going to eat to correctly fuel these long efforts.
It is becoming more widely appreciated that to perform at your best on race day we need to make time in our training to focus on nutrition strategies. This process will consist of firstly experimenting with different foods that you enjoy eating out on the trails - things that have different flavour profiles/textures and are easily digestible. Secondly, you need to practice eating at the frequency and volume that is needed to maintain optimum fueling. To start off with it may feel uncomfortable to eat the number of calories needed but that's where the
training comes in. With around 8 weeks of training, it is possible to adapt to higher volumes of food and this will also give you the confidence on race day that there are fewer variables that are out of your control. The golden rule - "nothing new on race day."
With this in mind it is time to start the process of "training the gut". There is no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to nutrition and it is often a case of trial and error to find out what works best for you. To help you out here is a rundown of things that work well for me and have also been a hit with many of the runners that I work with.
This is what I will be eating this race season:
I have been using Precision Fuel & Hydration for years so it was a no brainer to try out their nutrition products when they came on the market. I have always been impressed with their focus on research and being athlete-focused. I love their gels, they have a very neutral flavour and seem to go down really easily, plus they are crammed full of carbs. I like their 90g gel sachets too, slightly less waste and less mess than normal gel packets. I have also tried their new chews, similar to cliff blocks although you get 30g of carbs from just 2 chews which is pretty dam impressive. They are a bit harder to eat than the more jelly-like chews that I am used to but I don't mind the "Turkish delight" type texture. Ultimately these guys seemed to have nailed the idea of simple products aimed at fueling as efficiently as possible - winner!
It is hard to find a product that is as palatable and carbohydrate-rich as the Sis beta-fuel products. I love their chews...they are like rocket fuel and have the bonus of bringing back childhood memories of eating "raw" cubes of jelly. I will also be using their gels as it is wise to have a mix of products to prevent "flavour fatigue".
This is a product that I have been trialling recently and have a lot of time for. Although it's yet another sweet option it is a bit more natural and present to eat - super palatable and digestible. Although it's a bit of a gimmick they drew me in with the idea that the guava fruit blocks are wrapped in a leaf which obviously is better than more plastic. A single serving
offers 36g of carbohydrate and around 140calories which seems to be a pretty good weight/size to fuel ratio.
I have found that I have to pick and choose veloforte products as not all of their flavours agree with me but the products that I do like, I love! The gels are pretty small and intense and need to be taken with plenty of water but they go down really easily. The bars are something a bit different to the rest of the competition - not only are they high in calories and carbs they are pretty easy to eat, although they are slightly more fibrous than other options so only really useful for longer slower efforts in my opinion. Their chews are also pretty good although I am not a huge fan of the packaging, it's not super practical and there are definitely smaller & lighter products that deliver the same nutritional benefits.
These guys deserve an honourable mention as, although not really fitting the brief when it comes to performance sports nutrition, they do deliver on flavour and are more sustainable than many other brands. Their bars and nut butters are no good for hard and fast efforts, they are simply just not digestible enough or as carb-dense as you would want them to be but for longer and steadier missions they are a great option to get in some calories with a different nutritional profile to gels and chews - this is more like "real food". I really respect what they are doing with their compostable packaging as I am often racked with guilt every time I tuck into another gel.
This is a bit of a cheat as it is a drink rather than something that you eat but I find that as the training volume goes up I often struggle to get in the number of calories that I need to recover properly between training. I use Form to get in an extra "meal" when I am feeling hungry but don't have the time or facilities to cook something. I don't use it to replace meals but just like a super-charged snack to help ensure that I am not running a calorie deficit in my big training weeks. I also use their performance protein after sessions with any kind of intensity. A lot of runners don't eat enough in their peak training weeks which can really limit their capacity to train or lead to injury so a solution like this can be really useful. I am also going to experiment with using Form in a drop bag during some longer events over the summer as a quick way to drive in a bunch of calories.
As long as your event is not too short and fast, then having a few "real food" options can be helpful. It is normal to start craving salty and savoury foods after 6 hours or so. The important thing to note with any real food that you decide to carry is that it is made up of easily digested simple white carbs and limit the amount of saturated fats. My go to's are:
vegan pizza rolls
cooked potato slices with salt
white tortilla wraps (with simple filling)
rice balls/rice pudding
The book Feedzone Portables is great for ideas!
I would love to hear what foods and sports nutrition products you are using, it's great to discover new things so please get in touch if you have found some hidden gems!