By Jo Cresdee
This is an image that pretty much sums up my approach to nutrition. Do not get me wrong, I am not being flippant – I have researched and sought more advice than you can possibly imagine in recent months when it comes to preparing for this race. In fact, it is the science behind the nutrition that I have found to be one of the most interesting aspects of ultra running. BUT I am also human, I am a Mum of three, I am weak at times and I mess up my plans and fall off the wagon. At the same time I want to know why that happens – as all the great runners say – it is not about going on a diet to prepare for a race, it is a whole change of lifestyle.
So what do you eat to prepare your body to run 63 miles in one go, and what do you eat while you are running it? It’s a complex science and there are loads of conflicting arguments.
There are so many dietary crazes at the moment, juice fasts, clean eating, and paleo diets in a million different forms. I started reading a lot of stuff on this and the article that I liked the most likened carbohydrates or sugars (in their various different types) to being like the kindling on a fire – you need a bit of it to get things going – they are fast burning, give an instant hit of energy and the fuel disappears quickly. While fats are like the logs on a fire – they take ages to ignite but once they have started to blaze they will last for hours. The secret then for endurance sports is to burn fat not carbs. You have to train your body to do this!
So where do you start? Cut out the carbs and eat more fat? Kind of – my friend Rich constantly tells me that being 80% vegan is the way forward and by this he means eat mostly plants, nuts and berries, a bit of protein from fish and meat, and a bit of fat and dairy here and there. His most useful tip was make sure that every meal is made up of a palmful of protein, a thumbful of fat and two or more fistfuls of vegetables. There is an endurance coach called Dr Phil Maffetone who takes this a step further and talks about finding out how carb resistant you are and he means work out what works for YOUR body. I liked that bit as everyone’s body is different and what works for me will be different from other people I run with. I also like the fact that none of these dietary ideas refer to “bad” foods or remove an entire food group from your diet, which has to be fundamentally unhealthy – maybe not physically, but I do not like the idea of demonising a food group and making it out of bounds – I consider that to be mentally unhealthy.
So I followed Maffetone and spent two weeks detoxing. I only ate meat, fish and vegetables. No grains, no wheat, no sugar, no alcohol – really very limited. It was hell! For the first three days I had a blinding headache, I slept badly, I had no energy. Day four was better – after two weeks I felt ok. At that point I then started to re-introduce different foods, like wheat, to see what happened. I now know that when I eat bread, pasta, anything wheat based I get tired and lethargic, I feel bloated, I get heartburn. It is the same with sugar. Alcohol makes me feel depressed and affects my sleep. Basically I don’t chastise myself if I do eat these things but I know my body will react to them when I do and I feel better if I don’t. It’s just about understanding what the consequences are.
So I know what I am eating on a day to day basis. I have lost a bit of weight but think that also has a lot to do with the 50 – 60 miles I have been running per week rather than anything else. I know it is crucial that I do not have prolonged periods without food as I then crave sugar which will make me feel ill. So I generally eat frequently, I drink 6 pints of water a day and I try and find different ways to keep things interesting and easy. I am a huge fan of the breakfast muffin, introduced to me by Helen Duggan.
You can make whole batches of these and add loads of different things. My favourite is beetroot and feta, but pretty much anything works. I also love vegetable based soups as they fill you up – carrot and coriander is a total winner for me – again I add feta to it as that makes it a bit more exciting.
You can make both of the above in batches and then you have lunch sorted for about 3 days! And because the soup is vegetable-based we are sticking to Rich’s “rule of thumb”.
So that is what I eat on a day-to-day basis but what do you eat during an ultra? This is a massive market – there are a million different products available out there. A lot of runners will tell you that they take gels. I certainly have. The issue with gels is that they give you a blast of sugar (kindling) which burns out too fast, plus they can upset your stomach. During prolonged periods of exercise such as this, when I could be running for up to 15 hours (before they kick me off the course), your digestive system slows down. You cannot digest heavy foods. It is the same during labour. I once doula-ed for a woman who had a kebab in early labour – bad move! It is the same when you are running for long periods; if you eat too much or foods that don’t suit you, you will be sick. I am a big vomitter anyway even during shorter races so I really wanted to make sure that I had a good fuelling plan. I started to experiment and having tried out loads of things I shall be taking a collection of real foods; my favourite is turkey and avocado with pine-nuts (JR added those) and roasted fennel seeds (Nina added those) wrapped in cos lettuce (I am from Woodbridge, yes I am taking cocktail party aperitifs on an ultra-marathon). I am also taking beetroot and banana energy balls, Montezuma dark chocolate buttons and dried mango. On top of that I am going to drink a LOT of Tailwind.
Tailwind is awesome; it’s a combination of calories, electrolytes and hydration. Unlike the gels it is clean, it is colourless, it doesn’t make you feel sick and you just add it to your water and drink it little and often. On top of that Tailwind has the best customer service in the world – I feel like I know the guy who packs my order and I feel special! They write you a note every time you order and send you free gifts if you leave them a review! Last time I got a buff. (All ultra-runners wear buffs – it’s like an ultra-runner thing.) If you run you should try this stuff http://www.tailwindnutrition.co.uk/ you can get a nice little selection box to try out all the different flavours
So that is my fuelling plan. I think it is pretty simple – no magic ingredients, just things that are pretty un-refined and easy to digest – keep it simple. As John says; “if it doesn’t look like it did when it was dug from the ground or picked from the bush we probably shouldn’t eat it”.
(My Hemsley and Hemsley inspired Youtube channel will be coming soon…)