Food For A Multi-Day On The Cheap

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Multi-day racing is booming and the selection and variety of races increases, year-after-year! Last year I attended multiple races that lasted several days and each of those races had a very unique difference to the others. For example, the heat, humidity and technical terrain of Costa Rica at The Coastal Challenge was in many ways compensated for by the race being fully supported. At Everest Trail Race, the mountains, the altitude and semi self-sufficiency was compensated for by food being provided each morning and each night.

Read a related article, Top Tips to Multi-Day Racing HERE

Marathon des Sables though, like races such as Grand to Grand, 4Deserts such as Atacama, Gobi and the Sahara all operate a self-sufficiency policy. The only items provided are water and a cover for the night.

So, everything must be carried (read an in-depth article here) and that includes food for the duration of the run. In many cases, a minimum calorie requirement is specified for each day, at Marathon des Sables for example, it’s 2000 calories.

Calories are important at a multi-day race, not only do they allow you to perform but that also enable you to recover and importantly, food alters your mood. As many runners say, you only have three things to do at multi-day: Run, eat and sleep. So, food becomes very important.

Needless to say, calories, how many calories and how those calories break down (carbohydrate, fat and protein) is very individual to the person who will consume them. A female 5-feet 5-inches weighing 50kg is going to need less calories than a male 6-feet 2-inches weighing 80kg! It will also depend on the objectives of said runner. Are they looking to race and make an impact at the front or are they looking to complete? Also, how the runner uses calories depends very much on how they have trained their bodies when running. Utilising fat as a fuel source is essential for multi-day running.

Food is important!

Many dehydrated food options exist that are specifically designed for multi-day racing. Some are tasty, some are not and nearly all are expensive.

With this in mind I asked the question, ‘How cheaply can one put food together for multi-day race?’

I am sure it’s a question many ask and while the balance of carbs, proteins and fats may be compromised in the list below. It just shows how effectively your local supermarket can fulfil your multi-day food needs.

I shopped with the intention to purchase food for just one day. I didn’t tally weight or calories as I shopped. I purchased on impulse keeping these points in mind:

  1. Taste.
  2. Variety.
  3. Carbohydrate.
  4. Fat.
  5. Protein.
  6. What would be easy to cook.
  7. What would I want to eat?
  8. Treats?

It wasn’t scientific! I purchased Noodles, Cous Cous, Peperami, Nuts, Dried Fruit, Porridge, Soup and so on…

I spent £13.50 and I accumulated 2582 calories for a weight (in original packaging) of 775 grams.

See table below:

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2582 calories is probably a ‘typical’ daily requirement for many a runner at a multi-day race. The minimum 2000 is a little too light for many. If you think about the weight of 775 and then multiply that by days (six), that gives 4650 grams. If one trims the packs or re-packs into different bags or vacuum packs, additional weight can be saved. I trimmed just the original packing and resealed and I instantly saved 75 grams. That alone would save you 450 grams over six days.

 

Food samples purchased:

You can download the list of food and breakdown HERE

You may be asking what point am I trying to make with this post?

Well, it’s quite simple. Multi-day racing does not have to be complicated and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Yes, the balance of carb v protein v fat may not be ideal in the above example, however, I could survive on the above!

Think outside the box and customise your food needs to you, your taste and your budget. I personally would tweak what I have above and add a little more savoury/ protein and reduce the simple sugars.

Enjoy the process.

Why not join our Multi-Day Training Camp in Lanzarote with 2015 Marathon des Sables ladies champion, Elisabet Barnes. The camp takes place in January each year. 

Information HERE

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FAT a burning question for the long distance runner

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Racing in any running race requires a specific and targeted approach to your objective. The objective can be a one day race of a short distance, a medium distance race such as a marathon or maybe you are going to run long, 50 miles or more… You may even be running for multiple days?

The important thing to remember is that ‘training’ and ‘racing’ are 2 separate things and your fuelling approach should reflect this.

Any long distance event will require you (a unique individual) to utilise fat as a fuel source. You can teach your body to utilise a greater amount of fat as fuel and also to use less calories overall, making you more economical.

Other factors come into play, for example, someone who will be in the top 5% of the race results will have different needs to a runner in the final 5%. However, fat as a fuel is used and we can all adapt.

