Feeding for Ultras


When you run for longer than 90 minutes, eating and drinking become imperative for optimum performance and sustained health, and there are many aspects to planning your race nutrition.

This time of year is all about qualifying marathons and running ultras in South Africa, and no matter what level you’re at in terms of running speed, you must meet your nutritional needs in order to achieve the results you want. And when it comes to fuelling for the ultras, practice is definitely the answer. Make sure that whatever snacks, fluids or gels you use, as well as meals before and after a race, are tried and tested – it’ll only heighten your performance and recovery. Also follow these general guidelines to munching for the long haul.


Endurance exercise puts a great demand on your glycogen stores and depletion can lead to fatigue and poor recovery. Therefore, if you’re running for more than 90 minutes, you should consume 40 to 60g of carbs for every hour of exercise. The carbohydrate consumed during training can be in the form of an energy drink, gels, energy bars, fruit, baby potatoes or sandwiches. Try to eat a well-balanced meal consisting of wholesome carbohydrates, lean protein, a small amount of unsaturated fat and fresh fruits and vegetables within 45 minutes after your run, to assure recovery quicker.


Protein is needed for muscle growth and repair, and your protein needs can be achieved without the use of supplements. Consuming a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes lean proteins will allow you to eat enough to meet your increased needs during your preparation for the ultras. Good sources of protein include lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs and fat-free dairy products that contain essential amino acids.


Endurance athletes should consume less than 30% of total calories from fat, and less than 10% from saturated fat. You should include a small amount of healthy fat in your diet – unsaturated fats are considered healthy and are necessary in a healthy balanced diet. As a concentrated source of energy, it can contribute to weight-gain when eaten in excess, so make sure you manage your intake!


It is crucial to replace your daily fluid losses, because the effects of dehydration are felt quickly and can affect your performance during training and on race day. Make sure that you have a plan formulated to meet your fluid needs during training and on race day. In SA, we often have hot and humid conditions on the run, so make sure you drink regularly, and during runs lasting longer than two hours, include an electrolyte supplement to balance sodium and electrolyte losses.


Always familiarise yourself with new foods or drinks during training. Many runners have experienced stomach distress when they have tried a new nutritional product in a race for the first time. If an event is going to have a certain food or drink on the course and you will not have your own available, use it in training to make sure it works for you. The golden rule is don’t try anything new in the race!


When possible, use downhills or times of decreased levels of exertion to eat and drink. Additionally, practise eating and drinking at different intensity levels during training, to see what works best for you. Set the timer on your watch to remind yourself when it is time to eat or drink, or use landmarks or course markings to remind you to fuel up.