In the previous article Sports Dietician Alexandra Cook discussed the first part of the Nutrition Pyramid, basic nutrition, and how paying attention to it will create the necessary foundations when preparing for an ultramarathon. Following on from that, here she will complete the topic by covering the next sections of the pyramid, sports nutrition and supplements.
Training for the UK Ultra South Downs 100k, or any ultramarathon for that matter, is going to be tough and you will use a lot of energy each day in training. The higher your training load working up to the race, the higher your nutrient requirements. Once you feel your basic diet is good, you can move up the triangle and start focusing on more sports specific nutrition. This is where you consider the foods and fluid before, during and after training.
Carbohydrate and protein are the main macronutrients that will fuel and help recovery from training. The amount you need is dependent on your fitness, size, intensity and volume of training. The first step is getting your carb intake right. It is the main source of fuel the body uses when you run. You should be aiming for approximately 6-10g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight, if training between 1-3 hours per day. So a 70kg runner doing approx. 7 hours of training a week would need approximately 490g carbs a day. The higher the training volume, the higher the demand for carbohydrate. look at your training week as a whole and decide what you feel is right for you. If your training volume is higher on a particular day (for example you are doing back-to-back long runs) then you need to increase your carbohydrate intake to support your effort.
Here are some examples of what 50g of carbohydrate looks like:-
Protein is the main nutrient for muscle protein synthesis – the process that instigates muscle repair and adaptation. A common myth is that protein is mainly needed just after exercise. This is true in a sense, but a more regular intake of protein at every meal, as well as some high-protein snacks, is vital to ensure this process is supported.
An endurance runner should be aiming for between 1.2-1.8g protein per kg of body weight per day. Key here is to aim for a portion of between 15-20g of protein at each meal to help you hit your daily target. Always ensure you have a protein portion at each meal, for example, eggs, fish, chicken, beans/pulses, Quorn.
Here are some examples of what 20g of protein looks like:-
The rule of thumb for eating pre training is to have a carb-based meal 3 hours before (this may be less if it is a smaller meal such as breakfast). These timings are to make sure your food is digested and ready to be used to power your run. Don’t overdo the protein or fat though, as these can take longer to digest and may leave you feeling uncomfortable when you run. Some people may well be able to tolerate eating a meal closer to running, it is very individual, but having this as a guide is a good start and can be translated to any time of the day. Some may benefit from a high energy snack such as a banana or cereal bar an hour before a run to get energy levels to the max.
Unless you are training twice a day (which some of you may be doing a few times a week), it is a bit of a myth that we have to eat as soon as we stop running. Just as long as you are eating within an hour of taking your trainers off, and eating well for the remainder of the day, you should be fully recovered by your next session. If you think of the 3 R’s of recovery after every run, Rehydrate - Refuel - Rebuild, you can be confident that you will be recovering better, therefore training harder and hopefully with more consistency.
Rehydrate with water and / or electrolyte drink. You need to take on fluid at a rate that you are not peeing it straight out! As soon as you have finished your run, drink 500mls fluid. After that, drink little and often until urine is clear or you have reached your pre run weight (try to weigh yourself before and after every run). If you have sweated a lot, or it is a particularly hot day, you may want some added electrolytes to help the hydration process. If you want to be more exact, drink 1.5L of fluid for every 1 kg lost in weight.
Refuel with carbohydrate
If you have 24 hours between sessions, simply follow your daily carb needs appropriate for your level of activity and ensure a well-balanced meal within an hour of finishing exercise. Simple but effective!
If you have less than 8 hours between sessions, you will need to be more exact. Take approximately 1g carbs / kg of body weight each hour for 3-4 hours to maximise glycogen synthesis. This way you will ensure your glycogen stores are restored as much as possible for the next session. If you struggle with appetite after a big session or long run, smoothies can be useful, and energy bars also help increase carb intake to start rebuilding those fuel reserves.
Rebuild with protein
Protein is not essential for the immediate post session recovery (i.e. it won’t make any difference to performance in a second session a few hours later) but plays a large part in long term recovery and adaptation to training. As mentioned previously, it is the main driver for muscle protein synthesis, but this process occurs over many hours and days. Therefore, getting into the habit of having approximately 20g protein post session, and then regularly at each meal and snack for the remainder of the day will ensure adequate adaptation to training sessions, and ensure an improvement in performance.
The third and last step up the triangle for you to consider is supplements. Supplements in sport are widespread, and can be considered by many as a quick fix to help them improve. It is a huge industry, but also unregulated, so caution and consideration are needed. Therefore, before splashing your cash, you should initially aim for a “food first” approach. This means you should aim to be getting the majority of your nutrition requirements through your daily food intake. For instance, there should be no need for protein shakes if you are managing to eat a protein portion at each meal during the day. There are of course exceptions, if you have a proven deficiency such as low iron then supplementing may be recommended. Additionally, taking Vitamin D in the winter months is recommended due to lack of sunlight and difficulty in meeting your requirements through food. Think food first and supplements as a last resort.
In essence, as said before, you need to think ahead. A prepared runner is a successful runner. Simply by ensuring you don’t go hours without eating after training or racing, and eating a snack or meal with adequate carbohydrate and protein, you will ensure recovery will be efficient.
More careful planning is needed if you are training twice a day as the recovery window is much smaller.