Before I went off to run The Track, I promised you a summary of preparing nutrition for an Ultra-running, Multi-day event and it’s finally here! Since I’m writing this after the event, I’ll also provide some thoughts on what I wouldn’t do again and what else I might consider taking.
As far as pre-race guidance from the organisers, we were told we had to carry at least 2,000 cal (8,368kJ) per day and carry 5 days of food with us with the second 5 day’s supplies to be collected from our drop bags after stage 5. That means carrying at least 10,000cal each week. Carrying your own food makes it difficult to take cans of foo
d or anything with liquid in as it’s heavy to carry. It’s also impossible to take anything perishable like fresh fruit or vegetables or anything that requires refrigeration for any longer than a day or two.
Before I went shopping for my food, I planned how I thought the run would work out and based on that, what food I would need for each day and each stage. All this did was made me focus on each stage and decide how much race food I needed each day versus meals I could eat in camp and it looked like this.
I built a second sheet calculating the weight and calories of everything I would carry for each stage. Below is a sample from this sheet showing my plan for stage 4, 48.5km.
I spent a few days trawling the shelves of my local supermarkets and outdoor shops reading the nutritional information on all the packets of dehydrated meals I could find. I’ve used some specialist expedition meals before and they’d worked well. There are some tasty flavours out there and they have good calories for the weight but I found them very expensive. For The Track I compared these expedition options with what I could make from dehydrated supermarket foods. The things I looked for when making my decisions where:
Calories per gram.
For me this is really bang for your buck. That is, I have to carry whatever I choose so I want to get as much out of it as I can in terms of calorific value. However, it is easy to get bogged down in this measure and at the end of the day, you still have to be able to eat it. If this means you sacrifice a few grams or a few calories for flavour or ease of preparation, then I’d do that!
Lots of the pre-packaged supermarket food assumes you’re going to have extra ingredients or access to a microwave. Being out in the middle of nowhere in 30C + heat, I was going to have none of these. I did find that most of these meals could be cooked by adding hot or boiling water and leaving for half an hour. This is something I tested at home to check how they cooked and tasted.
Available weight or servings per packet.
I looked at this mainly for convenience. I repackaged all of my meals before I travelled to The Track (see later in the post) so could have used any serving or package size but buying packets in the size I wanted to eat made it easier.
The main reason I was looking at supermarket foods was price. As I said earlier, the freeze-dried expedition foods work really well. Some are packed in heavy packaging and I think are expensive for what they are. For example, I spent around A$2 for a main meal of 780cals with a net weight of approximately 170g. The equivalent expedition meal available to me in Australia was around A$16.
I’m not the best person to talk about flavour as I’m quite happy to eat the same food day after day. That said, I have gone on a race before with food I’ve used in training and not been able to eat it. Packet tuna is very different with a dry mouth at 30C as opposed to rainy 15C training runs! This could be addressed by taking a variety of flavours of meals or taking some small sachets of herbs and spices that you can add when you feel like a change.
I bought a variety of foods before I made my final decision about exactly what to take and tested them at home…That is, did I like the flavour? Did they cook ok with my stove and just hot water? When I was happy with what I had, I did my final shop.
Preparing my food packs.
Once I’d chosen what I wanted to take for food, I had to make sure that I could fit 5 days worth of it in my bag along with my other kit. (You can read about my kit here) I’d already weighed all the food but this was about the size of the packs themselves. I packed a separate bag for each day of the race. This helped reduce thinking time during the race as I could just grab the right bag for the day. It also assisted the organisers with the bag-checking process. Inside each day bag was a bag for each meal and one for my running food. On each of these I wrote the stage number and the total number of calories.
To make my food as small as possible, I crushed everything inside its original packaging and poured the entire contents into a ziplock bag. I did the same with my protein portions and removed as much air as possible. Some people vacuum pack their meals for racing but this worked for me. I intended to pour hot water into the ziplock bag and eat directly from the bag. This saved on washing up and avoided any stomach illness out on the course. This also worked really well at camp as I used the minimum of water.
Well…it’s no David Attenborough but I’ve never shot a video before… and it is 3 days before I head out for Alice Springs…
How did it go?
All in all I was very happy with my food choices. Having cold food for breakfast worked really well for me. I could start having it as soon as I woke up. I had eaten around 700cal before I got out of my sleeping bag. My race bag nutrition also worked very well. The Jelly snakes were especially tasty and easy to eat. The almonds became quite hard to swallow on longer, hotter days without large mouthfuls of water. I will find something to replace them with next time. Taking my protein shake as soon as I finished for the day was a really good idea for recovery. I did, later in the event, wish I’d had a bit more variety as a treat. Evening meals were really filling and very simple to prepare. We all heated water over a large fire every night so there was little need to use our stoves. This really did make all cooking much simpler.
It wasn’t really until about day 7 or 8 that I started to feel like I needed some more variation. I did manage to “rescue” some food from people who were carrying too much. I enjoyed a curry and some spicy quinoa one night. Next time I would definitely take another light meal for when I finish running and some stronger flavoured foods to add variation at dinner time and some small treats like baked cheese slices and jerky.
Hope you enjoyed reading and please feel free to comment, share and send me an email if you’d like to know more.
My next post will be about the race itself….join my mailing list to get it as soon as it’s published.