There are three main considerations when building up to an ultra- distance event such as an iron man, multiple marathons, a major cycle ride or ultra- distance fell run. These include training periodization, nutrition and supplementation, get all three of these right in the build up to an ultra- endurance event so that they’re all singing in unison…and you’re onto a winner!
Getting the training taper right
Without going into too much detail on the training front, one of the major considerations for athletes is the final weeks leading up to competition day. Training will be broken down into micro, meso and macro cycles which basically adjusts training modalities and intensity to a point that encourages supercompensation (growth and physiological adaptation), without risking overtraining. There are many terms used to describe the process of entering competition day in optimal condition, one of these is ‘peak weak’. This is a crucial period because it is the last chance you get to optimise energy stores (i.e. not over- exerting yourself), allow the body to recover, and begin to tune in emotionally. The hard graft should have already been taken care of, the crucial part now is bringing everything together.
This is incredibly broad so let’s break it down a little, starting with nutritional balance. All too many endurance athletes place all of their focus on carbohydrate, and that’s about it, this is understandable due to carbs role in energy delivery. However the longer the distance, the more other nutritional components come into play, after all, the aim of an ultra- endurance event is not just delivering a short lived injection of energy, it’s about sustaining life! In order to sustain life there needs to be provisions in place to ensure a steady flow of key nutrients such as protein, carbs and fat. Fat is a vital energy source, albeit carbs are your bodies preferred energy source, without fat to draw on you’d soon find your glycogen stores deplete to nothing and you’d come to an abrupt stop.
This is where nutritional balance comes into its own. In the ‘peak week’ i.e. the final week leading up to the event, you should already have an idea as to how your body responds to a variety of nutrients in a variety of mediums. For example, if you were feeling a little depleted after a heavy days training, remember how the consumption of white potato gave you a quick energy surge, or how the high protein density of the chicken breast alleviated muscle aches the following day and satiated your hunger. If you have a minimum of 1-2 hours between physical exertions then try to get a balance of protein, carbs, and a fibre source to maintain gastrointestinal function. A good, and generally safe example in terms of minimising stomach upsets etc. is a bland source of rice, chicken and mixed veg. Granted this type of meal will be consumed less frequently, but this places more emphasis on getting it in…and getting it right. In an event that see’s you running, walking, cycling for 30+ miles a day it is prudent to have sustenance available for during i.e. whilst running or on the bike. There are some ideal options in the form of readymade energy and protein bars, gels, protein/ energy balls and carb based jelly sweets (to name a few). Then you have good old fashion foods such as sweet potato cubes, homemade oat bars and so on, these can be removed from a pouch mid- race and consumed for that sustained energy release.
NOTE: Keep the amount you consume during the race to single mouthfuls every 15-20mins to minimise gastrointestinal strain i.e. sickness or an upset stomach. And it’s not always caused by the physical amount you consume, but also the actual carb content of the food or drink. Your body is able to manage and digest approx. 100g of carbohydrate per hour (although this is subjective), so it pays to get to know how much your body can tolerate in the build up to the comp.
This part is more straight forward. In order to keep you going for days on end you have to consume the right nutrition, at the right times, and in the optimal medium. When it comes to ultra- endurance events there is no substitute for good ol’ fashioned food and water, however, some events demand that you remain active for 4+ hours with minimal breaks throughout, consequently a liquid form of nutrition is usually the recipe for success. Take a cyclist as an example of someone that is active for several hours at a time, they will need a steady flow of carbohydrate, in a form that is manageable and thirst quenching all at the same time, an ideal example is EZ Fuel Isotonic, the optimal ratio of carbs, electrolyte (sodium, potassium, magnesium and chloride) and fluid makes this a perfect choice. In instances where you feel yourself hitting a ‘wall’ or ‘bonk’ so to speak, a rapid source of carbs may be required such as an energy gel. Several options are available including High 5 Energy Gel and EZ Fuel Energy Gel. The concentrated, liquid form of carbs immediately causes oral carb receptors to tell the brain carbs are on their way giving you an immediate hit of energy.
Protein. This essential nutrient is not just for bodybuilders, it is in fact a key part of the ultra- endurance puzzle that should NOT be overlooked. Protein can be consumed in a liquid form during the race via EZ Fuel Recovery and in a far more concentrated form via PhD Nutrition Pharma Whey at the end of the competitive day. One final gem of a supplement is Beta- alanine…consider this acidity buffer and neurotransmitter as a way of reducing the performance hindering effects of lactic acid and the secondary release of hydrogen (the cause of increased muscle acidity, pain and reduced performance). A prime example of Beta- alanine is PhD Nutrition Beta Alanine Histidine.
Get all of the elements together and there is no reason why you will crash, your muscles will feel better, perform more effectively, and be less likely to become injured.