Eating on the run – Biggest nutrition mistakes

“It’s an eating competition”

That’s what Sensei Vize said to me after the North Face 100 this year. Yep, it sure is I thought as I lay there light-headed and completely smashed on the sofas in the hallway of the Fairmont resort. I’d barely eaten a thing for the last 60kms of the race and had suffered severe stomach cramps for the best part of around 75kms of the race too.

Your truly at Old Ford Reserve (CP3) at this year’s North Face having gone out a little too hard and feeling the pace somewhat 🙂

I’m still not exactly sure what happened to be honest. I have my nutrition for races pretty much battened down to a tee and I’m a fairly simple chap in this regard. Bottles of Perpetuem, some gels and then maybe the odd bit of solid food towards the latter stages. But for some reason, along Narrowneck my stomach just wasn’t playing ball that day. I mainly put it down to going out too hard – that’s generally the cause I feel. The same thing happened at the Great Ocean Walk 100 in October last year too.

So in short, it happens to us all and it’s probably the one thing that even the elites will still struggle with from time to time too. We can nail our gear selection, do the training… but on the day nutrition can go out the window. In light of this we ran a competition recently in conjunction with Hammer Australia to win some seats to the table of a seminar being given by the godfather of all things food and drink in races, Steve Born. We had some great entries, so thought it only fair that we shared these with you as well!

Stephen Bowers sent us this one that made us smile and is a good learning for us… Don’t make up your race drinks too early! “My worst mistake was for my first marathon. I read all the literature as you do and mixed up my sports drinks and put them in the right boxes all decorated so I could spot them on the course. Trouble was the bottles I used were not sterile enough and I also made the drink up too many days before. When I eventually opened the bottles at the stations, they went hiss. They had fermented in the bottles and I missed out on a few drinks. I suffered from real bad cramps but I was so over the moon finishing my first marathon. Looking back now it was a pretty stupid mistake.”

Jeremy Gordon did what probably all of us have done at some point or another and that’s do something completely new for a race, “I once did a 100 km MTB ride and blew up completely by 70 KMS. the night before the race I went to the expo area and was taken by some new chews that had just been launched by a gel company.I thought the chew packet was the equivalent of 6 gels and thought they would last me the race ( I expecting a time between 6-7 hours) Turned out they were similar to one gel or equivalent. Needless to say I suffered big time and DNF’d.”

Oli Zambon is probably well-known to quite a few of you guys too as one of the lads at the pointy end of the field. But as we said, even the top guys can make the odd mistake here and there and Oli did a very similar thing to Jeremy above, “My biggest nutrition mistake would have been at Stromlo 12hr in February. I decided to use Gu Roctane instead of Perpetuem, thinking it would be more convenient to carry gels rather than mix Perpetuem through the night. However I hadn’t used Roctane for over six months and it soon became clear that my stomach no longer liked it. The rest of the long night was marked by severe stomach discomfort, a lot of wasted time running to the bathroom, and eventually, dehydration and ‘depletion’ from several hours of being unable to assimilate sufficient water and nutrients. I felt pretty awful during and after the race and my recovery took much longer than from any other race I have done.

“Lesson learnt: trial any new nutrition plans before racing with it, and if that is not possible, stick with what I know!! (Even if it takes a couple of extra minutes to mix it!)”
However one of our favourites comes from Jason Montford, “My biggest mistake was a few years ago in a Half Ironman race. In the past I’d had a few low-grade cramping issues that ha robbed me of a little time in races, so I was looking to rectify this. At the time there was a bit of promotion of the concept of Magnesium Loading to help prevent this.The idea was to take quite a high dose of magnesium that built up over a week. I can’t remember the number exactly, but it was much higher than the typical recommendations for athletes, with highest doses at days 1 & 2 before the race. Concerns regarding having ‘too much’ were allayed with the advice that your body would just eliminate any excess. That is where the main problem was.

No problems during the week. I felt fantastic the night before and even race morning. The swim went well, the first half of the bike was good, but in the last portion of the bike my guts started doing back flips and causing a lot of pain. I suffered through it and got onto the run.

Ughhhh… we’ve all been there!

Well the next 21.1km run was when my body decided to eliminate all that excess magnesium. Bouts of abdo pain resulted me in making stops at every single port-a-loo on the course. Sometimes after getting just a couple hundred meters up the road I was forced to return back to the toilet. The magnesium drew a massive amount of water back into my intestines that quickly made its way out of me.

Over that 21.1km I think I made 18 toilet stops. The dehydration and resultant electrolyte disturbance took a bit of getting over.

