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  • Writer's pictureAnnie Bothma

TOM SERIES: BASIC SPORTS NUTRITION FUELLING PRINCIPLES FOR ULTRA-RUNNING

- Annie Bothma, IOPN Sports Performance Nutritionist (EQF Level 7. Masters), Running Coach and Elite Marathon Runner

With the upcoming Two Oceans Marathon (TOM) on the15th of April 2023, I will do a series in collaboration with the MAKING A RUNNER PODCAST that will aim to help you prepare for the start line, covering all you need to know when it comes to nutrition.


In this week's podcast, Nic & Davey talks with me, about the basic sport nutrition principles for ultra-running.


My goal with this post will be to get you to start thinking about how nutrition and hydration can support your training journey and that it is not just simply afterthought until you get to race day. I will breakdown the basics when it comes down to daily fuelling and hydrating while training for an ultra-marathon.



IMPORTANCE OF NUTRITION DURING THE TRAINING JOURNEY

We have all heard it before, it is not about the destination, but rather the journey that got us there. It is the cliche, but so true, focus on the process not the results, that gets you to your goals.

Winning has nothing to do with racing. Most days don't have races anyway. Winning is about struggle and effort and optimism, and never, ever, ever giving up.” ~ Amby Burfoot, The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life

This principle isn't just true when it comes to your training, but it is also how you approach your nutrition. If you are solely focusing on your race day nutrition, but neglecting your daily fuelling and hydration, you are missing out on some serious training adaptations and even potentially compromising your recovery along the way.


BASIC NUTRITION PRINCIPLES FOR RUNNERS


CARBS WILL ALLOW YOU TO GO FASTER

Carbohydrates are the body's preferred fuel source during exercise, especially when you are training or competing at a high-intensity and performance is the main goal. Athletes that are training frequently need to have a high dietary intake of carbohydrates to be able to sustain the energetic demands of their training schedule.

It is recommended that endurance athletes who train 1-3 hours per day, consume around 6 -10g of carbs/kg of body weight daily.

Some benefits of consuming a high-carbohydrate diet as an athlete:

  • Harder training that leads to better training adaptations.

  • Improved recovery time after training sessions.

  • Reduced likelihood of developing an injury.

  • Support your immune system and decrease the likelihood of getting sick prior to race day.

  • Avoid Low-Energy Availability (LEA) and the development of Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S).


Some benefits of fuelling your training with carbohydrates:

  • Frequent and consistent consumption of carbohydrate during exercise is an effective strategy against GI disturbance, due to the presence in chyme that helps protect the gut-lining.

  • Carbohydrate drinks can help avoid dehydration during training. Remember to consume enough fluids with solid carbohydrates sources, like gels and bars, to allow your body to digest and absorb them effectively.

  • Carbohydrates helps you to maintain a stable blood glucose and avoid the development hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).



PROTEIN WILL ALLOW YOU TO RECOVER FASTER

Eating enough protein as an endurance athlete is crucial if you want to recover between hard training efforts and sustain high mileage over weeks and months. Protein is an essential nutrient for muscle repair and recovery and will help you preserve your lean muscles. Eating enough protein will also help prevent injuries and support your immune system.

It is recommended that endurance athletes consume around 1.2-1.7g of protein/kg of body weight daily. During times of hard training this requirement may increase up to 2.0-2.4g of protein/kg of body weight.

Consume 20-40 gram protein doses at meals and snacks throughout the day. This is a practical way to ensure a full spectrum of essential amino acids is available within circulation to support MPS. This should also include pre-bedtime feeding, since recovery and muscle protein synthesis continues through the night.


If you struggle to get enough protein in your diet, consider adding in a supplement right after training to kick-start your recovery. The sooner you can get some nutrients back into your body after training, the quicker your body can start that repair and remodeling process. Protein supplements are convenient protein-source and ideal for athletes who are traveling or have a busy life style.


Animal-based proteins have a greater biological value due to the presence of all essential amino acids in the food. In comparison, plant-based protein sources are often incomplete, missing important essential amino acids, and typically contain less Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) than their animal-based equivalents. Leucine appears to be a primary trigger of muscle, and plays an important role in promoting recovery and adaptation from exercise.


Due to its high biological value and leucine content, whey isolate protein has been considered the gold standard when it comes to selecting protein powders for athletes. However, if you are a plant-based athlete, choose a protein supplement with a mixed blend of plant-based protein sources or an isolated form like soy or pea protein, that still contains a sufficient amount of leucine (roughly 40g of vegan protein = 30g protein, 2.85g of leucine).



