Food on ultras

I really struggle to eat well on ultras. 

If it's to chewy forget it, heavy food is a no-no i've tried bagels and they taste lovely but just sit in my tummy and don't digest,

Dried fruit and mixed nuts with a bit of added salt seem good. But been reading a thread where 9 bars were mentioned and they look seriously nice.

But, I get really seriously confused about food and running, I'm probably completely over complicating it, and being a bit thick doesn't help.  But I vaguely understood (possibly incorrectly) that you can absorb around 60g of carbs an hour give or take.

So my little brain is thinking and decided that I should be trying to get 50 plus in each hour in my next ultra to keep my levels pretty much topped up.

Now is this utter bollox and just waffle, or is it sort of in the right ballpark and not an unreasonable aim, to try to achieve?

For instance 9 bar peanut butter looks heavenly but a 40g bar has 10g of carbs in it... So if I only eat them i'd need 5 an hour !!

I guess i'm not going to be using anywhere near my max for most of those hours, so really that's OTT thinking i need to look at replacing 50 plus an hour, or is that the sort of target i should actually be aiming to do (of course with a variety of foods).

I mean I hardly ever see any ultra runners stacked up with food, they grab a few things on the tables, which come up say 8 to 10 times in 24 hours, so what's the secret am I worrying to much about food or do I just need to find small compact food that packs the carbs in,

Yours a very confoosed elephant image

I've not ran many but the few? 3 maybe and a 30 odd mile LSR I don't think i've got the eating right in any of them.



  • I am merely a marathon runner, but struggle with food due to IBS. I like you cannot eat anything during a race which is chewy. Actually I normally have to eat 2 hours before a run and eat nothing during, not even them evil gels - yuck.

    However my boyfriend is a serious ultra runner, having just completed the coast to coast non-stop 140mile run. He eats loads whilst running, whether it be pizza, chips, bacon butties etc. He eats and then carries on running. He believes it is all in the mind, if you believe you can do it, you will. He stops at each checkpoint and will eat what ever is on offer, or if he runs past a chippy he will pop in.

    Everyone is different, I hope you crack it Booktrunk - I have yet to master it image

  • 9bars are supposed to be yummy - I know the CODRC and Mark Cockbain Events have them as their sponsor - so I would have thought they'd would be good quality.

  • Malt loaf? With butter to ease it down better


  • HillLee: I was going to do that... saw a chippy on my last ultra and thought brilliant as i was freezing, and they were closed.... I was gutted!!


  • Oh no, I would be gutted as well - next time!!!! I may consider ultras once I've sorted food intake out image

  • Thanks Philomena, good idea.

  • Booktrunk,

    the 60g figure for carbs is widely touted around as is the x grams per kilo of bodyweight and seems to be a reasonable target (although there are papers out there suggesting that this figure can be trained higher depending on body type), but it's normally quoted in the context of high carbohydrate sources (gels, sports drink).  

    If you were eating 5 9bars an hour you'd be getting your carbohydrates, but at nearly 277 KCal per bar that's nearly 1400 KCal, which is probably more than you're burning and with reduced blood flow to your intestines I'm guessing you'll end up with a good deal of undigested food.  I had thought that there was an upper limit to the amount of calories you could digest per hour, but there isn't (  

    I do know from personal experience (1st Ironman) that when I fuelled at about 400 KCal/hour (a mix of bars, gels and energy drink) on the bike I ended up completely bloated on the run and spent a good deal of time in the portaloos.

    So, you need to consider carbohydrates in the context of the overall calorific intake (IMO of course).

  • Booktrunk, the 60g max per hour seems to be widely quoted, but I've also seen quite a lot suggesting that about 30g is probably alright (particularly if like me you are only little!).

    I also find it really hard to get enough food down on my ultras and also find that what I want to eat/can eat in a race is completely different to what I can stomach on a training run, which limits the test opportunities! For me, anything solid and chewy is an absolute no no. On the Lakeland 50 I discovered the joys of a large bowl of custard, which was awesome! I also am finding that I crave fruit on my ultras. Other things that I have found I can get down are rice pudding, some dried fruit/nuts, ginger biscuits, Clif Shot Bloks (can't do gels, they upset my tummy), crisps.

