Yesterday I wrote about fasting as a method of training. Learning to eat before and during the run is another useful training technique.
Before I get to the details, I should note this training really only applies to ultrarunners. Most people should be able to run anything up to about 18-20 miles without any food. Even a marathon would require very little food, if any at all. Once you pass that marathon threshold, food becomes increasingly important as distance increases.
Many runners hit a point during a race where they simply cannot stomach any food. Either they don’t have an appetite or the taste/smell of food makes the nauseous. As a result, they stop eating. This leads to a glycogen/depletion crash. This often leads to a DNF.
The solution is simple- train to eat.
This is what I do. Approximately once every two or three weeks, I’ll eat a fairly large meal about 30 minutes before a long run. My preferred meal is a Quarter-Pounder extra value meal. If you’re fast food-averse, any food will work… just make sure it’s voluminous. On the same run, eat something about every 30 minutes. I’d shoot for 100 calories in the beginning, and slowly work up to 200-300 on subsequent runs. I like to experiment with the actual food to help figure out what foods I can tolerate. As the distance increases, your tastes will likely change.
This is invaluable information as it will help you pack drop bags for future ultras. Eventually you’ll probably find a few foods that work in all situations. I always like to have these foods on-hand in races. My all-purpose foods are:
- Chia seeds,
- Turkey and cheese sandwiches,
- Mashed potatoes.
I can eat all four in any condition (i.e.- they never make me nauseous).
The key to this training is to go slow. If you feel like vomiting (which is normal in the beginning), slow down to a walk. Speed up when you feel better.
So what exactly are the benefits of this training?
- Appears to help teach your body to digest food better while running, which allows you to consume more calories per hour if and when it’s needed
- Teaches you which foods you can tolerate while running
- Teaches you the skill of physically putting food in your mouth while moving
- Allows you to occasionally indulge in foods with little guilt (important for my foodie friends)
- Helps you develop a feel for how much you can eat and still perform well (too little = crash, too much = nausea)
I’d put this specific training method in the category of “unorthodox.” However, it is effective. When I started running, I couldn’t even eat a gel. Now I could consume a Thanksgiving dinner. This specific skill is easy to develop and has become a relative strength in races. I found it’s usually better to eat too little instead of too much, but I know I can quickly and easily recover from a caloric-deficit if needed. It’s a handy tool to have in the toolbox.
Does anyone else train to eat on runs? What are your experiences?