When coming up with the idea of having a UK Ultra blog, our goal was to produce relevant articles that would help you, the athletes, with your training and racing. A big topic that frequently comes up but is often overlooked, is that of nutrition. Having the right nutrition plan in place will help massively when training for, and taking part in an ultramarathon.
We decided to collaborate with the well known sports nutritionist Alexandra Cook, to come up with a nutrition series that will help guide you through the next few months when training for the South Downs 100K, or any ultramarathon for that matter.
Alex is a registered clinical & sports dietitian with over a decade of experience in dietary management. She has a BSc (Hons) in Sports and Exercise Science & a post graduate in Nutrition & Dietetics. She has been a competitive runner for almost 20 years, and entered the world of ultrarunning in 2015. She is a sub 3 hour marathon runner, and has had many great results and 1st place finishes at various ultra’s.
So you’ve entered your races for the year, maybe the South Downs 100K! It’s all systems go for the season ahead. You have your training plan set, and your new pair of running shoes has just arrived! There are many pieces of the race prep jigsaw to consider, but one piece that many forget, or only consider too late, is their nutrition. Not just race nutrition(which of course is vitally important, and will be discussed in detail soon) but paying attention to what you eat day to day around your training. The right nutrition will not only ensure optimal health, but it will also help you recover from your runs and therefore allow you to train harder on your next one.... it will make you perform your best!
The good news here is that less is more! The subtlest of changes can have a significant affect on how well you progress through your training plan. Despite the mountains of information we see in the media, and social channels complicating this, here is THE most important piece of information you will read today....sports nutrition is not complicated.
Whether you are an elite athlete or new to running, the first aim is to get your basic, day to day diet right. Many of us lead very busy lives, and as a result, our diets suffer. Missing meals and grabbing snacks on the go can be habits that become the norm. It is amazing how the body will keep going, but if you are not eating well over time, you are at a higher risk of not only reduced performance, but also injury and illness. Getting a well balanced diet, and keeping it simple, is the first step.
If you are looking at overhauling your diet, the Sports Nutrition Pyramid is a good representation of how an athletes daily dietary intake should be approached. Over this article, and the next, we will be looking at each section to help you form an optimal diet to support your training.
Initially, we should look at the bigger picture of your basic diet, before looking into the smaller details around training. It may sound dull, but ensuring regular meals and snacks consisting of a variety of different foods, will put you in good stead as training increases over the next few months.
Ask yourself these questions:
Focus on one thing, and one thing alone for a week. For example, drink more water, have breakfast everyday or increase fruit and veg intake. Focusing on one thing, and being consistent with that change, will eventually mean you have changed your habit, and it will stick.
If you write down what you eat throughout the day, you will become more aware of what your habits are. Maybe you have a snack mid morning that is too large and therefore means you miss your lunch as a result. Perhaps you are eating your dinner too late, which has an impact on how hungry you are in the morning. Write down your food and drink, and what time you consume it. After 5 days, you can look back over this and form a clearer idea of your dietary habits.
Time is precious, but it can also be our worst enemy. I would say from my 15 years of working with athletes, that lack of time is the main contributing factor to not eating well. Planning ahead is the only way around this. If you are set for a busy week, meals such as overnight oats (recipe below) that you can prepare the night before, are perfect for a balanced but quick breakfast. Also, cooking an extra portion at your evening meal means you will have some left overs to use for your lunch the next day. I encourage my athletes to always have a good stock of basic items in their store cupboard and freezer. If they haven’t had time to buy fresh food, they will still have some good meal and snack options at home.
Store cupboard basics.
In conclusion to this first and very important step, the key is not to do anything extreme. Even finding just one thing you might need to change, and focusing on that, will be massively beneficial. Try and be immune to what other people are doing and always remember nutrition is individualised to you. Focus on you, and your personal goals.
As we move through this series of articles, you will learn more, and hopefully make the needed changes as we go. I will be supporting your fuelling needs for UK Ultra over the next few months, right up to the South Downs 100k race day itself.