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  • Writer's pictureErin Colebatch

YOUR results: Uncover the secrets to race-ready nutrition and hydration!

Updated: Feb 4


Building on my recent blog post, "Is your nutrition and hydration race ready?", I'm excited to share insights from the online survey conducted within the Ultra Appetites community. This survey has uncovered a wealth of information that is essential for all aspiring racers.


Within the data, you'll find common threads highlighting areas that require some extra TLC, while also celebrating the satisfaction many of you feel with your current practices. I will discuss your results alongside my observations in practice and evidence from research. Gear up, this is a long one but with so many insights it is a pivotal read to elevate your running performance!



Background


Before we dive into the survey results, let's set the stage. It's crucial to understand that this survey is entirely subjective, based solely on your personal opinions and perceptions. This means that while some of you may feel you are doing well in certain areas, the reality may differ. Conversely, areas where you thought you were falling short might hold pleasant surprises.


This survey was completed by the wider Ultra Appetites community, with many of you following along via social media and emails but a select group who have received dietetics input. This means the level of exposure to expert nutrition advice and support is unknown, however it is likely that many respondents have not worked with a sports nutrition expert before.


The number of people who completed the survey is 18 for the first 10 questions and 10 for the final question. The reason for less responses to the final question regarding confidence in race nutrition and hydration was due to me adding the last question after the initial survey went out. Confidence breeds success in sport, hence I added this question as another way to help evaluate whether you were race ready. Ok, formalities over, let's get into it!


Question 1: Are you consuming enough calories to support your training without risking injury or chronic fatigue?


without risking injury or chronic fatigue?

Underfuelling exercise occurs when your nutritional intake falls short of the requirements both before and during physical activity. This concept also encompasses a condition known as low energy availability, which arises when the calories or kilojoules consumed fail to meet the daily energy needs for both daily living and training. Prolonged low energy availability can lead to a condition called Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S), which can significantly impair athletic performance and have adverse effects on your health.


Disturbingly, statistics show that around 40% of female athletes and recreationally active individuals are at risk of low energy availability, with distance runners being particularly susceptible due to various factors. In my practice, I frequently encounter runners who are underfuelling, especially when it comes to carbohydrates, especially in the context of training. While some runners might consume an adequate number of calories throughout the day, the timing of nutrients may not adequately support performance and recovery.


If you're not experiencing chronic fatigue or injury, it may seem like you're doing okay, but these symptoms often manifest when your body can no longer tolerate inadequate fuelling. However, there can be more subtle signs, or sometimes none at all, which can be a slippery slope towards more significant problems if not addressed promptly. For those of you who are uncertain or suspect that you might not be consuming enough calories to fuel your training properly, it's essential to conduct a fuel check to ensure your health and performance remain at their peak!



Question 2: Do you strategically time your nutrient intake to optimise recovery and performance?



It's encouraging to know that a significant number of athletes feel confident about their nutrient timing to enhance recovery and performance. However, in my practical experience, I often encounter athletes who fall short in terms of nutrient intake before, during, and after exercise. This deficiency tends to be more prevalent among athletes facing high training loads, consecutive training sessions, or those who restrict their dietary intake for various reasons, including body fat reduction or experiencing gastrointestinal issues during exercise.

If you happen to be one of these athletes, prioritising the development of a regimen that ensures the right nutrients at the right times should be at the top of your list. This approach is essential for anyone seeking to maximise their enjoyment, sustain long-term engagement, and achieve peak performance in their sport.


Question 3: Are you fuelling adequately with the right nutrients for recovery, especially after back-to-back training sessions?



It's reassuring to know that many of you are confident in your ability to properly fuel back-to-back training sessions. Mastering this aspect of your regimen is vital, as it ensures you enter the second session with the necessary fuel and hydration levels to enhance performance and facilitate recovery and training adaptations.


However, in my practical experience, I've frequently observed athletes falling short when it comes to consuming sufficient carbohydrates and fluids prior to their subsequent training sessions, especially after intense or extended workouts. This gap in nutrition often stems from a lack of awareness regarding nutritional requirements, reduced post-workout appetite, or efforts to trim body fat. Achieving the right balance is paramount to meet the demands of your training and to ward off potential negative effects on both your health and performance.


The good news is that there exist numerous strategies to overcome these barriers and ensure that you optimise your recovery between back-to-back sessions. By doing so, you'll position yourself to perform at your very best in every training session.


Question 4: Do you manage your diet and lifestyle choices (like caffeine and screen-time) to promote restful sleep?



Inadequate sleep can have detrimental effects on an athlete's performance, immunity, and overall well-being, significantly elevating the risk of injuries, illnesses, stress, and heightened pain perception. Worryingly, as many as 78% of athletes contend with sleep-related problems, and a quarter of them grapple with severe issues. Prioritising ample, high-quality sleep, however, can yield tangible benefits in the form of improved reaction times, enhanced accuracy, and better endurance performance.


