There is so much nutrition information hitting athletes from all ends – social media, doctors, chiropractors, dietitians, coaches, bloggers, other athletes, and the list goes on. Who is right? What should athletes believe? As a registered dietitian and ultra-runner, I will tell you to stop reading and listening to everyone, but rather go back to the basics. Nutrition basics that you need for life and to perform, especially during multiday events.
After completing the fastest known time on the National Scenic Ice Age Trail spanning 1200miles, the interest in what I was eating was unbelievable. More so, people were stupefied by my intake as a 5’1” 120lbs female athlete. Daily intake was typically cereal and milk, pizza, tart cherry juice, short rib sandwiches, avocado, McDonalds, bakery, more pizza, meatballs, rice krispies, beer, soda, and a variety of other “unhealthy” foods. People don’t want to believe there is a place for these foods in the world, but sadly that’s not realistic – they are phenomenal for athletes…assuming it’s at the right time. And, quite okay for the non-athlete as well.
I can repeatedly tell you to eat complex carbohydrate, low fat, and lean protein foods all day during a multi-sport event. And that’s a great recommendation, but there is so much more to the story when it comes to nutrition. Focusing on these five habits for multiday events will make all the difference, even though some go against the current nutrition trends…
- Focus on liquids…a lot of liquids. Whether you are moving or not, plan on an average of 20oz per hour. And it’s okay if it has calories too!
- During your sport, eat some foods that are processed…the body doesn’t have to use energy to process already processed foods – it’s a win! They are consumed and used immediately. The simpler it is, the better during sport. Similar to gels, candy, pastries, white breads, etc. When you eat foods that are not processed, it takes the body a long time to digest, which means it’s not helping you perform.
- When you are not performing your sport, eat complete, complex foods being mindful of fiber intake. It’s good to have some fiber, but loading up on raw greens right before an event…that is not fun for anyone! Foods between events that work perfectly: lentils, sweet potatoes, rice, pasta (and white is okay!), fruit, avocado, lean meats or tofu, eggs, and sprouted breads. Don’t hesitate to butter your bread either!
- Calories are important. Eat them all. You probably eat regular meals and snacks sitting at work all day doing nothing…why do we neglect this when we are doing sports? On multi-sport event days, you need to eat even more than those days sitting at work. During my 1200mi endeavor on the Ice Age Trail lasting 21 days, I ate nearly 4500 calories per day and it probably still wasn’t enough.
- And finally, RECOVER. Recovery dictates your success with performance later on in the day, or during the next couple of days. It’s key to recover with a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein after each move you complete. Sure, bars and shakes can do the trick, but I highly recommend real food. Something like a full bagel sandwich with turkey, side of fruit, and a hard-boiled egg can give you exactly what you need. Might as well throw in some tart cherry juice too! Remember, fat inhibits recovery; so ensuring your intake is high in carbohydrate and protein is what makes the next event that much better. There is a place for fat foods for sure – don’t neglect them – it’s all about timing.
I realize that some of this information may come as a shock to you because of the daily barrage of false information out there. Especially about processed foods! Keep in mind too, everyone is different, but majority of us are alike…we need all macronutrients and water to live, think, and perform. Take a step back and think about the basics. Then, make adjustments based on your individual needs. I put together a daily nutrition strategy for a multi-sport endurance event and it could really use more calories 🙂
See how you match up!
(And of course everyone is different but typically people are never consuming enough!)
|4am Meal (complex foods)||1 cup oats with 2T peanut butter and honey, 2 hard-boiled eggs, 8oz orange juice, 12oz water||Adjust eggs if preferred to a soy based sausage (Morning Star links for example)|
|6am Pre-Race (fast-acting simple foods)||Bagel with jelly; 12oz water|
|7am Race Starts!|
|7:30am (Simple sugars): if you want to have gels, fine, but trust me, by hour 3 you will be fed up! Use REAL food…bakery item OR full banana OR sandwich (PBJ, cheese, or bean).
Eat early; eat often!
|During the event: eat 400-500 calories every hour (and this is on the moderate side!) AND consume no less than 24oz of water per hour.|
|Halfway through, eat lunch||Pre-cooked pizza, or
Large turkey sandwich with chips (provide calories, salt, protein, carbohydrates)
|Adjust turkey to tofurkey; otherwise do 1 cup rice with 1 cup beans in a tortilla wrap (sprinkle with salt!)|
|Race is over and you aren’t hungry! It doesn’t matter – EAT! This right here dictates your success the next day.||4:1 ratio carb to protein meal immediately in the first 30-60min of finishing:
2 ½ cups pasta, sauce if preferred, 4-6oz chicken breast, sprinkling of cheese, Gatorade or electrolytes…and then continue the 4:1 ratio over the next 2-3 hours!
|Adjust chicken to tofu; ideally a half block tofu; if you don’t like tofu, that’s ok. Lentils over pasta is amazing and gives you a good amount of protein combined! Post long run, I love to whip up a scramble: eggs, tofu, veggies, some cheese and then have 2-3 slices of toast with jam on the side.|
REMEMBER: The only way protein can help recovery, is if you have it with carbohydrate. My saying goes: Carbohydrate is the key that unlocks the muscles to let protein in!
Again, take a step back from all the nutrition info that is out there and return to the basics. Athletes need carbohydrates first and foremost, then protein, then fat…all are essential to our sedentary bodies as well as our performing bodies. With multiday events, eat real food and never hesitate to eat just a little more than your mind might tell you to do. It can make all the difference as you attempt to push your limits as an athlete.
Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and registered dietitian training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for lululemon, Swiftwick Socks, Altra Running Red Team, Fluid Nutrition, SPOT, Bigger Than The Trail, and First Endurance.
Follow her on Instagram @ani_weiss