—Mike Wolfe, The North Face Ultrarunner

Avoid big meals, and instead snack often during the day. A great way to get lean before a race, to avoid energy “bonks” during the day, and to keep your engine fueled for the evening workout, is to eat more frequently, but less food. Try eating immediately after your morning run, even if you don’t want to. This gets your metabolism running early. Then, be prepared to snack 3-4 times during the day. Choose healthy choices like whole grains (the classic PBJ sandwich is perfect), nuts, fruit, or yogurt. Avoid simple sugars and soda! This will help keep your energy levels steady, and have enough fuel on board for the evening run. It will also help you avoid the huge dinner right before bed!


—Kami Semick, The North Face Ultrarunner

Nutrition when going long – be it 50 mile, 100 miles or beyond, varies significantly from individual to individual. What is constant though, is that you need calories. The make up of the calories is going to depend on conditions – heat, level of effort, and even terrain, as well as your stomach. Not all stomachs are created equal. We hear stories of Dean Karnazes eating whole pizza’s while running through the night…Lizzy Hawker is known to stop for a latte before sun-up in Courmeyeur, half way around the UTMB course. For me personally, lactose is a disaster. One of my friends recommended to me to try chocolate milk during long runs. I am glad I tried it in training, not racing, as my sloshing stomach and side stich was not fueling optimal performance. But I digress.

How Much is Too Much?

Again, this is very individual. I know women my size who can take in twice the calories per hour when putting out the same effort. I also know others who take in half the calories that I do, and still have solid performances. The common rule of thumb is to take in 40 – 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour. I personally strive for 220 – 300 calories per hour depending upon level of effort and conditions. The higher my level of effort, the harder the surface, and the hotter the conditions, the less calories I can process, and the more simple those calories need to be

Factors to Consider

My personal experience is that when I am road racing, be it a marathon, Comrades 90k, or 100k World Cup, I have to stick with liquid nutrition. The combination of a high level of effort and the pounding of the road make it impossible to eat solids without issues. I prefer a tasteless carbohydrate solution in my bottles, and then energy gels as a supplement. I typically will stuff my pockets and jog bras with gels. I will even tape an extra gel somewhere to my body, just in case I drop something or have an aid station mix up.

Trail running is completely different. Because of the softer surface, the change in tempo, such as going out slow, hiking the steep hills, etc, I will eat solid food in the first half of a 100k or 100 mile race. Turkey sandwiches, fruit, and potatoes are some of my favorites. By the time the second half rolls around, I find it hard to stomach much, so I will switch to only gels. All along the way, especially if I have crew to help, I usually will supplement with a tasteless carbohydrate solution.

Bottom Line

Make sure you have a steady stream of calories through out your long training runs and races. Aim for at least 200 calories per hour when racing. Experiment with different foods/gels in training, and see what works for you. Remember to drink along the way so that your body can process the food.

Good Foods vs. Bad Foods

Many books and articles have been written on this concept. But for me, I keep it simple. Good food to me comes as close as possible to the source. We have chickens that lay eggs, and an organic garden we eat out of nine months out of the year. If animal husbandry or gardening is not your thing (it’s not mine, but my husband’s) look for local relationships with farmers or seek out farmers’ markets for local fresh produce and protein sources. For grains, I seek as unrefined as possible, but allow for whole grain breads, cereals, pastas, and the occasional bran muffin to round out my diet. My fats come primarily from olive oil and occasional artisan cheese. Bad foods are things that have a long shelf life and are highly processed. Packing a lunch for a picky child can be a challenge, so I look for items that are whole grain, and don’t have trans fats or high fructose corn syrup.