If you follow the guidance below over a 12-16 week training period you will adapt to fat usage.

Run at the correct intensity -slow and steady. Find out a specific heart rate zone in which to work. Maffetone method is a good starting place.

Avoid fluctuations in intensity when training long, average heart rate or power output are NOT the critical figures, it’s TIME IN ZONE that counts.

Eat foods which are balanced with low GI (glycemic index) carbohydrates and fats to encourage fat usage and avoid sugar spikes.

Avoid gels and sugar products based on point 3 above.

What happens during the race?

Let’s assume that while racing you burn 700kcal per hour, 50% of which comes from carbohydrate and 50% of which comes from fat. Carbohydrate loss is the one to worry about, in this scenario, 350cals (50% of 700). 350kcal of carbohydrate equates to 88 grams of carbohydrate (4 kcal per gram).

Here’s the big problem!

Most individuals can only absorb approximately 60g+/- of carbohydrate per hour.

A simple way to look at this is by looking at ‘you’ as a car ferry. The cars that you will fit in the ferry boat carry carbohydrate, lets say 10g per car. Your car ferry only holds so many cars… in our scenario it is 6!

But we have already worked out that you as an individual burning 50/50 carb and fat require 88g of carb. That is 8.8 cars.

So, you line up 9 cars on the dock every hour but only 6 fit. This leaves 3 on the dock. The boat sails away, comes back 1-hour later and 9 new cars have arrived in addition to the 3 you left waiting…

This is the same as adding carbs through your intestine wall to your blood stream. If you carry on missing 2.8 cars every hour, one thing is guaranteed to happen – you will either need to slow down or you will blow up!

As stated, a typical person can absorb 60gram +/- per hour.

For our example above, that means that you’re going to fall short. You’re using 88 grams per hour and you can only replace 60 grams per hour. That’s a 28 gram / 112 kcal per hour deficit.

If you try to eat more (an additional 2.8 cars) every hour, it’s unlikely to be digested and will simply sit in your stomach or intestines without providing energy. That may be okay for 1-hour, possibly 2 but then the classic scenario of stomach distress happens. How many runners have you talked to that have complained of stomach distress while running?

It’s really important that you understand, eating more food doesn’t mean you’ll have more energy and it may well mean that you’ll face stomach upsets.

Our above scenario works on the presumption that you are only using 700kcal per hour, bigger people and less efficient people may be using more? Our scenario also assumes that 50% is coming from fat and 50% fro carb – that may not be the case at all! In-fact, as much as 80-100% of energy may be coming from carbohydrate! A disaster for the endurance athlete.

Take multi-day racing for example when you are racing day-after-day with compromised recovery and limited calories. You just simply cannot carry enough carbohydrates to sustain you over the period of an event, particularly if it is a self-sufficient event such as the Marathon des Sables.

To move forward effectively armed with good knowledge about you as a person, you need to address 3 questions:

How many calories do I burn per hour?

How many of those calories come from fat and carbohydrate?

How many calories and what percentage of fat/ carb should I be taking in as a consequence?

Do a 1 hour run at your ‘race pace’ and then use your heart rate monitor to calculate how many calories per hour you are using when exercising at that intensity. These figures can be somewhat unpredictable but it will provide a starting point from which to work from.

Most heart rate monitors will use your age and weight to work out kcal per hour. This will only give you an approximate calorie burn per hour and won’t tell you what % of energy comes from carb/ fat. There are some tools on the internet such as: http://www.braydenwm.com/calburn.htm which can help to give you a basic idea.

Working scenario:

Billy is 43, weighs 82 kg and is racing a 100 mile race, he falls into a category of 65 carb /35 fat fuel usage. Billy has one main objective – to complete the event without major disaster and to run as much as possible. Billy running at his proposed race pace will use 820 Kcal per hour, so the calculation works like this:

65/35

Fat contribution:  820 Kcal x 35% = 287 Kcal

Carbohydrate contribution: 820 Kcal x 65% = 533 Kcal

Calories from fat do not need to be replaced – we all have plenty of stores. However, carbohydrate NEEDS replenishing and the body can only hold so much. 1g of carb is 4kcal. So, Billy will require 133g per hour!

