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Ultramarathon nutrition - what does an elite ultramarathon runner eat?

Posted by Team 33Fuel on

Damian Hall’s an elite ultramarathon runner with multiple Ultra-Trail World Tour top 10s under his belt - we caught up with him to find out precisely how he fuels for success at the highest level 

Ultramarathon nutrition - what does an elite ultramarathon runner eat?

Damian in action at the Scafell Sky Race (photo credit Guillem Casanova/Scafell Sky Race)

How important is nutrition to your training and why?

“Ultramarathon running is often called an eating contest with some exercise thrown in and that’s largely true in my experience.

“I do fasted runs to encourage fat metabolism. But I also experiment on longer runs with different fuel (my current fave is salty cashews and dates), to train my gut to deal with it – when it comes the race day I want my tummy to be able to cope with various options, so if something isn’t working I can switch.

“Fueling is critical when it comes to racing well. I’m also keen to eat as healthily as possible around big training blocks, to stay healthy and strong, get the adaptations and keep training hard.

“The great thing is, when training volume is large, you burn lots of calories, so you can stuff your cakehole (but remember - all calories are not equal).

Ultramarathon nutrition - what does an elite ultramarathon runner eat? 2

Eat great, fuel brilliantly - and race hard (photo credit Credit inov-8/Matt Brown)

What are the key nutritional elements you consider when preparing for a race?

  • What is the temperature likely to be at the race? If it’s hot I’ll need more salt
  • How long am I likely to race? The longer it is, the more options I’ll need and less reliant on sugary foodstuffs I’ll be
  • What’s at the aid stations?
  • Will I have a crew to help me?
  • What’s available locally? It’s tricky to find chocolate milk in Chamonix for example
  • How much does stuff weigh? Bananas are ace, but I’m not lugging them about for hours

What’s your pre-race, in-race and post-race nutritional strategy?

“Pre-race, nothing unusual, plus I want to ensure glycogen stores are full, so some complex carbs in the crucial 36-24-hour before the event window.

“In-race, I try to mix sugars (gels, chews, chocolate) with real food and I love salty nuts for example, and cheese. Liquid nutrition is often a great option in the latter stages of a longer ultra, when you don’t feel like eating. Aid station soup has gotten me out of a hole a few times.

What is your must have nutritional item and why?

33Fuel gels are ace. They’re really healthy, tasty, effective, I can customise them (I like them with mango juice best) and they’ve never upset my stomach - the most common cause of DNFs in longer ultras.

Ultramarathon nutrition - what does an elite ultramarathon runner eat? 33Shake Chia Energy Gel

33Fuel Chia Energy Gels - Damian Hall’s must-have fuel

What about times in the past when you got nutrition wrong - how did you suffer, how did you recover and how did you correct it for next time?

“Working hard in the heat and dumping a load of sugar in, which really upset my stomach, was surprisingly uncomfortable and ruined my race - now I mix sugar with real food and work on bringing my body temperature down in hot races.

“Again in the heat, I didn’t have enough salt on me one time and wasn’t able to deal with debilitating cramps - now I always carry salt tablets.

“Towards the end of 100-milers you get so tired you can sometimes forget to eat and go into calorie deficit, becoming sluggish and demotivated. Now I give myself more varied options and am stricter with forcing myself to take on calories, and practising fueling in training.

Damian Hall is an inov-8 ambassador, trail-ultramarathon runner with several Ultra-Trail World Tour top 10s, and a running coach. Find him on Instagram or go to his website

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