Question: Several years ago, I heard Coach Fred talk about his participation in the Team Race Across America. He mentioned how he and his three teammates had planned to eat carbs but craved fat and even started wolfing down potato chips.
What’s the scoop on nutrition for ultras? Are fatty foods necessary? — Joe F.
Your memory is right. Fred and teammates Pete Penseyres, Skip Hamilton and Ed Pavelka ate bags of Lays Potato Chips on Team RAAM, along with many turkey and peanut butter sandwiches (usually not combined).
After a certain point in an ultra ride, carbohydrate goes through the digestive system so fast that your stomach feels hollow within an hour.
On the other hand, foods with ample protein and fat have a longer burn time that you can feel, both in satiety and energy release.
What we’ve learned in ultra cycling is that a normal diet works best for many riders — a mix of protein, carbohydrate and fat. If you crave it, eat it — and chips seem to fall into the craving category. Surely the salt is part of the reason.
Quite a few serious ultra riders try the liquid approach (Tailwind, Perpetuem, Ensure, Boost, etc.), but they often break down for a turkey sandwich sooner or later. It’s especially hard to go all-liquid without a support crew to help.
Probably the best info source on ultra nutrition is the Ultramarathon Cycling Association. The UMCA’s bimonthly magazine has included many nutrition articles.
Another source is Randonneurs USA, the U.S. sanctioning body for PBP and Boston-Montreal-Boston. RUSA’s newsletter has had nutrition articles geared toward brevets and the long randonnees.