Uh oh! We have already clearly said that around 60g of carb per hour is all that we can take. Billy is in trouble… he is missing out on 73g per hour. Remember the car ferry and the cars sitting on the dock waiting to get on the boat – Billy, racing over 100-miles will need a multi-story car park for the cars that won’t fit on his boat.

Although Billy is a ’sample’ case, this scenario happens time and time again in races all over the world.

How do you solve this problem?

Billy needs to utilise fat as a fuel more and be less reliant on carb.

The body is pretty clever. It is able to switch its metabolism. So, in the case of Billy, the availability of carbohydrate is becoming an issue, as a result the body will start to utilise fat stores. This is a good thing. Yes? Well yes but one thing will have to happen – Billy will need to slow down. Now for many of us, that is not an issue as a finish is a primary goal. However, this can be hard to take and yes, you may well feel lousy. More importantly, pre-race objectives may go out of the window… target times will be lost and a possible top-10 (if that was an objective) will also go out of the window.

Let’s cut to the chase

If more of your energy comes from fat, you’re less likely to run out of carbohydrate. The best athletes in the world require energy (Kcal) to run at race speed. If a large chunk of that energy requirement comes from fat, their total carbohydrate use is reduced.

As an example, by making changes to Billy’s training and diet, the new version arrives for the 100-mile race using only 700Kcal per hour and 55% of energy is being provided by fat.

A quick maths calculation reveals the following:

1. He’s using 315 Kcal of carbohydrate per hour on the run, compared to the previous figure of 533

2. With his intake of 60 grams per hour (240 Kcal), he now only has a deficit of 75 Kcal per hour compared previously with 292 Kcal (73 grams)

3. As a consequence, Billy could run the whole 100-mile race with a smile.

In conclusion:

For you to run an ultra feeling comfortable, relaxed, efficient and on target, you need to go away and find out:

How many calories do you burn per hour?

How many of those calories come from fat and carbohydrate?

How many calories and what percentage of fat/ carb should I be taking in as a consequence?

You may well find that you need some specific help in working out some of the data and figures outlined above.

A Metabolic Rate Test HERE and a Metabolic Test is the way forward HERE.

In training (not all training, just the slow/ steady runs):

To recap earlier points:

Run at the correct intensity – slow and steady. Find out a specific heart rate zone in which to work. Maffetone method is a good starting place.

Avoid fluctuations in intensity, average heart rate or power output are NOT the critical figures, it’s TIME IN ZONE that counts.

Eat foods which are balanced with low GI (glycymic index) carbohydrates and fats to encourage fat usage and avoid sugar spikes.

Avoid gels and sugar products.

Finally, daily diet plays a key role in overall adaptation. Simple sugars, processed food and so on are all bad in day-to-day life for an endurance athlete. Keep them at a minimum and as a treat.

Periodise your eating just as you would training.

Think about dietary fat and fat-burning and think low carb.

A low carb and high fat (LCHF) diet forces ones body to burn fat. As you will now know, fat stores are pretty much unlimited even in the skinniest guy or girl. Optimising ones body to use fat will use less carbs and allow you to perform longer. This becomes even more relevant in long endurance events, especially when the pace is slower and the energy requirement to run at a certain pace is lower.

Notice I say low carb and not no carb! Carb has a place in your diet, it just needs to be consumed at the correct times and make sure the carbs you eat are low GI and good quality. Avoid white pasta, white bread, anything refined and potatoes for example (high GI) and eat sweet potato, beans, whole grains (but be careful) and plenty of vegetables (low GI).

Protein is also key for recovery, muscle growth and repair.

A typical runners diet, broken down into percentages of fat, protein and carb would have often (and in many cases still does) look like this:

Carb 60%

Protein 15%

Fat 25%

The modern day ultra, endurance or multistage runner has percentages that look like this:

Fat 50%

Protein 30%

Carb 20%

Of course, we have all been told that high fat is bad for us but sugar and in particular, refined sugar is the real evil and in day-to-day life it just doesn’t help you as an ultra runner.

Note though, fat should be good quality – oily fish, nuts, seeds, good quality meat, olive oil and so on. Bad fats are the obvious ones such as crisps etc.

