I once polled the members of the Internet ultramarathon list regarding their food preferences. Bear in mind that ultradistance events last from five hours to six days. These folks have time while racing to sit down and enjoy a meal.
Briefly, here are the results of my poll:
Pretzels, chicken broth, glucose, cookies, saltine crackers, bananas, Rice Krispy Treats, Fig Newtons, turkey or chicken or peanut butter sandwiches, chicken noodle and other soups, pancakes, Dinosaurs and X-Men fruit snacks, brownies, omelettes, bagels, raisins, Tiger Bars, chewy chocolate chip granola bars, orange slices, muesli bars, quarter-pound sticks of butter consumed plain, Cliff bars, Gorp (dry roasted peanuts, M&Ms, raisins, granola), rice pudding, shredded chicken, potato chips, cottage cheese, cheese, pudding, watermelon…
Ice water, Superfood, Rocket Juice, fruit juice with added electrolytes, Coke, Mountain Dew, Amazake rice drink, defizzed soda, tea, beer, Carboplex and fruit juice, Ensure, chicken noodle soup, a smoothie made of apple-rasberry juice, bananas, ground walnuts, and sesame seeds, Darjeeling tea, Cytomax blended with bananas, Body Cooler…and, well, okay, some folks take Gatorade straight, while others mix it with Snapple (Mango Madness flavor) or Mangoplex.
If your weaknesses are Dots and Raisinettes, you’re probably a 10-K runner. By the way, one wag on the ultra list defined an ultrarunner as someone who signs up for a 10K and brings potatoes and salt, drinks from a water bottle at the dinner table, and prizes the mold in the water bottle as a valued source of electrolytes. Responding to my poll, another runner exulted: “We’ll make a big GU-wrapper flag and call ourselves Sugar Nation.”
In Sugar Nation, we honor diversity. We’re inclusive. We even include the runner who reported, “My preferred pre-ultra breakfast (about one hour before start time) consists of fried pork skins and strong coffee with no sugar added.” He won’t find much to graze on at my personal breakfast table, but he’s welcome to share my M&Ms.
The number of running fuels seems bounded only by human imagination. Runners continue to push back our knowledge of what the body can endure:
“In fact, I got the idea of making my own “gel” from Steve and friends. They are a bit more precise in proportions and amounts than I am – I just blend it to taste:
- a protein source, either egg, or tofu, or liver (I used elk this year)
- carbohydrate source makes the bulk of the mixture – roughly equal amounts of rice and sweet potato
- avocado, not guacamole (i.e., hold the garlic, cayenne, and lemon juice)
“Blend it in a food processor, adding enough water to make it nice and thin. Pack it in reusable plastic squeeze tubes.
“It works quite well for me, and for everyone I’ve shared the recipe with. The liver scares many people away, but it’s a small component of the mix, and if it’s thin enough, you can squeeze and swallow and not really have to taste it.” — Kirk Apt
“During the hill after Oriflamme, I made a miraculous recovery. I estimate I ate 5000 calories during this race (Lost Boys 50-Mile), had 20 Advils and 20 salt tablets. Here is what I ate — 4 power pancakes, 8 pierogies, a huge bag of those mixed chips they had, 10 packets of gels, a vanilla zinger, yogurt peanuts, 2 cans of Ensure, a poptart, 14 bottles of my Crank drink mix, and a bagel. After the run I ate a piece of pizza that was “dashboard cooked” in my van and a Subway sandwich. When I told you I had a fast metabolism, I wasn’t lying….
“[After the race] I made it to Carl’s Jr. and ate a double Western bacon X#@$%&*-burger to make up for some of the 8 pounds I lost during the race, and now I feel good. I will now rest, stretch and have liver and kidney detoxifiers all week so I can destroy my body again next week when I run the whole AC course in 3 days with the LA crew then run 3 ultras in 3 weeks after that.” — Dan Stumpus
“I ran ultra distances for nearly 10 years before i owned my first water bottle. My first ultra-distance training run was 33 miles. It took right at 6 hours, and i stopped once for a drink; at a friend’s house at the 22 mile mark. (Then i drank about 2 6-paks of beer at the end.) One of my best training runs was 93 miles. I stopped at stores, for a dr pepper & a snickers, 5 times in the first 64 miles (covered in 12:14). Then i stopped at a bar to watch a football game and drink a bunch of beer. Afterwards i covered the last 30 miles with 2 dr pepper stops. Save the races for racing. Use training to do stuff (and go places) you wouldn’t get to do (or go) in a race.” — lazarus lake