In this second of our two-part Ultrarunning Q & A series, we chat with Dr. Stephanie Howe Violett. Stephanie is an accomplished ultrarunner with wins at the Lake Sonoma 50 and Western States 100 to her credit.
With a Ph.D in Nutrition and Exercise Science, we couldn’t think of a better person to ask Ultrarunning nutrition questions to.
Stephanie – thank you for your time and the great information!
What are some of the most common nutritional mistakes that you see ultra runners make?
Most ultra runners don’t really understand how the metabolism works, particularly during exercise. I see many runners piece together things they have found from reading blogs or online articles. They don’t realize that most of this information is not scientifically based and is actually incorrect. Thus, fueling seems really complicated and they often have lots of GI issues.
Should ultra runners ingest caffeine when racing and if so, what is a good strategy?
Yes, but it’s really individual. If someone is a fast caffeine metabolizer or uses caffeine regularly, then I’d recommend it. But only in the form of gels or blocks – never caffeine pills. That’s where things can go awry.
What is the best way for a runner to determine their nutritional needs?
Work with a registered dietitian or sports nutrition specialist. Stay off the internet to prevent confusing yourself and getting loads of misinformation.
How important is carb loading for ultra runners?
It’s not important to “load” but carbohydrates are important for all human beings. We need to eat them every day, in the correct quantity to be healthy. There really is no difference between what you eat during training and what you eat the days leading into a race. An appropriate diet for athletes includes enough carbohydrates for glycogen in the muscles. Loading with carbohydrate before an event won’t increase any glycogen stores and may not feel that great. The only thing I try to do differently before an event is limit my vegetable and fiber intake. My favorite pre-race meal is usually white rice, eggs or salmon, and avocado. But, I’m not super picky- I’ll eat most anything (which is a good skill to have when you travel!)…
Do you recommend, water or some form of sports drink for ultra runners… or both?
Depends on the person, and the role it’s playing. I prefer water for hydration and a low concentration sport drink for electrolytes and a few additional calories. Relying on sports drinks for fuel is tricky because the concentration has to be just right. If it’s a hot day, and the sports drink is prepared as instructed, it may be too many calories for the amount of hydration required. The opposite is true when it’s cold outside. Many people think that just using sports drinks to fuel will prevent stomach issues, but it’s often the opposite. Again, each person is unique and you have to find what works for you.
How does fueling differ for a 50 mile and 100 mile race?
There is less room for error in a 100-mile race. Again, the race terrain (mountain vs flat), temperature (hot, humid, dry, cold), time of day (night vs daytime), and fitness of the runner will play a bigger role in the fueling plan than the distance. It’s easier to get through a 50 mile race with sub-par nutrition. It’s almost impossible to finish a 100-mile (without a lot of suffering) without fueling well.
Is there a hierarchy time-wise in regard to ingesting solid food, gels, liquids, etc… during a race or is it personal preference?
There is, but it’s not a blanket statement for each runner. This is something I work with athletes on individually to build their specific race fueling plan. It really does make a difference and it’s important to identify this plan prior to race day.
If you’re looking for an ultra nutritional strategy/program and, or coaching, please visit: https://www.stephaniehoweviolett.com/ to get in contact with Stephanie.
Photo Credits: Stephanie Howe Violett
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