To determine how to adjust your nutrition strategy for your race event you will have to ask yourself following questions:
- How much time do you have until your race?
How much time you have left until race day also determines how much you can change your nutrition strategy.
- Is this your first ultra-endurance event?
As a first-timer, you will need at least 6 months to figure out what foods, quantity and feeding interval work for you.
- What is your time goal?
The more competitive you are the more you might have to deviate from the Paleo path. If your goal is just to finish within the max time window then you can approach your nutrition a bit more relaxed.
- In which country will your race be held?
The location of the race or its climate will determine your prep phase, which foods to bring along or which foods will be availableon location. The hotter and the more humid it is the more you will have to shift to easy digestible carbs and foods which don't spoil that easily.
There are several nutrition tweaks you can add to your current strategies some simpler than others.
Add easily digestible carbs from real foods to the mix
I've seen quite a few trail runners from Japan fueling with white polished rice, potatoes or sweet potatoes. It helps if you prepare the rice like sushi rice the Japanese way. It should be round-ish white, polished rice cooked with vinegar. The vinegar will allow the rice to keep longer and to be easier digested. Another obvious choice is gluten-free bread. I had to experiment with a few brands before I found the one which would not make me feel like hurling on the trail. For a high carb source, I suggest raw honey as it is also a source for anti-oxidants, minerals and vitamins. Fruits can be a bit tricky because of the fructose and the fiber. My OTW team captain could never handle apples. Bananas were post-trail food only for me as they were difficult to transport in a backpack and would feel like stones in my stomach. I could handle a few pieces of pineapple or almonds.
Drinking your calories is often easier on the body especially when it's hot and humid. My captain came up with her salty lemon drink and I came up with a lemon-ginger-chia-seed concoction. I will post both recipes shortly.
I have written about my experience with UCAN before. A UCAN super starch is derived from corn and is comprised of long-chain glucose molecules. Because of its structure, it is metabolized differently in the gut in comparison to other sugars, Neither will it kick you out of ketosis (more about that later). It is much less likely to cause GI stress, sudden spikes of insulin or glucose hangovers. One of my clients who is a far more experienced ultra-runner than I recommended it and I gave it a try. It tastes like chalk and is not really paleo. But surprisingly after drinking it for several hours on a long hike I wouldn't get sick of the taste as it would be the case with gels. It even improved my digestion and I would not suffer from diarrhea afterwards.The energy supply felt constant and steady. UCAN is available at Lantau Basecamp. You can get it pure or with a bit of protein in it. You can also mix pure and protein UCAN to get the benefits of the protein but still keep it easy digestible.
Become ketogenic during race season
This tweak is more of a full-on strategy and probably more suitable for people who want to race on a regular basis without having to flood their system with high amounts of sugar junk for several months a year. Especially triathletes like Ben Greenfield and Peter Attia have reported good results with becoming ketogenic: They did not suffer from post-race colds any more, their digestion got better, their recovery phase seemed shorter, they were able to gain strength and maintain their muscle mass while losing fat. How does it work? To become ketogenic, your diet needs to be very low carb, low to moderate on protein and high fat for 5 to 14 days. Simply put, this forces your body to switch from carb as main fuel to ketones. Your body will convert fat from your food and your body's food storage into ketones and derive energy from it. This way you will be less dependent on carbs to fuel your races and your system will be less burned out from the consequences of highly elevated blood sugar levels.
Although the benefits are plenty the reason why I recommend ketosis only for people who race on a regular basis is that getting into ketosis, like regular training, requires a bit of discipline. Depending how addicted you are to sugar the transition into ketosis can be accompanied with some withdrawal symptoms like light headaches, moodiness and sluggishness. Also being ketogenic is usually a delicate state: If you consume too many carbs your body will stop producing ketones and convert back to normal carb burning. How much is too much depends on your basic metabolic rate and how many calories you burn that day. I leafed through the food diary of a ketogenic triathlete once. He did a 50k easy bike ride and consumed UCAN, bananas, almonds, few packs of gels and a sandwich. He was way past the recommended 30 g of digestible carbs per day and expected to be out of ketosis the next day. But his blood test the following morning revealed that he is was securely in the ketosis zone.
A seasoned male triathlete in his thirties will need more carbs to get kicked out of ketosis and less days to get back into ketosis than a newbie runner training for his first 10K. How do you know you're in ketosis? Given that you sticked to the correct macronutrient ratio (low carb, low-moderate protein, high fat) you'll notice that you feel less shitty. Many people experience a new sense of clear-headedness also referred to as keto-clarity. The easiest way is to buy keto-stix which you will have to pee on. The change of colour will reveal if you are ketogenic or not. If you are really geeky, like me, you can get a glucose meter which also measures ketones to do a blood test. But if it only comes to the simple question of "ketosis-yes-no" I'd go for the much cheaper and less painful pee stick. I bought mine at those pharmacy counters you find in Watsons. Think it was HKD 70 or so.
Everyone is different and everyone will have to tweak according to their own specific situation. If you have any more race tweaks to add please add them in the comment section.