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'Everybody is an expert' - ultra nutrition

by Robert Britton
Thursday 23rd January 2014
Tags  Robert Britton   |   inov-8   |   Team Centurion   |   nutrition   |   carbohydrate   |   Protein

Robert Britton,  member of the Great Britain 24hr Running Squad, Team Inov-8 and Team Centurion, talks about we might fuel our ultra-running habit

At the England Athletics Marathon workshop on Sunday at St. May's University, a qualified dietitian stood up at the front and for the first time of the day the speaker wasn't the only person in the room who considered themselves an expert. 

Everybody was an expert. One guy even had the cheek to talk down and let the qualified, experienced professional know that bread wasn't considered food due to it's low nutritional value or some garbage like that. Last time I ate it bread very much seemed like a food to me and it was useless when I tried to wallpaper a room with Granary seeded slices. The danger is anyone can get some "facts" to back up their argument, like stats, that are mostly made up or manipulated.

I'm not an expert. My advice for general, everyday nutrition is taken from listening to experienced, qualified professionals and goes as such. Eat healthily. Cut out the junk but enjoy a little of what you enjoy every now and again. I will eat jelly tots some times, mainly because they are wonderful, but I will not eat 5 packs a day as I know it isn't good for me.

The healthier you eat, the better you recover and the more training you can do. You are an ultra marathon runner so you are an athlete so don't under eat, you will only get weak and pick up injuries. You wouldn't run your car on an empty tank, would you?

I make sure I get protein and carbs in after a run, because Mo Farah told me to. Practice, Protein, Practice, Protein, High Performance American Nike Project, Protein, Full Time training camps, Quorn...

During training I try to eat in any run that goes over 90 minutes, just as I would in a race, because the body can only store 90 minutes of glycogen right? When that's gone you start damaging muscles if you're working above that fat burning zone and it is only going to slow down your recovery.

What I know a little more about is race nutrition and I will try to dish out some advice on this now, although everyone is different in races and the best way to find out is through actually eating stuff during races.

Sciency talk says that we should aim for 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour during a marathon, in whatever way, shape or form possible. People normally take on gels, isotonic drinks, jelly babies, jaffa cakes & all kinds of things. If it works for you then great! If it makes you vomit and leave brown presents on the trail then try something else. Simple.

For ultra marathons it is a little different for two main reasons. We have to run a bit further and because we are generally not working at the intensity level of a marathon runner. The latter means that your body can cope with a little more activity within the digestive system before it starts shutting stuff down and you are more likely to be at a level where you are able to burn fats, rather than carbs, to keep you going. The longer distance means you can have a short walk to eat your food and it won't make a blind bit of difference to your result and maybe you won't vomit everything back up.

To take advantage of this in a 100 miler I will eat what I call "real food" for as long as possible in a race and this varies from a couple of hours to maybe 7/8 hours of eating things like flapjacks, energy bars, sandwiches, ham & cheese wraps & pork pies. I try to stay off the "sugar train" as long as possible and by that I mean refined sugars that are the kind of things you would eat in a marathon, that get chucked straight into the furnace inside our body to keep you moving.

Once you get on that "sugar train" though you cannot get off. The next stop for that baby is the finish line and you need to keep her stoked the whole time. Bonking in a race can be due to a few things (pacing, hydration, electrolytes, which we will come to next time, and fueling) but it becomes more likely on the sugar train as you need to feed her little and often! That is why I try to stay off the train as long as possible and then enjoy the ride when I do get on!

With that in mind you should mix up the sources of these sugars and keep the stuff you really enjoy, ie jelly tots & jelly meerkats, until the latter stages, when you don't really feel like eating at all. This might make it just that little bit easier to stomach and it is something to look forward to if you promise yourself none of your favourite chocolate bar (Wispa Gold?) until mile 50! Any little mind games can help.

Race Nutrition is still something I haven't perfected and it can always be improved, especially for 100 mile and 24 hour races. It isn't often you can practice what to eat at 16 hours into a run and when you can it is normally a big race for the season. That is why it takes years to get this right but don't ever be afraid to experiment and fail, because that is how you get better.

In the last few hours of an ultra marathon ignore science and just eat what you can get down. Anything that will keep that train going at this point is great and will get you one step closer to the finish.

What food has kept you going in the final stages? 

In summary, eat healthy every day, eat plenty every day, eat healthy at start of race, eat dirty when you get bored of that, eat anything to get you to the finish. 


About The Author

Robert Britton

Robbie is a 100 mile runner who is a member of the Great Britain 24hr Running Squad and Team Centurion and likes to run ridiculous distances as quickly as possible.

To provide enough food to feed a monster running habit, Robbie coaches other ultra marathon runners through www.robbiebritton.co.uk and is also a member of the coaching team at Centurion Running. He likes to dabble with a bit of writing so that others can learn from his mistakes and enjoy the sport as much as he does.

Robbie is also a is a Profeet ambassador.


"Pain is inevitable, suffering is just part of the fun"


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