Ideal Caloric Intake for Racing a 50k Ultra?

Cathy Fieseler, MD|

Q: I am training for a 50k but do not think I am taking in enough calories during my long runs (18-22 miles). I am taller (6 feet 2 inches) and weigh more (188 pounds) than the average long distance runner and my typical long runs last between 3 to 3 ½ hours. How many calories should I eat before, during (every hour?) and after?

— Jeff, California

A: A 50k is just 5 miles longer than a marathon, so if you have a nutrition plan that works for a marathon, this is a good starting point for a 50k. What you eat before a run depends on how much time that there is between eating and running. The closer to the race that you eat, the lighter the meal. Three or more hours before the run, you can eat a meal; avoid a lot of protein and fat and stay away from fiber.. An hour before the race, you may eat a bagel with jelly, an energy bar or some other food that is predominantly carbohydrates (about 300 calories is a place to start). If you are nervous, you may not tolerate more than this. You may find that you can eat a bit more than this and not experience any problems. The key is to experiment in training to see what works for you.

During the run, you should average 250-300 calories per hour. Electrolyte drinks (Gatorade, Heed, etc.) contain calories. Make sure that you try whatever fluids are served during the race while training; not all drinks are tolerated equally. You may add gels to this for additional calories. Most ultras have a wide variety of foods at the aid stations – fruit, candy, cookies, potatoes, etc. Additionally, you will find salt and/or electrolyte tablets. Practice eating during long training runs to see what works for you.

Read more about recovery and fuel for an ultra.



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