The ultra trail is one of the toughest trail races on the body. According to the FFA (French Athletics Federation), an ultra trail is a trail covering more than 80 km. Your nutritional strategy during one of these events is vital to responding to the many physical demands of the race. An ultra trail requires sustained and repeated effort in variable and demanding weather conditions, hence the complex range of food needed in order to provide constant energy while remaining practical, dealing with a distaste for sugar, and avoiding problems with digestion and fatigue.
Point 1: A balanced daily diet
A varied and balanced diet, as well as a healthy lifestyle, is vital for ultra trail runners. The aim is to stay healthy while optimising their physical abilities and maintaining a stable weight.
What is a balanced diet?
- Not skipping any meals, and eating at regular times
- Meat, fish, eggs, etc.: 1 to 2 per day
- Carbohydrates with every meal
- Dairy products: 2 to 3 per day
- Fruit and vegetables: at least 5 per day
- Fats: vegetable fats are preferable in reduced quantities
- Sugar: limit consumption.
- Drinking plenty of water
- Limiting alcohol as much as possible. Alcohol produces acidity in the muscles and therefore increases the risk of injury and does not promote recovery.
Point 2 – Preparation
The week leading up to the event
In order to be on top form on the day of their race, trail runners need to build up their energy reserves to the full. To do so, it is recommended that you eat as many foods as possible containing complex carbohydrates (pasta, rice, couscous, etc.) in order to stock up on energy.
During the final week, water is your best friend. Remember to drink plenty in order to keep your body well hydrated.
T-3 and T-2 days: Building up energy reserves
Your diet should be based primarily around eating complex carbohydrates. During this period it is a good idea to use maltodextrin (1 to 2 bottles of 500 ml / day) to boost your energy without altering your eating habits.
Avoid foods that could lead to digestive problems, such as wholegrain products, cooked fats, spices, and dried vegetables. If you have a sensitive stomach, it is best to replace raw fruit and veg with cooked fruit and veg.
Stay well hydrated all day long.
T-1 day: the meal the night before
This meal should be mostly carbs. It must be light, in other words, avoid adding fats (butter, cream, sauce, etc.). It should not give you any indigestion or discomfort.
- Chicken breast
- Green beans
- Yoghurt and/or fruit puree
Point 3: Race day
In order to keep your digestive system happy, your final meal should be taken ideally around three hours before you set off. The aim of this meal is to top up your water reserves and to ensure you have plenty of energy while avoiding hypoglycaemia.
The last meal must be effective, rich in carbohydrates, and easy to digest (limit fibre and fat).
- A hot drink
- Ultra cake: It is an energy cake that is rich in carbohydrates and above all easy to digest.
- Fruit juice (if well tolerated)
Point 4: during the ultra trail
- Avoid dehydration
- Avoid hypoglycaemia and the complete exhaustion of energy reserves
- Compensate for vitamin and mineral losses
- Avoid digestion problems.
Like with almost any exercise, it is best to take on energy in liquid form for good hydration, digestive comfort and quick assimilation of the nutrients included in isotonic drinks such as ISO+
During very lengthy exercise like an ultra trail, the desire to eat solid food will appear after a few hours. You should not ignore this feeling, but instead plan for it and respond with ultra bars, cereal bars or something similar, as well as dried fruit. Likewise, runners regularly experience a distaste for sugary flavours when they exercise for a long time, yet it is important to regularly take on plenty of energy. Consider bringing some salty foods with you that you can chew on in order to deal with this issue, while providing something tasty to eat for a valuable psychological boost.
Drink at least 500 ml of Iso+ / hour of exercise, and eat one ultra bar or energy gel every two hours (or more if you feel it is necessary). When you start to feel fed up with your isotonic drink, try switching to a sugary or salty energy gel in order to take on water.
Point 5: Recovery
- Compensate for water losses,
- Restore vitamin and mineral losses
- Restore energy reserves.
- Repair damaged muscle fibre.
Once your ultra trail is over, you may not have thought about the recovery phase. Nevertheless, if you manage your recovery well, your body will return to its normal state much faster.
First of all, it is important to rehydrate as soon as you have crossed the finish line. The after drink will give you carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals in just the right proportions to compensate for what you have lost during the race. This drink also contains proteins to aid muscle recovery. Secondly, make sure you eat some carbohydrates (ultra bar, dried fruit, fresh fruit, gingerbread, health food biscuits, etc.)
To avoid digestion problems on the day, you should test the products you will be using for the race during training sessions. Indeed, the type of food consumed during a trail is a very personal choice.