So as we can see, we all mistakes… be it trialing a new type of food in a race or not getting the mix of our liquids wrong before a race. If you have any stories that you’d like to share with us, please feel free in the comments section. Also, we’ll be running another competition in a month or two to win some more tickets to Steve’s seminar when we arrives in Australia.
*The declaration bit: The competition we run was via our sponsor Hammer Nutrition who supplied the prizes.
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Dan on Twitter
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

24 thoughts on “Eating on the run – Biggest nutrition mistakes

  1. Good review. Perpetuem is a great product but I’ve heard many athletes struggle with it on hot days. (I believe the official advice is to also take Heed on hot days.) I’m going to stick to the ultra buffet.

  2. I found out in an Ultra in W.A a few weeks back that even simply trying new flavours of a product you have used a number of times can cause your stomach to get cross with you. I have a bit of a knack for ending up trying new nutrition on race day for various reasons like finding out i’d need some form of protein for a longer race, and running out of gels pre race so having to borrow gels from a mate. I’m new to this ultra running and always learning so much from every race. It’s great reading all the news and info on this site, it helps out runners like me a lot! Cheers!!

  3. In 2003, I did the Warrumbungles marathon in 5:22. Why so slow? I’d read on their website that there would be bananas at each drink station, so I thought “Great! I don’t need to carry any food!”. To my surprise on arrival at the first drink station, they were banana lollies (i.e. yellow candy shaped like a banana) and I don’t eat refined, processed junk…so I was racing on water through the steep trails. I hit 20km feeling great but soon after started feeling heavy in the legs. By 25km I wanted to sit down every single step but knew I had to get to the 30km drink station to get any help. I continued to degrade all the way up the long hill to 30km, almost staggering as I was aware my foot placement wasn’t precise. I also had blurred vision when I looked down, which I did often because I really just wanted nothing more than to sit down. At 30km, I had an orange from one of the drink station volunteers, lay in a space blanket in the shade for 15 minutes, and then got up and ran sub-5 minute kms to the finish! What a difference some food makes! Burning fat in the absence of carbs is a terrible ordeal, but burning fat in the presence of a small amount of carbs is easy peasy in comparison. Race nutrition has to work with our physiology. There’s no way around that.

  4. I used to cramp predictably at around 3hrs or 30-35km into an ultra, first one calf, then the other.
    Once I started eating celery before races, I haven’t had a calf cramp since in over 3 years.
    Once I started including leafy green salads and celery in my regular diet for an abundance of minerals, I found I don’t even need celery during most of my races because my body has enough minerals stored. For 100 mile races I still find a few stalks of celery hits the spot. They’re lightweight, stay fresh, taste salty and juicy and best of all can be stuffed in my pants for easy access 🙂

      1. Geez, you’d wanna be careful with peanut butter covered celery down your pants, and be careful where you throw that banana – they bruise quite easily. (People might just think you’re happy to see them!)

      1. It’s good to see hammer putting some focus on the healthier qualities of food but what makes you think they are 100% raw?
        The website says:
        70%-90% Raw, non GMO, 100% vegetarian, Gluten-Free, non dairy organic Belgian Dark Chocolate (Chocolate Chip flavor)
        They also contain organic brown rice protein which wouldn’t be raw either.

        Everyone eats food they consider tasty. If only that was all that mattered 🙂

      2. Raw, organic and vegan are 3 qualities I look for in food, but I also like it whole, fresh and ripe. I’m happiest racing on fruit with a little veg in the long ones. I appreciate knowing more about the bars to inform others looking for better options.

  5. That black shoe in the right-hand-side of the first photo belongs to yours truly. And by God were you suffering at that CP Dan! It was really impressive to see you get up pretty promptly and keep moving though, regardless of how the race might have finished for you.
    Cya at Flinders’ perhaps?

  6. Tried Perpetuem for the first time recently. Wasn’t a race but we were running the GNW. Both Spud and I went through near a full tub each in the 63+hrs we were out there. I was impressed with how well it sat and didn’t have any nausea or energy flat spots (suffered the inevitable fatigue but that was just sleep deprivation). Went the strawberry as I can’t take caffeine although I would prefer the chocolate if it were caffeine free.

    1. Perpetuem is the diesel engine of nutrition. It’s ideal for that medium level constant power output, if you feel the need to spice it up add a gel here and there. Easy.

  7. Not directly nutrition, but on the supplement front at a very humid Trailwalker Hong Kong last year I thought “if one SaltStick pill an hour is good for you, clearly three pills must be better”. Learned in a hard way that one can overdose on electrolytes. Should have RFTM instead. Now just one every 90 mins and I’m all good. Also a happy camper with Perpetuem, although have been using Vitargo for the last couple months, but considering to head back to Hammer. In terms of bars, enjoying ProBar and Vega bars.

  8. Hi guys
    How do you carry and mix your Perpetuem bottles during a 100km+ race? Do you mix with cold water at the aid stations and shake as you go? Or do you freeze pre-prepared 4-hour bottles?

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