By Annie Weiss MS RD
I woke up on September 29, 2018 with 80 miles left to complete my adventure. Three weeks prior, I set out to complete the entire Ice Age Trail, a National Scenic Trail that winds 1200 miles throughout Wisconsin. Working toward completion was my real life ‘Groundhog’s Day’…wake up at 6am, get ready, eat breakfast, and by 7am start running. Then eat, run, eat, run, maybe stretch, eat, run, run, eat. For the last 21 days, I spent all my time either running, eating, or recovering…which usually entailed more eating. And the number one question I received from followers… ‘how do you eat all that food???’ My response, ‘I just eat whatever sounds good because I know I have to get the calories in, otherwise I won’t get to the end.’
There are so many differences and considerations when it comes to fueling for single day versus multiday events. Here are my top 5 to ensure optimum performance:
- The multiday events, stage racing, or FKTs require a much higher need for calories compared to single day events.
I ate anywhere from 3500-4500 calories per day averaging 50 miles per day for 21 days and 18 hours. And it still wasn’t enough. I lost about 6 pounds during my journey – something you don’t want to happen because ultimately, when people lose weight in a short period of time, it’s water weight and muscle mass. I probably could have kicked up my calorie intake to 6000 calories per day and it would have been perfect. But in a single race day event for me, 3500 calories would have been okay. Just simply embrace all the food, or calories, to ensure you meet your goal.
- Fueling for multiday events requires a better balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat versus a single race which many only require carbohydrates.
The difference between a single race day and a stage/FKT event is that your body is at threshold during a race and sub-threshold during multiday events. This means that when you are at threshold in a single event, your most effective fuel is carbohydrates much more than any other nutrient. Simply put, your body is like a car, you need to fuel it with gasoline to run, just like you would your body. But when you do something massive for many days in a row, you must remember your body needs calories in the form of all macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Each macronutrient is used in a different way, either to provide energy to your brain and body or aid in the recovery process. The foods you use to meet those needs is up to you.
- Solid foods are key in multiday events when often, you can get by with only liquid calories in a one-day race.
Single day racing events are perfect opportunities to utilize liquid calories (EFS drink mix) or ‘gels’ (EFS Liquid Shot). They are easy on the stomach and are processed quickly to be used as fuel. When it comes to multiday events, you can still use liquid calories, but remember your body will be stressed for a long period of time and it’s key to not have muscle wasting occur. Fat can be used as another fuel source, and protein will aid in recovery as you move throughout the day. All three macronutrients should be part of your plan with carbohydrates being the main source of energy.
- Recovery is essential throughout the day and night in multiday events, whereas in single day races, recovery would only occur at the end of the race.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Plan to constantly be drinking pre, during, and post multiday racing. In a single race, you could potentially not hydrate enough but given the shorter length of activity, you may be okay to still finish well. With multiple days of racing high miles, it’s key to stay hydrated even when not moving; becoming dehydrated could potentially affect performance a few days in and not be seen right away until it’s too late! I recommend athletes combine calories and water together to maximize intake (EFS drink mix gets in calories and water!).
Keep in mind all bodies and racing conditions are different, but if you can master eating more calories, a balance of macronutrients throughout the day, solids and liquids, proper recovery, and drink water all day every day, you will be on the right track to successfully complete a multiday event!