SUP’s Bigfoot: In-Race Nutrition for Ultra-Distance Racing

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This is Part Two in a series from Steve Dullack about ultra-distance racing.

Read Part One here.

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Ultra-long SUP races are a completely different animal than your more traditional 4-8 mile, 1-2 hour SUP race. I like those type of race as well, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE the ultra-distances because there is just so much more to preparing and competing in a race that is 3+ hours. In my opinion, any SUP race that takes over 3 hours gets into the ultra-distance discussion because of the nutritional requirements needed to sustain your body for racing consistently at long durations. This second part of my articles on racing and nutrition highlight some science behind what your body NEEDS and how I personally fuel my body for long races.

Bigfoot

Like my daily nutrition I spoke of in my last article, much of my current racing nutrition strategy is based off of some reading/research and a lot of trial and error. Every time I do a training paddle that is over 2.5 hours I am testing/tweaking/validating my current strategy. Your nutrition strategy is a two step processes: 1) Figure out WHAT your body needs and 2) Figure HOW your body is going to get it.

1) What does my body need? Great question, I am glad you asked. When it comes to long distance endurance, you are trying to do three things:

A- Maintain your glycogen stores in your body for as long as possible.

B- Maintain the correct level of electrolytes

C- Stay hydrated

Glycogen is your body’s energy source. If you have properly fueled you body during the pre-race phase (teaser for Part 3 of this article series) you should have topped off your glycogen levels. You have approximately 2200-2500 calories of ready accessible glycogen in your muscles and liver when you start a race. That is about 2.5 hours of accessible energy. Once this stored glycogen is gone the body looks for other sources of glycogen like fat (bad and inefficient) or muscle (really bad). Your goal is to keep these glycogen levels high enough to prevent that from happening. 2 calories FROM CARBOHYDRATES per pound of body weight per hour is what your body can absorb. You are burning a higher rate than that so constant and early replenishment in a race is critical. I am 175 pounds so I know I need 350 calories of carbs per hour in a race.

Electrolytes are critical for more reasons than this article has room for. Short version: you need them or you will cramp, bonk, and then your brain starts to think about really stupid ideas like getting on the support boat and giving up on all the work you put in to this race over the last several months of your life. Your body needs 300mg sodium per hour and 100mg potassium MINIMUM. If you sweat a lot you will need more. Other electrolytes like magnesium, zinc, selenium, etc are good too. I sweat a lot so I shoot for 500 mg of Sodium and 275mg of potassium per hour.

Hydration. You lose fluids two ways in race: sweat and evaporated water vapor from your mouth. As a general rule16-30 oz of water per hour is necessary. It is different for each person and each race. Some people sweat a lot. You need more water if the race day temp is 80 degrees and not 60 degrees. If you eat goos, bars, or real food in a race you need more water. If you get dehydrated in a race you are done and risk SERIOUS medical consequences. If I have hydrated properly in the days before the race I know I need about 20 oz per hour of water.

Ok, so I calculated and experimented my way into determining my nutritional requirements per hour: 350 carb calories, 500 mg sodium, 275 mg potassium, 20 oz water. How in the wide-wide-world-of-sports do I get all of this into me for 5+ hours of racing? My nutritional strategy has come with a lot of trial and error and a lot of different products. When I did my first SEA Paddle NYC race in 2012 I had diluted Gatorade and ice. Not a bad way to go but certainly not the best. Way too much simple sugar and by the time I was late in the race I had mostly melted ice so I wasn’t getting any electrolytes or calories. I did the Graveyard in 2013 with coconut water and Hammer Gels. Better, but still not there. I used H20 Overdrive for SEA Paddle NYC in 2013 and really liked it, but with the passing of Dr. Bob Risner I have had a hard time buying it. I started using CARBOPRO on a recommendation from an ultra-distance swimmer and it has been great for me. I learned a few things in all of my trial and error. I can’t eat and paddle-some people can, I can’t get it down so 100% liquid nutrition is for me. Sweet hydration tastes like crap when it isn’t cold anymore- and it will not be cold eventually. The support boat is never there with water when you need it so don’t depend on it.

This is my current strategy:

  1. Mix 3 scoops CARBOPRO, 1 scoop powdered Gatorade, and 20 oz of water
  2. Repeat in 5 bottles for a total of 100 oz
  3. Pour 2 bottles of mixed drink into small plastic cups and freeze
  4. Pour one bottle into my camelbak and freeze it
  5. Place last two bottles in the fridge

On race morning I pop the frozen mix out of the cups, put them in my camelbak and pour the two refrigerated bottles in. This gives me 100 oz of cold, consistent nutrition. Instead of melting ice, I have melting nutrition. My liquid nutrition does not give me enough electrolytes so I carry CARBOPRO Metasalt tablets and pop one every hour. I have 100oz on my back so I drink 5 oz every 15 minutes and that SHOULD last me 5 hours. I do carry one or two gels just in case.

Next up: Part 3- Race-Week Fueling

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Full disclosure: I am a CarboPro athlete. Certainly not one of their big guns but I receive my CarboPro products for free. Prior to becoming a CarboPro athlete I spent a full season buying and using CarboPro with my own hard earned monies.

Steve Dullack is a Team Rider for King’s Paddlesports, the owner of the Virginia Beach Paddleboard Company, and a life-long Mullet.