Posted 18th February 2021
Fuelling for sport can be hard. You need to make sure you are eating enough to perform and recover optimally, whilst balancing it with food quality and meal timing to ensure you are obtaining the correct nutrients at the right time. This can be made even harder with different diet trends, conflicting “expert” advice and individual allergies, intolerances or lifestyle choices that avoid certain food groups. In the current world of sports nutrition, there are lots of fuelling products available, but they often have ingredients which are unsuitable for many of the free-from community, leading them to be less of a help and more of a hindrance!
As a long-distance runner and personal trainer, I have tried and tested many different strategies and it is definitely true that no one size fits all when it comes to fuelling. After much trial and error, I have found what works best for me in terms of performance, digestibility and not to mention taste, all whilst following a predominantly plant-based diet. I’m going to tell you a bit about my personal nutrition for long-distance running and an achievement I am pretty proud of!
After completing the London Marathon in 2019 I was on an absolute high; I loved every minute of it! I decided to challenge myself further by completing an ultramarathon. An ultramarathon is any distance greater than marathon distance, which is 26.2 miles or 42.195 km.
I had already seen lots of running friends taking part in them and there seemed to be a buzz on social media. With 42 km under my belt, I figured 8km more wouldn’t be too bad! I had my eye on a certain event which conveniently fell on my birthday in July; what better way to celebrate?!
Race to the Stones is a 100km route along Britain’s oldest path down in Oxfordshire, following the historic trail past Uffington White Horse and Barbury Castle before reaching the iconic ancient Stone Circle at Avebury. You can do the full 100km in one day, 100km in 2 days with an overnight stopover, or do 50km on day 1 or day 2. I thought I may as well go the whole hog and do the 100km with the stopover to recover!
During my training, unfortunately, I ended up with achilles tendinopathy meaning my ability to run the longer distances was impacted. I contacted the events team and decided to drop down to the day 1 50km event instead of the whole 100km. However, with my overall increased running mileage, combined with strength training and active lifestyle as a PT I knew I needed to fuel adequately. More importantly, post-workout nutrition needed to ensure recovery and aid in my Achilles rehab.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel source and I knew I needed lots of these! Bagels and bananas were my go to’s for London marathon and I was more than happy to use the training as an excuse to eat more! Any nut butter fans out there will also know how good the PB and banana combo is! Protein is key for muscle repair and along with legumes, tofu, and meat substitutes, I like to stick to a plant-based protein powder which I add to oats, shakes and baked goods!
In the few days leading up to the event, I increased my carbohydrate intake slightly to increase glycogen storage (known as “carb loading”). The night before the event I was staying with a friend, who had kindly cooked a veggie mince, bolognese, with wholewheat spaghetti; this was just what I need; protein, carbohydrates and micronutrients, whilst also being meat-free! And with plenty of products available, you can opt for gluten-free pasta if you need to or use lentils instead of soya mince if you are intolerant to soy. I could barely sleep due to a mixture of anxiety and excitement. I had done all the preparation I could but it was still the fear of the unknown. Run kit laid out, hydration and nutrition sorted, route vaguely studied; I just hoped for the best and wanted to enjoy it!
The morning of the race was sunny but cool initially. With my start time of 7:30 am it was ideal as I knew it would soon heat up in the July sunshine and it gave me enough time for breakfast!
Again, I went for my trusty cinnamon and raisin bagel with the winning combination; half with jam and half with peanut butter. This gives a good 50g of carbohydrates both slow release from the bagel and quick release from the raisins and jam. The peanut butter not only adds that tasty crunch we all adore, but it also contributes some fat for a slower release of energy. I also like my morning coffee and race day is no exception! Although, for those of you that suffer from digestive issues, caffeine may be one to avoid before a race…especially if there is a queue for the portaloos!
About half an hour before the start, I tucked into a banana; stereotypical runner staple but it works for me! I also had my hydration backpack filled with electrolytes to ensure sufficient fluid intake throughout, and a couple of my go-to snacks. These included 2 energy gels and a flapjack style bar. Again, I have tried many gels and many do not sit well! I like natural ones made with a dual carbohydrate source; my favourites are ones flavoured with beetroot, dates or cherry. Gels are great as they are easy to carry and consume, but they don’t work for everyone!
During these events, there are pitstops every 10km or so, meaning you can stock up on lots of different food and drink; there’s a reason many call it a running buffet! I didn’t stop but I had a quick glance at the food available. There was everything ranging from jelly babies, salted nuts and fresh fruit. I hear even the delights of a cheese and marmite sandwiches were served at one! If in doubt though, it’s best to do your research and take your own supplies so you can trust what you are consuming!
One of my favourite running snacks is my homemade flapjacks. These are a great little snack pre-run or on the go.
Basically, mix all the ingredients together and bake in the oven at 180 degrees for around 20 mins until golden. Adjust timing depending on how chewy or crispy you like your flapjack!
Admittedly, the last 10km were a struggle; it was hot and I could tell I was fatiguing but I was determined to finish. The flags of the basecamp were in sight and I dug deep as much as I could for the final stride (couldn’t call it a sprint) to the finish line. I was congratulated by the host over the megaphone and I collected my medal in a blur. A short trip to the medical tent was needed to pop a blister the size of golf ball on the side of my foot! After the reality had set in, I refuelled and took advantage of the fab showers on offer. Like many others, I find it difficult to eat straight away, but I know my body needs to replenish its carbohydrate stores and take on protein to aid in muscle recovery.
After the event the glory continued; it turns out I was actually the first female to cross the line and I was awarded a spectacular glass trophy. There was a bit of a delay as I had changed from the 100km to the 50km, but nonetheless, I received the recognition in the end and was delighted!
My time was 4 hours 32 minutes but that didn’t matter as much as the distance I had just covered. I had done it. I had completed an ultra marathon.
Rebecca Jackson - Retrain and Regain