Periodise your food intake

Just like you will plan training – intervals, hills, long runs and so on. Food should also be planned in-line with training and racing needs. I will write more on this in another post.

In simple terms:

Train fasted for long runs and keep your pace low to promote fat burning. Actually eating fat before a long run has benefits in helping and promoting fat burn. As does coffee. Try Bulletproof coffee before long and slow runs, read here

Recovery consume a little good quality carbohydrate post training, ideally within a window of 30 to 40-minutes and include good quality lean proteins.

Racing

When racing a long distance race, you as a runner will be far more efficient at using the calories that you have within your body if you follow the guidelines above. We have already said that the body can only hold so much carbohydrate, so, if you have your fat burning turned on you will go longer. Your food requirements whilst racing will also change and you will require less sugary products to keep you going.

Pace (the speed you run) will also impact on how the carb/ fat ratio is used. Runners who are racing (looking for a top placing) incorporate different methods to perform. Often called, ‘train low and race high’ – Timothy Olson for example is a good example. Timothy eats high-fat and low carb in training and day-to-day life but when he races he uses sugar (such as gels) to fuel him during the run. His training has adapted him to use less gels (he uses more fat as fuel), last longer and each sugar smack he gets while racing has less work to do as his carb stores are always being used in conjunction with fat.

Carb loading has been used for years and it’s often misunderstood. How many times have you seen or heard a runner gorging on carb for days before a race – why? We already know that our body can hold so much stored carb (approx 2500 cal) so, when we ‘carb load’ we are basically making sure that our carb stores are full pre a race. Don’t over indulge. It will just sit in your stomach, cause discomfort and make you feel lethargic and more than likely, you will add weight to your frame. As a guide in the 24-hour period before your race, keep a balanced diet but up the carb % say from 20 to 35/40%. Again, make this good carb – low GI.

What is key here is finding what works for you.

“The benefits of low carbs really start to distinguish themselves when you get beyond the marathon, because you’re definitely running out of carbs then,” – Jeff Volek

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Always check with a medical professional before making any drastic change to your eating  or training regime. The information provided in this post is designed to make you question and pursue an opportunity to enhance your training and racing and we stress that you must find out what personally works for you.

Thanks to Marc Laithwaite for his contribution to this post.

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Race Day Nutrition (Part Four) – Marc Laithwaite

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So last week (part three HERE) we discussed carbohydrate absorption and the role of insulin, this week, we are going to look at how to take foods on board whilst competing, to avoid stomach problems and maximise performance.

I’m having issues getting energy, what’s the solution?

Your stomach and gut acts a little like a sieve. If you pour water into it, the water passes straight through without any problems. If you pour a milkshake into the same sieve, it will pass through, but will take a little more time and will slowly drip. If you throw solid food into a sieve, it stays exactly where it is. The only way to pass solid food through a sieve would be to mix it up with water and make a thin enough solution, which could then start to drip through.

The solution which enters your stomach, is therefore very important in terms of performance. During endurance events, we eat and drink to get energy, but if the food sits in your stomach, then you aren’t actually getting any energy into your bloodstream. Not only are you receiving less energy, you are also likely to get some kind of stomach problems.

Isotonic is just the tonic

Isotonic refers to a solution which is a similar concentration to fluids in the body. Solutions of 7% are generally referred to as isotonic, this means that 7g of carbohydrate in 100ml of water is isotonic. You can count grams and millilitres as the same thing, so the calculation is simple, 100ml / 7g = 7%.

Drinks bottles generally come in 2 different sizes, 500ml and 750ml so based on the 100ml / 7g rule, the calculations would be as follows:

500ml water + 35g carbohydrate = Isotonic

750ml water + 52.5g carbohydrate = Isotonic

Some solutions are less concentrated than isotonic fluids. For example, water has no carbohydrate in it and no calories, this is classed as hypotonic (hypo = low / less than). Solutions which are more concentrated than isotonic fluids, are classed as hypertonic (hyper = high / more than). An example of a hypertonic solution would be a smoothie.

That’s fine for drinks but what about solid food?