In our fast-paced modern world, it's no surprise that many of you might feel you're not managing your sleep optimally. One prevailing issue I consistently observe among athletes I work with is excessive screen time, which profoundly affects sleep patterns. The good news is that there are often straightforward measures you can implement to make a significant impact on improving your sleep. This isn't just about enhancing race performance; it's also about embracing a healthier, happier life.


Question 5: Have you personalised and practiced your race day nutrition and hydration plan?



It's truly commendable to see that many of you believe your race plans have been tailored to your needs and finely tuned. For seasoned athletes, this level of personalisation is expected and should indeed be a well-established practice. However, novice athletes must recognise the importance of not only focusing on training to enhance their performance but also on crafting a race-specific nutrition and hydration strategy.


Often, runners fall into the trap of sticking with a plan that worked for them once, only to encounter inconsistent results in subsequent races. The key insight here is that every race should have its unique nutrition and hydration plan, meticulously practiced in the months leading up to the big day. This approach ensures that you are well-prepared and can perform at your best when it matters most.


Question 6: Are you aware of how the intensity, duration and conditions of your race affect your nutrition and hydration needs?



It's heartening to know that many of you feel confident in your understanding of the ever-evolving nutrition and hydration needs for various races. Indeed, each race presents unique demands, influenced by factors such as duration, intensity, weather conditions, and other variables. Regrettably, as previously mentioned, a significant number of athletes tend to overlook these crucial aspects in their race preparation.


Common areas where attention often falls short include effectively managing heat-related challenges, adapting fluid intake to changing conditions, and neglecting the logistical aspects of race planning. These nuances can profoundly impact your performance, making it vital to consider them comprehensively as part of your race strategy.


Question 7: Do you have a successful carb-loading plan that maximises energy without causing discomfort?



It's quite common for athletes to express uncertainty about the concept of carb loading, and this doesn't come as a surprise. In my experience, I've rarely encountered an athlete who has mastered the art of carb loading without the guidance of an Accredited Sports Dietitian. Many athletes have a limited understanding of the requirements for effective carbohydrate loading and the precise selection of foods and fluids needed to maximise fuel stores ahead of a race.


This knowledge gap represents a significant missed opportunity, as proper carb loading can potentially lead to performance gains of 2-3% over a set distance. Achieving successful carb loading is both a science and a culinary art. When executed correctly, it becomes a powerful tool to bolster your energy reserves, enabling you to maintain a strong and steady pace all the way to the finish line.


Question 8: Have you figured out the right balance of carbohydrates for taste, convenience and performance?


Carbohydrates reign supreme as the most crucial nutrient for endurance performance. As race duration extends, our muscle glycogen stores, the primary source of carbohydrate fuel, gradually deplete, leaving us with less available energy. The amount of carbohydrates you require hinges primarily on exercise duration and intensity, although external factors like weather conditions can also influence your needs.


In a general, endurance athletes should aim to consume between 30-90 grams of carbohydrates per hour for events lasting 45-75 minutes or longer. However, research consistently reveals that the majority of runners fall below the upper threshold, often consuming as little as 20-40 grams of carbohydrates per hour. My clinical experience aligns with these findings, as athletes often struggle to meet their fueling needs. Common culprits include a lack of knowledge about proper fuelling levels and gastrointestinal issues that make it challenging to ingest sufficient fuel.


The survey results indicate that many of you are grappling with the intricacies of carbohydrate consumption during races. Even those who believe they have it right may need to fine-tune their approach more than they realise. This is a substantial area of focus in my practice, where I work closely with athletes to boost their fuel intake while mitigating the risk of unpleasant gastrointestinal problems, ensuring they have the optimal fuel reserves necessary for peak performance.


Question 9: Do you have a hydration strategy tailored to your sweat rate and sodium loss during long runs?



It's a rarity to come across a runner who has taken the time to thoroughly assess their fluid and sodium requirements, and the survey results corroborate this trend. More often than not, these critical aspects are treated as an afterthought, if they are considered at all. Keep in mind that both fluid and sodium needs are highly individual, dependent on race conditions and personal factors.


As a general guideline, ultra endurance athletes should aim to consume approximately 450-750 milliliters of fluid per hour. Studies among runners have demonstrated average fluid intakes of 400-450 milliliters per hour, which may suffice at a slower pace in cooler conditions but are likely insufficient at a faster pace or in warmer climates. In my practical experience, many runners do not adequately practice hydrating during their training sessions, often falling short of what they might need for actual races. This underestimation of fluid needs can elevate the risk of gastrointestinal problems if they suddenly increase fluid intake during a race.


