Nutrition on the Trails Fawn V. Hernandez As my friend Donald Schoolmaster says, “The difference between a good race and a bad race most often is determined by how happy your belly is.” The challenge is what works for one person may not work for another. Time on the trail, type of weather, and type of terrain can also impact your nutritional needs. How do you figure out what type of foods work for you? Experiment, experiment, experiment. Here are some favorites of local Acadiana trail runners: Beef jerky, Tailwind, Vespa, Salt Sherpa, bread, dates, Justin’s Almond Butter packs, Lara Bars and king cake. There are many options to explore and the Internet is full of ideas and even homemade recipes for making your own energy treats. Having diverse options is beneficial especially at a race. If you forget your fueling source at home or have to rely on aid stations to get more calories your body and mind will be better equipped to handle it. Along with determining what to eat it’s important to dial in when you will eat. As you first start running you may find you need to eat more frequently during your run. Over time, with regular training, your body will grow more efficient. This means your caloric needs will potentially decrease as your body adapts to a certain training load. Much long distance running literature 18
claims that your body can utilize about 200 consumed calories per hour. You simply won’t be able to process and utilize the amount of calories burned during a race. Through experimenting on training runs, you will figure out how much you need to consume to help you maintain during your race. There are practical considerations to take into account like how to pack your food and how to stay on your eating schedule. Typically, nutrition is carried on a hydration pack or bags of supplies are dropped at different parts of the trail you plan to run. To stay on schedule, some runners set alarms on their watch to remind them when it is time to eat. Others, myself included, watch the overall elapsed time. This sounds very easy on paper until you are trying to battle through difficult terrain, monitor your pace, chat with another runner on the trail and eat at certain intervals. During my recent training program for a 100k trail race I had ten runs over 20 miles long and two over 30 miles. While these runs weren’t nearly as long as my actual race they provided great opportunities for me to experiment with my nutrition type and timing. I have found great results with Huma Chia Energy gels, salted potatoes, a little Tailwind in one bottle, and another bottle filled with pure water. Luckily, I haven’t had GI issues
but I did have to play around with my timing. For new race distances I historically bonk or hit the wall, which means I depleted my glycogen stores. My body had not adapted to the distance yet and I didn’t make up for that by eating more. If you have ever experienced this feeling before you know it’s undesirable! I plan to eat much more frequently, every 40 minutes for this race, than I normally would for shorter distances. Running with friends proved to be a challenge for me to stay on schedule. Between funny stories or chit chatting I’d forget to keep an eye on my watch. After much practice I’ve significantly improved my ability to stick to the schedule. The more routine a task becomes in training the less to worry about on race day. The bottom line is figure out what works for you. The more opportunities you give yourself to try new strategies during training the more comfortable you will be on race day when (not if ) things don’t go to plan. Presumably, you are running trails because you enjoy nature and the solace you can find in trail running. Don’t let poor nutrition planning get in the way of you enjoying the experience of trail running.
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