    I have also discovered the joys of flat coke, which I figure is also getting a good few calories in!

    I feel your pain - more experimentation required for me!

    My other issue is drinking enough at anything marathon plus. I find that I just completely go off the taste of water and don't feel I want to drink it at all. I have been starting races with one bottle of water and one of coconut water. The coconut water is fantastic, but once that runs out and I am just topping up water from CPs I struggle. Really need to find some tablets/sachets that I like the taste of and can add to water, but so far have tried High5 and SIS and found them both fairly foul! Picky I know!

    Have a read of some of the nutrition articles from the Endurance Store:

    Very useful.

  • Thanks for the replies, yeah I really struggle I get a full bloated tummy and just cannot stomach anything, and feel really uncomfy, so need to change things, but thanks for what you've been saying, keep the ideas and opinions coming it's all good info image 

  • LNandB good reply - I shall be trying some of the things you've suggested image
  • 9 bars are lovely, but like you say are not high carb so I enjoy in a limited fashion. also quite expensive and other things out there that are ok and cheap.

    I personally, a 60kg runner, can eat quite a bit of food on the run if at easy pace. But at a fast (for course) ultra-pace I find ~200-250 Kcal is more realistic as a max of what I can comfortably digest without bloating, nausea, etc.... I tend to aim at 200Kcal per hour and concentrate on carb-based foods, rather than worrying too much about hitting 60g carb per hour. Also, unless I'm imagining it isn't some protein thought important in the mix for longer ultra's?

    I also find that too much sweet stuff in an ultra eventually makes me feel sick and I have to mix in with more savoury stuff. When I did Ultimate Trails 100k last summer the grasshopper spicy noodles at CP were a godsend as my 200-250KCal per hour, mostly sweet intake of biscuits, flapjack/cereal bar/granola followed by a porridge sweetened with syrup in first half left me unable to eat anything for a while due to nausea and I struggled with sweet stuff in quantity when the nausea passed throughout rest of event.

    I think the key is to have a real variety of food options with sweet, savoury, liquid based, etc... too much of any one thing usually gives me problems if more than a steady pace.

    Things that I find work for me:
    1. If an option a pasta with tomatoey sauce in small portions might work. Can bloat you if too much and not quick energy so something small and sweet with will give you some instant energy too.
    2. My staple flapjack on the run is Not cheap from source, but 'Rat Race' sell and do offers on sometimes too. A whopping 378Kcal per bar makes price seem less of a spend and one over two hours is with some carb from liquids is good for me energy-wise most days. Also provides a good sugar starch balance for a balanced energy release. Tastes good too, bit of sea salt in which sounds weird but is nice. There is also a banana flavoured variety with less salt and slightly-sweeter taste. Both have some chia content. Consistency isn't too hard a chew, breaks easily at room temperature. 44-45g carb per bar depending on variety.
    3. Bananas - 100Kcal for a med one, ~27g carb, ~14g sugar. Beware though that excess fructose tends to upset the stomach.
    4. Sounds like I'm a sponsor or something, but I'm just a fan of these products as different to much of stuff out there. Not a carb heavy drink mix, but a different and I think less sicklly sweetness to energy drinks I've tried. So compliments more sweet carb-based run diet without contributing to sugary overdose-nausea issues. Also has a high Chia content, which is meant to be a superfood for a variety of good effects (loads of vit C, omega-3 and some protein which is thought important in very long periods of exercise). I'd recommend anybody try this if they get fed up of water and find energy drinks too sweet and can source the majority of their carbs from solids. Also, I sometimes mix the standard 20g dose with 300ml milk as a recovery drink.
    5. sandwiches - can be hard going as bread is dry to eat on hot days or when a bit dehydrated, but I find if I cut the crusts off, cut into quarters and use a thin meat filling with a good coat of mustard (or other condiment) then its moist enough to eat and enjoy. Cheese also works well with a condiment to liquidise it a bit. jam also good, for a sweeter option.