Currently, it is theoretically known that athletes competing in endurance events longer than 4-6 hours should give some consideration to sodium replacement. The suggested sodium intake for endurance athletes is in the range of 300-600 milligrams per hour to reduce the risk of hyponatremia (low sodium levels). However, observations in mountain runners show sodium intakes as low as 140 milligrams per hour, which falls significantly below the recommended levels. Given the limited availability of evidence-based guidelines in this area, it's unsurprising that most athletes who completed this survey were unsure about their sodium requirements.


Question 10: Are you using supplements and sports foods effectively and safely to enhance your performance?



Sports foods and supplements can indeed play a role in an athlete's nutrition strategy. These products have the potential to bolster recovery, enhance performance, and promote overall well-being. In my professional practice, a significant portion of my time is devoted to assisting athletes in the appropriate use of supplements.


It's important to emphasise that, more often than not, there is substantial room for improvement in an athlete's sports nutrition practices before delving into the realm of supplements. Frequently, my efforts involve helping athletes streamline their supplement intake by removing products that are unlikely to provide any tangible benefits, essentially saving them both money and potential health risks.


Nonetheless, there are specific supplements that can offer substantial advantages, particularly for endurance athletes, with caffeine standing at the forefront of the list. Caffeine can prove highly beneficial when used strategically before or during competition. Surprisingly, many endurance athletes, such as mountain runners and triathletes, are likely missing out on the performance enhancements achievable through effective caffeine supplementation, as the average intake hovers around 15 milligrams of caffeine per hour.


Question 11: How confident are you that your nutrition and hydration is race ready?



There is a strong correlation between high self-confidence and athletic success. For those athletes who responded to this question with a lack of confidence regarding their nutrition and hydration strategies for racing, it's important to recognise that this lack of confidence could be holding back your performance.


By dedicating time and effort to refine every aspect of your nutrition and hydration plan for racing, you can significantly boost your confidence. This not only ensures that you have a solid foundation for optimal performance but also empowers you with the self-assurance needed to excel in your races.


Total score: Is your nutrition and hydration race ready?



In this survey, I assigned scores ranging from 8 to 11 for athletes whose nutrition and hydration strategies appear race-ready, scores of 5 to 8 for those making progress but not quite there, and scores below 5 for those who have substantial room for improvement. While it's important to note that these scores aren't directly correlated with future race performance, they do offer athletes an insightful gauge of the areas that may require attention to ensure they are race-ready.


The survey may not constitute formal research, but the results undeniably reveal that there is work to be done for many participants. Combining these findings with responses to previous questions provides a clear picture of the areas that likely demand the most focus. It's crucial to recognise that an athlete's self-assessment may not always align with best practices, highlighting the ongoing potential for improvement in race nutrition and hydration.


For those in pursuit of peak performance, achieving 100% readiness with your race nutrition and hydration is pivotal. This aspect forms the cornerstone of my work with athletes striving for significant running and health objectives. The feedback I regularly receive echoes sentiments like "I no longer stress about my race nutrition and hydration because I have a well-practiced plan that supports my optimal performance." These athletes have honed their nutrition, hydration, and supplement strategies from the very start of their training journey through to the finish line.


Stay tuned for an upcoming update to this blog, which will feature survey results from athletes who have completed the Distance Runners Performance Academy!


And here's an exciting opportunity for you: If you're seeking expert guidance, motivation, and accountability from a sports nutrition specialist who shares your passion for running, I'd love to chat with you. Let's discuss how we can overcome any obstacles in your race-ready nutrition and hydration plan and gear you up for your best race yet!


📅 Click HERE to book a complimentary Performance Strategy Call with me. Together, we'll pave the way for your racing success!


References


Dweck CS 2007, ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’, Updated Edition. Ballantine Books.


Jeukendrup, A 2014, 'A step towards personalized sports nutrition: Carbohydrate intake during exercise', Sports Med, vol. 44, pp. 25–33.


Jiminez-Alfageme et al 2024, 'Are the Dietary–Nutritional Recommendations Met? Analysis of Intake in Endurance Competitions', Nutrients, vol. 16, iss. 2, 189; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu16020189.


Logue DM et al 2019, 'Screening for risk of LEA in athletic and recreationally active females in Ireland', Eur J Sports Science, vol. 19, iss. 1, pp. 112-122.


Nikolaidis, P.T. et al. 2018, 'Nutrition in ultra-endurance: State of the art', Nutrients, vol.10, pp. 1995.


Sawka, M.N.et al 2007, 'ACSM Position Stand. Exercise and fluid replacement', Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. vol. 39, pp. 377–390.


Tiller, N.B. et al 2019, 'International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Nutritional considerations for single-stage ultra-marathon training and racing', J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. vol. 16, pp. 50.


Walsh, NP et al 2020, "Sleep and the athlete: narrative review and 2021 expert consensus recommendations". Br. Med. J. Online ahead of print. PMID: 33144349

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