Nutritional Needs of an Ultra Runner
Ultra-distance running is becoming more and more popular, however there is currently limited information on the specific nutritional needs of an ultra runner.
So, if you are an ultra runner…or you are considering moving into ultra distance running then you are in the right place because we will:
- Highlight the rewards and health risks associated with ultra-distance running
- Discuss the key nutrients to focus on for this distance
- Give TIPS on FOOD to eat to fuel your ultra-running
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Outlining the definition of ultra-distance (or ultra-marathon) running and highlighting several famous ultra-events.
Discussing some of the rewards from running ultra-distances. The rewards from running these distances are both emotional/psychological and physical.
Delving into the potential risks from running ultra-marathons including:
- Macronutrient and/or micronutrient depletion
- Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance
- Muscle damage
- Oxidative stress – from metabolic/ biological processes occurring during running
Considering the KEY nutrients required for running ultra-distances: Carbohydrates and Electrolytes/Hydration, as well as outlining important factors affecting the total daily energy intake requirements of an ultra-runner
Focussing on Hydration and the ultra-runner and why a targeted hydration strategy is required
When comparing food choices between male and female distance runners the NURMI-Study (Nutrition and Running High Mileage – International) 2019 found that female athletes:
- Have a greater prevalence of unintentional calorie imbalance than males in order to reach and maintain the appropriate body composition required for an optimal endurance performance
- Were generally more health conscious than males
- Made “healthier” food choices than males with a greater intake of foods including: fruits, vegetables, and whole foods
- Mainly prefer to consume dietary sources containing more micronutrient density to fulfil their health-related concerns whereas male athletes seem more interested in consuming macronutrients, especially from protein sources, aiming to maintain and improve muscle mass and strength
- It was also found that the prevalence of consuming high-fibre meals (as an indicator of a healthy diet) was considerably higher in females than males
Giving some TIPS on foods to eat to help fuel YOUR next ultra-run or ultra-event coming up including:
Food choices Pre and Post training/event would be similar to marathon training…you would just want to have more of it!!
It is DURING training/event that food choices change because gels and bars are just not enough!
Use of gels/bars/medjool dates may be sufficient for a 50K event but beyond this distance food choices NEED to change
For ultra-distances there needs to be a balance of macronutrients (Carbohydrate, protein, fat) in the food choices made DURING the run because the physical stress on the body is immense.
Highlighting Foods to consider including:
- Fruit and nut flapjacks
- Fresh/dried fruit
- Chicken and cheese sandwich
- Slice of a potato-based frittata
- Remember “Ultra-marathons are defined as foot races that exceed the traditional marathon distance of 26.2miles (or 42.2Km)”
- There are many rewards from running ultra distances including: self satisfaction and achievement and increased physiological adaptations such as mitochondrial function.
- BUT, there are many risks too including: compromised immunity, dehydration, muscle damage
- To try to minimise these risks, a detailed and targeted approach to nutrient and fluid intake is imperative, especially CHO and sodium/electrolytes
- Remember bars and gels are just not enough when completing an ultra-marathon, REAL FOOD with a balance of macronutrients will be required during the event
- Finally, every ultra runner is individual therefore their food and nutrient requirements will be different, so consider working with a registered nutritional professional to ensure your choices are appropriate for your needs!!
The suggestions we make during this episode are for guidance and advice only, and are not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you have any concerns regarding your health, please contact your healthcare professional for advice as soon as possible.
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Best Wishes and Happy Running!
Karen and Aileen