Food for thought

In preparation for Europe’s Toughest in May, I’ve been slowly upping the mileage on my long Sunday runs. This weekend weighed in at 17.4 miles (28km) which is the same distance as the nuts challenge I’m attempting next month. Being out on a course for a long period of time poses a number of issues in itself. However one of the biggest hurdles I need to conquer is ensuring that I am eating and drinking enough to fuel my body every hour.

Luckily both the Nuts challenge and Europe’s Toughest incorporate a pit area at the end of each lap where I can change clothing, refuel and head off. As such I’ve begun trying different foods on my Sunday runs to see how they sit and to decide on a go to group that I can take to the events.

I’ve done some research and looked for comments on social media regarding nutrition while on longer, endurance style races. Simply put, the advice is to try when you train and see how your body responds. A great starting point for me was an article on the Obstacle Racing Media website by Jason Rulo which discusses some of the key points to consider when prepping for Toughest and it’s bigger badder sibling, World’s Toughest (24 hours). I’ve kept it open in a tab on my phone browser for quite some time and refer to it when planning and prepping.

Jason discusses the need for between 200-350 calories per hour of exercise and how this equates to 40-50 grams of carbs, 10 grams of protein and ~5 grams of fat. He also outlines some good kit recommendations for the events.

Through the different social platforms and discussion forums it appears that certain brands are hugely popular (Science in sport, Clif, Tailwind etc) and I’ve been trying to work my way through them in my preparation for the events. When I began training with Fitness Squad in August 2016, I asked the instructor Jonny about pre workout routines and he recommended a banana and protein shake an hour before exercising. I’ve been following this with every session since and have not had a single issue with it. Even before the longer runs it hasn’t caused me any digestive issues (just makes me need to pee more regularly) so I’ve carried on with this.

In recent months I’ve been running with a small bottle of water with a couple of scoops of Science in Sport electrolyte powder, swigging every few km or so. I’m not going to run either of the events with a bottle of water but will definitely have bottles made up in the pits so that I can try to restore some of the electrolytes that I will lose in sweat during the laps.

I’ve had a mixed experience with energy gels, on some of my runs I have been fine with them whereas on others I’ve found it hard to regulate breathing and felt sick after taking them. As such I’ve decided that they are a risky choice and have looked in to alternatives. The same is true with the Clif energy Bloks, although they are tasty, they take quite a while to eat and I’ve just not really enjoyed them.

While looking for alternatives and in discussions with others a few random suggestions have been thrown up, milky way bars, jelly babies, baby food!?!, pizza, pop tarts naming a few. I’ve completed my last 3 runs trying milky ways and jelly babies, both of which have sat really nicely and given me the boost needed. Safe to say that both of these will be going in the bag for the events. I’m planning on trying pop tarts and pizza slices however they require me to have a trial pit area set up – I will plan out a 5 mile route around my house in March/April to practice the whole pit process with my wife who has agreed to be there on the night of the Toughest. I will try both of these over the course of the final few weeks.

This weekend I am trying baby food. I popped to the supermarket earlier and got 2 pouches of Ella’s kitchen banana and apricot baby rice. Each pouch contains 103kcal and 22.6g of carbs which fits in nicely with the amount recommended in some of the reading. I’m unsure how my stomach will take to them but at least I can say I’ve given them a go. A review of their success will follow.

As far as liquid intake goes, I am also planning to give green tea a try and I’ve read a lot of people stating that pickle juice is really good for dealing with cramp so I may look in to carrying a small shot of this for when I get tired. As I’m effectively training for a marathon distance I’ve been scouring the articles written for long distance runners and this one on the website Greatist contains some alternatives which I can consider.

Obviously the training and choice of kit will help me to get through the obstacles and weather challenges, however I need to be prepped and comfortable internally to ensure I don’t crash and burn or have digestive issues out on course. Trial and error is the name of the game and I will see how the next couple of months treat me.

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