FATS WILL ALLOW YOU TO GO THE DISTANCE

Contrary to popular belief, not all fat is bad for you! In fact, it is vital that everyone eats some fat to help absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and to provide essential fatty acids that the body cannot produce. Vitamins and minerals also play a key part in maintaining bone health, your immune system and have antioxidant properties that helps reduce inflammation from hard training.


Fat is also used as fuel, but at lower intensities. Fats will allow you to run far, but limit you when you want to go faster! Therefore, it is important to take on carbohydrates for those higher-intensity sessions where you would like to run faster. However, while training for a marathon or an ultra a lot of your training will be slower easy endurance runs, where your body will primarily be burning fats as fuel.


However, eating too much of a particular kind of fat - trans fats - can raise your cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease. Saturated fat is the kind of fat found in butter and lard, pies, cakes and biscuits/cookies, fatty cuts of meat, sausages and bacon, cheese and cream. It also encompasses trans fat, which is often found in processed foods. It is important to let the majority of your fat intake come from unsaturated fats, like olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds instead of saturated fats.

It is recommended that roughly 20-35% of your Calories come from fat or around 1g of fat/kg of body weight daily.

However, in certain situations this recommendation of 1g/kg BW may need to be increased if the training demands are high or an athlete has increased energy requirements. For example, athletes who train at high altitudes and cold temperatures, have huge energy demands while also contending with harsh conditions. For these athletes, increasing the overall percentage of energy from fat calories may be necessary.



VITAMINS & MINERALS WILL HELP YOU STAY HEALTHY

Adequate micronutrient intake is important for all athletes who wants to stay healthy and perform at their best. Vitamins and minerals help your body to work at its optimal. You should aim to obtain these from the foods you eat, such as meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.


If you have deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals, it can keep you from meeting your fitness goals. If you’re not getting enough vitamin D or calcium, for example, you may have a higher risk of developing a stress fractures. If you’re low in B12 or iron, you might feel chronically fatigued and will be unable to give it your all during your workouts.


A diet with lots of variety and color will help, but even more important, making sure you consume enough calories to support your physical activity level and health will allow you to meet your daily micronutrient requirements. I recommend a food-first approach, however, occasionally, when training demands are particularly high, supplements may be appropriate to avoid micronutrient deficiencies.



HYDRATION IS NON-NEGOTIABLE

Athletes should aim to be fully hydrated before they train or compete because the body cannot adapt to dehydration. If you don't start exercise in a well-hydrated state, your training quality will suffer and so will your performance on race day.


A decrease in performance will be noticed at around 2-3% of body-fluid loss. Severe dehydration can also increases the risk of developing heat illness and may cause you to end up in the medical tent.


Dehydration will significantly impact the athletes performance by:

  • Reducing blood-volume

  • Decreasing blood-flow to the skin

  • Decreasing sweat-rate

  • Decreasing heat dissipation

  • Increasing body core temperature

  • Increasing the rate of muscle glycogen use

  • Lead to gastrointestinal upset

However, drinking too much can also be harmful, since it can lead to hyponatremia (diluted blood sodium concentrations), which can have very negative health consequences or even potentially be life-threatening.


I recommend athletes to use sport drinks instead of just water alone during exercise to counteract fluid losses. Sports drinks that contain sodium and other electrolytes, as well as carbohydrates, is ideal for rehydration, since the presence of small amounts of glucose and sodium tends to cause an increase in the rate of water absorption compared with pure water alone.


Benefits of sodium and other electrolytes that are added to sports drinks:

  • Increase palatability.

  • Maintain thirst (and therefore promote drinking).

  • Prevent hyponatremia (diluted blood sodium).

  • Increase the rate of water uptake.

  • Increase the retention of fluid.



CONCLUSION

Enjoy the journey and reap the benefits of good daily nutrition and hydration principles. Start by thinking about how your nutrition can support your training and is not just how it will help you on race day. Fuelling and hydrating appropriately for your training, will allow you to get the most out of yourself during those hard workouts and long runs. This will lead to better training adaptations and faster recovery between hard efforts that will surely translate over to better performances on race day. You will discover that fuelling for the work required is your key to success!


Stay tuned for the upcoming episodes in the TOM SERIES on the MAKING A RUNNER PODCAST and subscribe to Annie's Athletes to not miss a post.


If you would like to work with me to nail down your nutrition as an endurance athlete or you need a running coach to help you prepare for your upcoming race, please click on the link below to learn more about the services I offer.



 

RESOURCES

  • David Rogerson, Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers, 2017.

  • Asker Jeukendrup, Micheal Gleeson, Sport Nutrition, Third Edition, 2019

  • Burke, Carbohydrates for training and competition, 2011

  • Murray, Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes, 2018

  • Hearris, Regulation of Muscle Glycogen Metabolism during Exercise: Implications for Endurance Performance and Training Adaptation, 2014

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