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Snack Right, Race Right – How to eat for an adventure race
Adventure races can last anywhere from one to ten days and sometimes even longer so, when are you meant to sleep? You can catch forty winks whenever it is possible, but it is not just the sleep deprivation that poses a unique challenge but what and when to eat can cause confusion too.
At the elite end of the sport, where competitors are on the go for many hours often over a few days, there are a whole range of light but calorie dense meals similar to those used by the Armed Forces.
But even one to two day events can be a tough endurance race so; how should you manage what you eat to help boost your performance and prevent you and your team running on empty?
Doctor Sarah Schenker thinks, “Adventure racing is primarily an endurance event where the body uses fat burning for energy,” explains Sarah Schenker a sports dietician and nutritionist (www.sarahschenker.com).
“There will also be times such as running or cycling uphill when the body will be working harder and it will switch to using carbohydrate stores or glycogen in the muscles.”
While endurance training will help improve the body’s ability to utilise fat for energy, getting the right amount of carbohydrates to maintain glycogen levels requires thought and a bit of trial and error to find out what works.
“The most important thing is preparation, and ensuring you eat well the day before and the morning of the race,” says Dr Schenker.
Up to 48 hours before an adventure race you should start thinking about fuelling for your race aiming to eat 8-12grammes of carbohydrate per kilo of body weight for women. Good sources of carbohydrate dense meals should include pasta or rice with chicken, fish or vegetables while breakfast options include porridge with banana or nuts.
So far, so simple…but what to eat during the race itself when you can be on the go for hours?
According to most studies you should eat 15g of high or medium glycemic index snacks every hour. This equates to something along the lines of a slice of malt loaf, a cereal bar, three jelly babies or a small banana.
This type of snack will be released rapidly into the blood system and become readily available as an energy source compared to slow release carbohydrates.
World Champion Adventure Racer Nicola McLeod however points out that savoury snacks are also important, particularly during longer events.
She says, “Everyone always assumes it’s all about energy drinks and sugary snacks but eating these for a long time can give you ulcers and make you feel sick.
“I always take sticks of pepperoni and things like tuna sandwiches because I crave something savoury.”
But Dr Schenker is keen to warn people not to go overboard on the race snacking, she eplains, “Many people fall victim to eating too much during a race as they’re scared of hitting the wall.
“But the muscles can only hold two hours of glycogen and if you overeat this is just excess calories, it won’t give you an extra edge in speed or performance.”
Don’t forget your liquids
In fact as Dr Schenker points out, what many people mistake for lack of carbohydrates is more often than not a result of dehydration, which is not surprising as studies show that losing just 2% body weight as sweat in a person weighing 65kg can result in a 10-20% drop in performance.
“Feeling dizzy, sick and weak is all too often due to people not staying hydrated,”confirms Schenker.
“You should aim to take a few sips of water every ten minutes or if this is not practical, 150-350mls every 30minutes.”
This is where isotonic and hypotonic drinks (those that replace sodium without a high carb content) come into their own as they mimic the actual fluids in the body so that they are more readily absorbed than water.
If you don’t want to carry and undo a bottle, you can always make your own by mixing 100ml of orange squash (200ml for isotonic) with 1 litre of water and a pinch of salt and put this in your hydration pack.
“The most important thing about all of this is to have a sensible nutrition strategy.
“Plan what you’re going to eat and try it in training to ensure it works for you.”
Although, with adventure races that last longer than one day, it is also vital to ensure your post meal nutrition is well thought out.
“Post recovery nutrition is important whether you are planning to race the next day or not,” says Schenker.
“You should eat a balanced meal with a mix of protein and carbohydrates to help replenish glycogen stores, repair the muscles and boost the immune system.”
According to a study by Texas State University, carbohydrate is converted to glycogen one and a half times faster in the two hour window after exercising.
This is boosted by 40% when eaten with protein rather than carbohydrate alone on a 1 to 3 ratio. If you can’t manage a meal straight after, opt for a post recovery snack within 30minutes, such as a cottage cheese and tuna sandwich, porridge with milk or two rice cakes with jam and cottage cheese.
And don’t forget it is not all just about carbohydrate and protein.
“Even if people get this right many athletes forget about the importance of fresh fruit and vegetables, particularly in endurance races and gruelling multi-day events.
“Exercise will depress the immune system so make sure you boost your vitamin and nutrient intake so you don’t end up ruining your race by waking up with a cold feeling grotty.”
Rachel Woolston, Sportsister
The Women´s Sports Magazine