Nutrition is the most important part of running. Your nutrition is the food that fuels your runs. Good nutrition equals a high output and sustained energy. Poor nutrition leaves the tank empty and not working as well as it could. Most runners have figured out what works for them while training for their marathons. Running past the marathon distance into ultra marathons requires a different strategy.
Ultra marathons are any distance past the 26.2 mile marathon distance. Popular ultra marathon distances are the 50k, 50 mile, 100k, and 100 mile. Having good nutrition is a necessity for reaching your finish line at ultra marathons. You will be on your feet a lot longer than marathons. Proper nutrition provides the sustained energy your need to keep you going for up to 30 hours of running.
The average person burns approximately 100 calories per mile. Several factors can affect this number. Level of fitness, speed, amount of climbing, and metabolism are all things that affect your calorie burn when running. Getting in enough calories is the biggest challenge that athletes face when attempting ultra distances. You will need to take in a few hundred calories an hour to sustain a steady pace. Use your training runs to find out what works best for you and what your stomach can handle while running. The aid stations at ultra marathons look very different than the aid stations at road marathons to accommodate all of the extra calories that ultra runners need to fuel their run. It is common at ultra distance aid stations to find hamburgers, quesadillas, chips, candies, cookies, and soft drinks! These are all calorie dense foods that help ultra runners reach their extra calorie intake in as few bites as possible to keep them going without having a heavy stomach.
Experimenting with different foods during your own personal training runs will help you figure out what works best for you. Many runners will also have drop bags at the aid stations filled with their own personal food selections so that they can guarantee they will get to eat what they trained with. Never experiment with new foods or drinks on race day. It could cause GI distress and leave you with an upset stomach and spoil your race. It is best to stick with familiar foods. Pack your drop bags accordingly so you will have access to nutrition that works best for you if you have a sensitive stomach or special dietary needs.
Bridging the nutritional gap between marathon and ultra marathon distances is not difficult. Proper planning is the key and remembering to eat every hour so that you do not get behind on calorie consumption is a must for sustained energy. Stick with foods you know on race day and experiment with different options on your training runs so you will feel confident with your dietary choices on race day. No two runners diets look the same. Eat well and run far!
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