  • cont...
    6. wraps - I rarely make them and just get from a supermarket. But one with a good bit of moisture in filling and the tortilla is less bulky, chewy, drying than bread.
    7. better quality supermarket cereal bars - cheaper ones tend to be more sugary and that's all fine, but I prefer something marginally healthier with word wholegran somewhere in ingreadients if possible. Usually have more of a starch sugar balance so less of a big hit of energy and more steady release. I've found Nature valley sweet and nutty quite good on run as easy to chew (~150Kcal / ~14-17g carbs / ~8-10g sugar). Nature valley crunchy a bit more of a chew, but some in two pieces which helps and good carb levels (~190Kcal / ~26-27g carbs / 11-12g sugar). Even if not used on a run their a good mid-afternoon or pre-run snack.

    Clif bars also seem popular at ultra events, and seem like a wholesome enough product, but I always find these too hard to chew when at a hard lick so tend to go for easier options.

    Apols for another long post, but some good questions being asked and getting a bit carried away answering this week image

  • Drunken Euphoria on tour.  I'm loving your long answers.  image lots of food for thought!

  • 75-100 calories every half hour seems to work for me. Any more and I start feeling sick and can't eat, but it's enough to keep me going for up to 24 hours. Usually a mixture of Hula hoops, Ritz crackers, Mule bars, cold Dominos' cheese and tomato pizza and a few gels.

  • So don't get hung up about the carbs is clearly coming through image 

    just eat whatever I want,but try to keep going with if possible around a minimum of a couple of hundred calories an hour image which is pretty easy to eat image 

    Thanks girls n guys.

  • Try to switch off eating for enjoyment and focus on eating as a necessity. In our day to day lives we pick nice things we want to eat and get a certain amount of pleasure from eating them. During long ultras you're lucky if you get the same pleasure from food so try to disassociate eating with pleasure and that might help you force down a couple of jelly babies you really don't fancy.

    If you can pick something up at every check point and have a handful of something halfway inbetween then you'll have enough calories to finish. Worrying about numbers can cause anxiety and may sow the seeds for another excuse to get you to stop.

    If you're having a real tough time then fresh fruit should get your through. Most aid stations will have bananas so take one with you and work on finishing it before you get to the next one.

  • Thanks image more good advice.
  • I'm going to say the opposite of Shawk, and suggest finding something you really like.  I ran the SDW50 on hummus sandwiches and M&S millionaires shortbread and fridgecake bites.  Ohh, and an apple.  I love the M&S bites, but they're expensive, and thus a real treat.  I'm more likely to eat if its posh yummy chocolate goodness than something forced down for the sake of calories.

    I set the watch to bleep every 4 miles, both as a pace guide (evens out the hills!) and as a reminder to eat if I haven't already.

    Thinking of trying cheese straws next time.  I love cheese straws.  Or bread with goats cheese.  I wonder if its possible to fit a baguette is a race vest?

  • I think I am going to stick with sausage rolls, some energy bars, and some gels, and some mixed fruit n nuts. With some sarnies n a choccie bar in drop bag. And mor sausage rolls for second half, oh and a pepperami stick or two...

    Going to try elete water for electrolytes, 


    see now I have said that already it sounds way to much!! 

  • No, that sounds about right.  I figure if I'm out for 12 hours I'm missing 2 or 3 meals, so need to eat that much plus running fuel.

  • Remember that you during the race cannot replace all the energy that you burn. You are bound to get stomach problems if you try. A rule of thumd I've heard from some ultra veterans is that the body can absorb roughly 300 kcal per hour. One gel + sports drink. But it is only a rule of thumb and there could be large variations between different runners. At ultras where I try to eat more frequently I usually run into "sugar strike" after 6-10 hours, meaning that the body refuses to swallow anything that tastes sweet. If I am more moderate with the intake, and also focuse more on non-sweet intake, then I avoid this.

    See my comment in the thread about this phenomena.

  • T RexT Rex ✭✭✭

    The important thing is never to let your stomach empty which is when serious nausea would set in and you would find it very difficult to keep anything down.  So start eating from the very first feed station.  Carry a couple of emergency bars and/or gels for legs with feed stations far apart, and a little of your own special food that you know you will be able to stomach.  For me that's dried fruit, peanuts, and malt loaf spread with Marmite (sounds vile but works).

    Anything over 50K distance I find I need proper food and continuing with only sweet gels and bars brings on the nausea. I find it also best not to take 'a bit of everything' at feed stations - you can end up feeling quite bilious -  aim for just one or two different things at each.  Feed stations usually have the same items on offer at each one.

