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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What Do Ultra-Distance Runners Eat?

Ever wonder how ultra-endurance athletes are able to run, and run, and run and run FOREVER? Obviously a big part of it is training but what about how they fuel themselves? If you are running/cycling for 12-16 hrs+ per day there is a good chance you are burning 12,000-16,000 calories during your competitions. Clearly this places an increased demand on how these ultra-distance athletes are eating as they need to consume enough energy to sustain their performance.  Traditional sports nutrition practices lead us to believe that carbs are essential to provide enough energy during these types of distances and often times individuals are instructed to “carb-load” where then intentionally go above and beyond their normal carbohydrate intake to hopefully maximize their fuel stores aka muscle & liver glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates within the body).  However new-age strategies are starting to promote a low-carb  / high fat or ketogenic diet which essentially forces the body to adapt and rely primarily on fats for fuel during these types of events. Let’s take a look and see what some top level athletes are actually eating.

A recent study looked at the nutrition practices of elite ultra-distance runners (x3) before and during ultra-distance marathons with an average 100 mile best time of 17 hours (which is just insane by the way).  The runners reported their dietary intakes during the 2014 season which consisted of 16 races.  


The average pre-race meal of these runners consisted of:

70 grams of carbohydrates (280 calories) 48% of total calories
29 grams of protein (116 calories) 20% total calories
21 grams of fat (189 calories) 32% total calories
Total: 585 calories

During the race, the athletes on average consumed:

5,530 calories (333 calories per hr.)

1162 grams of carbohydrates (71 g/hr.) -> 4,648 calories (84% of total calories consumed) at ~282 calories of carbs consumed per hour.

With minimal protein and fat.

The athletes also consumed an average of 912 mg of caffeine with is about 8 cups of coffee!! And  6.9 g of sodium.  Overall all it appears as though commercial products made up 93% of the energy consumed came from commercialized products.

The authors of this analysis concluded that despite the fact that the runners did not seek out professional nutritional advice, their dietary intakes were similar to those in compliance with evidence-based nutritional recommendations.  It appears as though the majority of their calories are coming from carbohydrates, as that is a major fuel source during these types of events.  In addition, they also appear to utilize a fairly high amount of caffeine that has been shown to enhance endurance performance.


Reference:

Stellingwerff, T. Competition Practices of Elite Ultra-Marathon Runners.  International Journal of Sports Nutrition. (2015).
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