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  • Rachel James

Fueling your next ultra!

Twelve weeks out form your event, your training is well underway…Is your everyday nutrition, pre, during and post training fueling supporting this? Making sure you are having enough food that supports the macro (protein, fats & carbohydrates) and micro (vitamins and minerals) nutrients. These are needed to help the body function, energy, training adaptations, recovery and performance.

Unfortunately, we have been caught up in the diet culture or perceived body composition type for chosen sport determining what our ideal weight should be. So, we start the cycle of reducing calories, exercising more to lose weight or just be in a calorie deficiency either by eating less or limiting food groups for weight loss. I’m not saying that weight loss is a bad thing, my key message is though ‘if you are exercising with purpose make sure you are eating enough good food to support this’. Consider are you eating enough, have you developed the habit of being able to function with lower calorie intake or are you concisely restricting calorie intake.

Fueling for your ultra

Daily nutrition

Get your day-to-day nutrition right, eat wholefoods for most of your meals, avoid or limit processed foods, sugars, too much salt and additives. Your plate should be at least half vegetables (the more colour the better), ¼ a good source of protein and ¼ carbohydrates. Have protein with all your meals and snacks. Have 2-4 servings of fruit daily. Hydrate throughout the day. Aim to go into your sessions well hydrated and fueled. As your km’s increase, up your food intake, the easiest way to do this is fuel around your training.

Then focus on your nutrient timing, pre and post run nutrition. Post run nutrition supports replenishment, repair and recovery.

Pre training/event snack, 0 - 2 hours

  • Women - 90 - 120 calories. Protein (Pro), 10 - 15gms, some low fiber Carbohydrates (CHO).

  • Men - 150 - 300 calories. 3:1 CHO:Pro

During training/event over 1 hour aim to consume;

  • Women - CHO. 40 - 60 gms, plus 15-20 gms protein

  • Men - CHO, 40 - 90 gms per hour. Optimal is 60 gms, plus 15-20 gms protein

Post training/event snack

  • Women - Protein 25-30 gms within 30 mins with some starchy CHO.

  • Men - Protein 25 gms with 1-2 hours with some starchy CHO

Planning your fueling for your event

Make a nutrition & hydration plan early so you can practice, review and adjust. When making your plan you need to consider;

Effort level: whether you plan to run, walk or do a combo. If you are pushing your pace, you will need foods that can be absorbed quickly and readily available for energy.

Distance or time out on the course: you will need foods that can sustain you. Course description and effort level requirements. Medical conditions and what do you need to do to manage this during the event.

Allergies or sensitivities: don’t rely on the aid stations to accommodate your requirements though you can check to see event details to see what foods are provided.

Male or Female: due to sex differences have different fueling requirements.

Body weight: you may need more food or race well on a little less depending on your weight.

Temperature and time of year: winter versus summer and day versus night.

If you struggle with food on those longer runs start on the easier/shorter sessions. You can try bite sized foods or chew and spit out; this will stimulate the release of glycogen which your muscles use for energy.

Practice fueling and hydration early in your training!

What happens when you don’t consume enough calories?

Insufficient intake of calories to cover the exercise expended calories is known as Low Energy Availability (LEA). LEA can put you at risk of deficiencies in key vitamins and minerals, while long-term effecting hormonal health and menstrual irregularities, compromised bone health, increased injuries and impaired performance underpinning Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S). IOC consensus statement published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has found that energy deficiency can affect many of the bodies systems including immune, endocrine, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular. Changes in mood, impaired judgement, decreased muscle strength, endurance, coordination and concentration could be a consequence of RED-S impacting on performance.

Getting your day-to-day nutrition, planning and practicing your event day nutrition/hydration early supports the benefits of your training. Finding what works for you prepares you for your event and mitigates the risk of compromising your health.


Mountjoy M, Sundgot-Borgen JK, Burke LM, et al. IOC consensus statement on relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S): 2018 update British Journal of Sports Medicine 2018;52:687-697.

Heather, A. K., Thorpe, H., Ogilvie, M., Sims, S. T., Beable, S., Milsom, S., Schofield, K. L., Coleman, L., & Hamilton, B. (2021). Biological and Socio-Cultural Factors Have the Potential to Influence the Health and Performance of Elite Female Athletes: A Cross Sectional Survey of 219 Elite Female Athletes in Aotearoa New Zealand. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 3.

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