    Never pass up hot food or drink if offered at certain CPs - usually at the halfway point of long ultras.  They restore you far more than cold food seems to.  Black tea is absolutely brilliant, and soup.

  • image

  • Don't know if useful, but a copy and quick edit from blog list of food I planned to take - and I've updated to what actually took and added what I picked up on route too - when I did a 21hr run of Centenary way Filey-York (mostly) unsupported recently. The day before the evening I set off I mostly loaded on pizza, not my usual/pref, as a bit salty, but with plenty of water worked well enough to fill up the stomach:

    What I carried:

    • A few Chia charge flapjacks: original (378 cals), banana (357 cals)
    • 9 bar: mixed-seeds (277 cals)
    • Clif Energy Bar: White Chocolate / Macademia nut - not tried, sounds nice (240 cals)
    • Sandwiches: savoury and sweet (500 cals)
    • Banana (~100 cals)
    • various other fruit (~100 cals)
    • Chocolate: milk/dark - the latter is particularly good for a boost (~300 cals)
    • 1 x Chia trail mix (160 cals)
    • Gel - for a sugar boost if things get really hard (100-200 cals)
    • And although its a drink I'll get about 80 cals from each 500ml mix of chia charge, I probably got through 3 or maybe 4 bottles of this.
    • Usually 1/4 a rich tea biscuit with the chia charge too

    Picked up

    • breakfast: big capri sun and cheese and ham slice (picked up at a 'One Stop' just after 6am). Both offered a nice variation from sweeter carb biscuits/flapjacks, etc.
    • when my mate joined me for last 30m+ in morning he provided some 'garage shop', defrosted that morning, jam donuts.

    I thought I'd post this as it goes to show the amount and variation of food I find best gets me through a long run. On the food disassociation or food for enjoyment debate I must admit I can eat for sake of eating and will eat something at regular intervals, but its nice to have something to look forward to, drives me on at tough moments.

    Jan - I know what you mean about the sugar strike, very good advice. How quick that comes on for me varies with effort too.

    T-rex - I very much agree its nice to have the hot food to look forward, I know a few events that offer on route and usually helps tick a box the cold, sweet stuff doesn't quite. Woldsman 50 event in my area always offers an indoor CP at halfway and a pasta in tomato or spicy tomato sauce. I'm a spice nut so have the the latter I find really restocks reserves , although I also have something sweet for a more immeadiate energy hit too. And in the above 'non-event' run, whilst not hot I even sought out some more 'normal' food (i.e. protein, carbs, fat in more balanced measures) at about halfway for breakfast.

  • I quite enjoy some of the Ella's Kitchen range of baby foods in those squeezy cartons. Favourite at the moment is banana brekkie, which is pretty much just pureed banana and rice, so has a pretty decent amount of carbs.


  • I also use baby food in place of gels.  Mango Baby Brekkie is my favourite! more details here
    Nakd Bars are also good, not too hard to chew and good flavours whilst something spicy such as Chilli Rice Crackers give a welcome change from the sweet stuff.

  • Just seen on Ebay that you can actually buy empty pouches, like the baby food come in, and then fill yourself with your own pureed mush!


  • mazeman wrote (see)

    Just seen on Ebay that you can actually buy empty pouches, like the baby food come in, and then fill yourself with your own pureed mush!


    I just bought some of these:

    They're a really soft and pliable rubbery type material, so easy to squeeze, but hardwearing and reusable.

    I'm intending on filling them with a mixture of smooth peanut butter and coconut cream.

  • Thanks for all the info Drunken euphoria. Have a couple of Chia Charge sachets kicking around so think that may be my next thing to experiment with on a long run!

  • Drunken Euphoria - are the chia charge drinks "jelly-like" at all?  I've used chia seeds before and they go a little like frogspawn after they've been in water for 10 minutes or so.  Just wondering if they'll be ok in a regular drinks bottle, or whether it needs to have a wider mouthpiece to stop it getting clogged?

    I've ordered a starter pack from chia charge which includes a couple of sachets of the drink, some seeds and some trail mix.  I like the fact that they're sugar-free (or as close as it's possible to be).

    Still not sure whether my experiment of trying to fuel ultras mainly on fat and protein will work/is a good idea, but willing to try.

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