Many athletes choose to eat solid food during their event. As stated above, anything which is above 7% solution is hypertonic. Therefore, all energy bars and solid food is hypertonic. This means that if you wish to absorb solid food effectively, you must add sufficient water to make a 7% solution. For example, a standard energy bar is approximately 50-60g in total weight. We said earlier that 7g in 100ml of fluid would be a 7% solution, so that means you would have to drink 7-800ml of water with each energy bar to make at isotonic solution (56g is 7% of 800ml). In ultra running events, there’s often solid food such as sandwiches at feed stations, so get into the habit of estimating the portion size, e.g. what does 60g of cheese sandwich look like! Eating sandwiches, pasta and cake can very quickly result in a large mass of food gathering in your stomach. As for gels, they work the same way. A single gel contains 20-30g of carbohydrate (you need to read the packet). A gel with 21g would require 300ml to make a 7% solution.

Why is solution an issue?

Taking energy bars, gels and other solid food provides energy, but you have to take a lot of fluid to create an isotonic solution in your stomach. If you fail to take sufficient fluid you will have a thick ‘hypertonic’ solution in your stomach which may not digest and may well lead to stomach problems.

Don’t forget the 60g per hour rule

As we’ve said in previous blogs, it’s unlikely that you can absorb more than 60g per hour of carbohydrate so eating too much food can have a negative impact upon digestion. Eating too much may lead to food gathering in the stomach and leading to feelings of bloating or sickness. The carbohydrate ‘maltodextrin’ seems particularly prone to doing this and all carbohydrate drinks and gels tend to consist of maltodextrin (pretty much every energy drink on the market is the same, it’s flavoured maltodextrin).

It’s known that when you get an accumulation of carbohydrate in the stomach, due to excess food intake, the body is forced to dilute the solution. The strong solution sitting in the stomach starts to draw water other parts of the the body, into the stomach, to dilute the solution and aid digestion and absorption. This action of drawing fluid into the stomach is termed ‘osmosis’.

It’s important to remember that if you do take too much energy, coupled with a lack of fluid, not only are you likely to get stomach issues, the energy will also fail to reach your blood stream and exercising muscles where it is needed. In simple terms, more food may provide you with less energy.

Practical advice:

  1. You need to stick to the 60g limit for carbohydrate intake
  2. A solution of 7% is not always attainable, aim for 10% as a minimum start point for intake:

60g energy powder + 600ml water per hour
60g energy bar + 600ml water per hour
60g of gels (2-3) + 600ml water per hour

  1. You can mix the above, e.g. 30g carbohydrate powder and 30g gels every hour, plus 600ml of water.
  2. Think about what’s the easiest to calculate and what the easiest to obtain during the event. Knowing how much energy is in drinks which are handed up at aid stations or adding your own powder on the go is not really feasible so gels and bars are often simpler to use and to quantify. In truth, you really have no idea what’s being handed up in the drinks bottles, so water is always the safe option.
  3. Feeding is easier when cycling compared to running, so if you’re doing Ironman triathlon, the bike feeding is critical to set you up for the run. If you’re running an ultra, the slower pace can help, but little and often applies.
  4. Little and frequent works best for digestion. A gel every 20-30 minutes or half a bar every 30 minutes is better than a full bar every hour. You still need to drink the correct amount of water to account for solution.
  5. Drinking water only with bars and gels has the benefits of ‘freshening your mouth’. Energy drinks, gels and bars can leave you with a constant sticky taste.

What about the food content?

There is circumstantial evidence to suggest that eating too much carbohydrate may also impact upon digestion and potential stomach problems. If you are prone to stomach issues, then gels with a higher fat content may well work best. There are some very scientific high fat gels on the market, mainly in the US, but if you Google for peanut butter flavour gels, that’s a simple option and you can easily get those in the UK. If you don’t like peanut butter flavour, there’s not much option!

The final step

Ok, so here’s your homework. Go and purchase gels or bars, which you intend to use for your event and take a look at the wrapper. What’s the total weight in grams of the product and what does the content add up to? Remember, a gel may have added water, so a 40g gel may contain 20g of carbohydrate. Don’t just use the actual product weight, you need to check the weight of the ingredients and use that as your gauge. Work out how many you will need and how often you will eat them. If your event uses specific products e.g. Ironman use Powerbar, it’s a lot easier to use these on the day and save yourself the hassle of carrying a lot of product.

Hydration?

That’s coming next week

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

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