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Multi-day Fuelling: Stage Racing Nutrition – Coach Month’s Key Tips for Stage Racing Nutrition by Nathan Montague

When we talk about race nutrition it is important to look at this nutrition in totality to include everything that passes you through your lips during, but also before and after, those exertions to include all liquids, gels, tablets and foods and analyse this as a complete plan. In addition, in single stage Ultras or marathons we may err on the risky side and fuel just to get us to the end. This is a risky strategy but for stage Ultras, where the importance of recovery, each day/night, is vital to allow you to carry on the next day and put the best ‘you’ out there.

Stage racing has its own nutritional demands, which need to be accounted for added with changing variables each day such as the distances and environment. Here are some of my key tips to guide you through fuelling for stage racing:

  • Recovery starts during the race. Each day your fuelling yourself not just for the steps of that day, but also to enhance your recovery. Try not to get in a negative energy balance. Think about what you put in, aiming for 4:1 Carbohydrates to Protein ratio. The protein enhancing recovery. However, you may need to switch to quicker energy releasing nutrition at points in a stage but try to leave this to the latter stages of a day or when you really hit a dip.
  • Fuel within 30 minutes finishing. Your body is much more receptive in the early minute’s post- race. Aim for a snack or recovery drink within 30 minutes of finishing and continue grazing till your main meal.
  • Remember electrolyte tablets. S-Caps, Salt sticks are two particular brands (not just salt but potassium and more). Often these stage races are held in balmy climes. However, even in chillier or wetter conditions your body is still using electrolytes in respiration at the muscles, enhanced breathing rate and more. Many of us do not use electrolyte drinks or gels with electrolytes in them. So where are you getting yours from? Read the packet recommendations but one an hour in normal temperate climates and two an hour in hotter/humid conditions, on top of your nutritional plan, can have a substantial impact in preventing cramps and helping you to absorb liquid and rehydrate. 
  • Your ability to absorb your fuel will depend on conditions. Will the race have changeable weather? In hotter/humid conditions our blood redistribution is compromised as the blood has to go to the working muscles working and allow respiration, but also go to the skin to enhance sweating, enabling you to cool down. This causes issues with the blood available to the gut. More faster releasing energy products may be of benefit. When it is less warm this is less prevalent. However, we also need to take into account exertion. If you are working harder, more blood and at a faster rate, will need to go to the muscles. In the early stages slower energy releasing products and ‘natural’ based products, when effort and body temperature is less strained this is relevant. Then move onto the faster releasing energy products in the latter stages or when its hotter.  
  • Have an A, B and C fuelling plan. Over the course of a week have changes in your fuelling plan both for within the race and post. These may only be tiny tweaks but it is significant that your taste and tolerance changes as a week progresses. Even a flavour of an energy drink you could have 3 options starting the week with one and moving onto another as the week progresses. 
  • Use your fuel as motivation. Either when breaking down the days stage into fuelling segments or a treat at the end of the stage. But ensure it’s a balance between what your body wants and needs!
  • Is it semi-supported or unsupported? If it is the former, stuff that bag with all the delights you can, tiny things such as sachets of seasoning, cured meat, and salty snacks can liven up any food types and bring variety. If is unsupported, look at the nutritional content (not just calories) of the food. Make sure you have the right macronutrient balance but it is condensed as light as possible. 
  • Temperature of fluid. Some people hate the tepid water given at aid stations and post-race. Anything that can encourage you to drink more is great. In hot environments, where cold drinks are not always available, the contrast of a hot tea, hot coffee, hot chocolate or even hot lemon tea is actually refreshing. 
  • Full doesn’t necessarily mean fuelled. Psychologically, eating something substantial has a big impact on the psychology of your feeling recovered. However, being full doesn’t necessarily mean adequately fuelled. Take care of what you are putting in. 
  • Alcohol. This is a personal choice and I imagine there is nothing more some runners crave after a long day out on the trails. A source of motivation to get to the line on a hard day. However, will this aid an already dehydrated and depleted body? This is the question you need to ask yourself. It is a diuretic and you have to balance the psychological and physical effect of that nectar at the end of a stage. For those where it is the ultimate treat and motivation, how great will that pint taste after a week of abstaining, at the finish line?

Nutrition in Ultra running is individual and multi-faceted but for some more tips and ‘food for thought’ please see my blog: 
There are so many great sports nutritionists out there and if you feel you need more information in there booking in an appointment with a recommended nutritionist maybe just the tweak you need to fuel better for successful training and racing.