Ultramarathon nutrition was the most unique element of my distance training, the biggest change to my marathon training, and the one factor I’d improve upon if/when I do a 2nd ultramarathon.
While the pace and intensity of an ultra is much lower than that of a marathon, the need for calories is HUGE. Gatorade and Gu are great for 3-4 hours of exercise, but when you go beyond that you need something to sustain you: protein, fat, sugar, salts in addition to necessary hydration.
When I started my training, I tested all sorts of energy bars and packed them in my waist pack. After dozens of flavors and brands, I settled in on a few flavors of ClifBars as my choice. ClifBars offered a tasty, chewy nutritional mix that was easy to eat on the go. PowerBars were my second choice, but got too tough to chew in the cold weather and, in my opinion, were far inferior in the ‘taste’ category. The Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrate mix was also favorable. See nutritional values for ClifBar (Crunchy Peanut Butter) to the right.
Knowing that solids may get less appealing as I ran, the other element to my ultramarathon nutrition plan was liquid. I again tried dozens of drinks and chose Hammer Perpetuem Orange-sicle as my drink or choice. I used baby bottle liners for the easy mix-on-the-go packs that fit in my water bottle’s carrier pouch. Perpetuem is one of the few drinks that I found to have protein and fat and taste pretty good. In hindsight, I would reduced the amount of scoops from 2 to 1.5 per 24-ounce bottle so it would go down easier later in the race. See nutritional values for Perpetuem to the right.
Another important element of ultramarathon nutrition is salt. I chose Hammer Endurolyte capsules and took approximately 2 per hour. While most commonly referred to as “salt caps”, the actual ingredients include: sodium (40mg), chloride (60mg), calcium (50mg), magnesium (25mg), potassium (25mg), vitamin B-6 (6.6mg) and manganese (1.6mg). These electrolytes help replenish all of the body’s salts that leave the system as you sweat. You’ll want to replace these electrolytes as you run, either through salt caps or sports drinks. I found the salt caps easier to keep track of.
I found ultramarathon nutrition to be a fickle science. What I did in my training became overcome by what I felt like 12 hours into the race (longest training run was 7.5 hours). That being said, I’d recommend a nutrition plan with flexibility. Plan on many foods and drinks that you can stomach, and keep yourself cognizant of what you need as the day and night wear on. When my stomach turned off to most things sugary in the later miles, my options became very limited. I wanted things like potato chips, soft pretzels, and soda. My plan for the next one will be to experiment more in training and go in with a broader menu. And while I’ll probably pack the same energy bars and drink mixes again, my rest stop coolers may look more that of a picnicker than an ultramarathoner!