Nutrition Strategies for Ultra Endurance Races

Nutrition Strategies for Ultra Endurance Races

Ultra marathons have become wildly popular in the last few years. What was once thought to be completely destructive to our physiology turns out to be otherwise. The human body is well adapted for these distances provided the individual ramps up their volume over years and not racing too frequently to allow plenty of time for recovery.

I had wrote an article previously touching on some of the basics of nutrition for long training days and longer races so I won't repeat myself, however I wanted to get an on hands account of what a Ultra marathon finisher would consume throughout a race.

Stefan Wieclawek, one half of the @yycbrosocr on instagram has recently completed the entire Sinister 7 100 mile relay and the 125km Death Race, and he's now gearing up to run the 108km Black Spur ultra this weekend in Kimberly. After having to drop out of Sinister 7 last year due to heat, and as a result the inability to get enough food in, he was determined this year to make sure his nutrition was on point and he didn’t make any mistakes.

There's a lot of talk recently in the ultra-endurance world of high fat diets and it’s starting to get a little confusing for athletes. You have someone like Zach Bitter on one end promoting high fat and then you have Courtney Dauwalter on the other end claiming to eat nothing but candy. If you read my work previously you know I am against lower carb approaches in shorter distance races (Marathon and under). I recommend reading the Endurance Diet by Matt Fitzgerald to get a good understanding of why I feel this way.  However, in ultra's due to the extended zone 1 zone 2 heart rate I'm ok with some experimentation in training. If you are just starting out and you’ve only be involved for a couple years I recommend trying a higher carb focus overall as I believe it is the safest bet and will yield the best results in the beginning. With time as you become more trained you can try lowering the carbs in your workouts. I always recommend listening to your body in a race and you may want to include more carbs here regardless. But don't expect carbs to work well for in a race if you never utilize them in training.

In terms of what you should eat leading up to the race. Dietary recommendations vary for everyone and as a result we didn't include what Stefan eats during the week. What you eat leading up to the race will be your biggest insurance policy in terms of crossing the finish line. Also practicing what you plan on doing in a race in your training is really important as well. If you are looking for personalize recommendations please contact me to set up a nutrition consultation.

I'll let Stefan take it away from here:

The week pre-race

  • Lots of greens, and an overall focus on natural foods.
  • I try to hit the same macros as I would on a normal training week but with a tapered level of activity.
  • No stimulants. Such as coffee or caffeinated teas. This helps increase the caffeine sensitivity for race day.
  • Addition of electrolytes if the forecast for race day looks warm.

Thursday (assuming a Saturday morning start)

  • I usually lay off the whey protein at this point and if I do a supplement, its with plant based proteins. They leave me with less of a bloated “protein gut” which helps me keep my appetite for a solid day of eating. 
  • I aim for 120% of a normal breakfast. This applies for the rest of my macros as well. (Typical go to is: ½ cup dry of oatmeal and three eggs, turkey bacon and spinach.)
  • Thursday is usually a travel day so I (by “I” I mean my girlfriend Linzee) will pack some good road snacks. A bit of beef jerky some homemade pancakes, almond butter and blueberries.
  • I try to focus on sipping water vs. chugging it and thoroughly chewing my food before swallowing it which helps enhance digestion.
  • I finish eating for the night roughly 12 hours before the start time for the race. This helps me to get solid a night sleep 2 nights in a row which is important for a longer race. In addition, I’ll be strict on other sleep hygiene habits such as wearing ear plugs and reading before bed without any screen time.


  • Wake up at roughly the same time I would on race morning. Similar breakfast as the day before adding a glass of Pure tart cherry juice (Reduce inflammation the day before a race). Again NO COFFEE.
  • Similar breakfast as the day before I ussually add some almond butter and hemp hearts to my oatmeal. Still focusing on 120% of my normal macros. As well I try to go a little lighter on the fiber.
  • I aim to eat every 2 hours. Lots of dark greens but no cruciferous veggies.
  • I include a 30 minute easy run with some last minute tests on race food before I start. I may even start running while I’m still chewing to get my mind ready for this the next day.
  • Lots of water, while limiting the exposure in the sun and add electrolytes throughout the day.
  • Like Thursday, I finish dinner about 12hrs before race start.
  • Pre-cook oatmeal for the morning so I can get up and start eating right away.

RACE MORNING – 7am Start

I get up at 5am, head right to the kitchen table and eat 1 cup dry of oatmeal, mashed banana, blueberries, maple syrup and almond butter. I then sip water for the next couple hours while I go through my race prep kit and plan with my crew (This can be a whole other article in and of itself). 30 minutes before the race I’ll have half a bagel with more almond butter on it then take a big crap.


Ok, so the general plan is to consume 250-280 calories per hour for the duration of the race as well as 500ml of water. There is no question that as the race goes on my appetite drastically decreases and I go through food cravings like a high school girl goes through boyfriends. The complexity of the food I eat also decreases.

With these things in mind this is how I handle my race nutrition:

  • Eat, on average, more in the first half than I do in the last half to adjust for the expected decrease in appetite.
  • Eat more fat early in the race, this helps to sustain my energy levels later into the day/night when my diet is simpler and predominantly carbohydrate based.
  • Foods I’ll eat early in the race at transition areas include homemade waffles and pancakes with maple syrup and almond butter as well as banana bread. My crew will have these ready in a tray with some watermelon. I try to have ~800 calories ready to eat as I transition. Again, this number drops drastically towards the end of the race.
  • Foods I’ll eat On Course early in the race include homemade oatmeal cookies, peanut butter balls, small pancakes. Everything is pre-made ahead of time and I’m well aware of the macros. I also try to drink water when I’m consuming these items as they can be a little dry and I do not want anything sitting in my throat while I’m racing.
  • I’ve previously tried mixing calories into my water, such as Vitargo, but I find most of the race, separating your food and water works best. Drink your fluids, eat your calories. Everyone is different so it’s all about trial and error.
  • As the race progresses to and beyond the mid point I start to pre-mix bottles of PVL Gameade to supplement with at transition areas for a small top up of aminos and an electrolyte boost. I also may take some vitamins to supplement some the nutrients I’m not able to eat at transition areas or on Course.
  • The weather and temperature will have a bit of influence on what I eat when too. Generally if its warmer, I switch to saltier foods earlier and making sure to take electrolytes more frequently. Be careful not to overdo this. Listen to your body and pay attention to swelling.
  • As the race progresses into the later stages, I start to change up what I bring with me on course. I ussually add 3-4 Endurance Tap maple syrup shots and stinger wafers to my flip belt as well as some ginger chews (to help combat any sort of an upset stomach.) If I’m at all dehydrated, these simpler foods require less chewing and are just easier to eat with a dry mouth.
  • Later in the race, my stomach starts to have a tougher time digesting the complex carbs in my more fibrous homemade food so I stick to the following: stinger wafers, Solo bars and maple syrup shots. Knowing this, I will avoid these simple fuel sources early as to make sure I haven’t developed any palate fatigue for them.
  • Later in the race my transition area food is as follows: Premade hash browns, ichiban soup, mac and cheese. My crew will make these up in a tray as I come into the transition area. They’ll then walk with me as I try to get it all down.
  • I will also plan a “dinner” for a transition that roughly aligns with my normal dinnertime. I pick something that I really like but won’t upset my stomach. This gives me something to mentally look forward to and a bit of change up in the food. Currently its homemade perogies.
  • The last leg is where the gloves come off and I bump up the caffeine. I’ll usually have a cup of espresso or some flat coke (the flat coke has kind of been a secret weapon for a lot of ultra-runners. I find it really settles my stomach provide with that little extra boost I need to finish my race.)
  • I’ll usually head out on this leg with nothing but real simple fuels. Maple syrup shots or gels and get ready to empty the tank!

Get In Touch

Questions? Comments? Call today at 403-703-7610 or fill out the form below:

Have Questions? Call Me Today At