Since I've been doing this ultarunning thing for a few years, I have my "go-to" food and gear. Every now and then I need to take a moment and step back from what is comfortable and think "is this really ideal or am I just doing this because I always have?" If you follow me at all, you will know that vomiting has become a staple part of my races over the past few seasons. For some reason I accepted that to be my normal and just went with it. However this year I determined to get to the bottom of things. First up I changed my diet and started leaning toward the Paleo side of things which is a very simple diet of real food. Quality fruit, nuts, no gluten, veggies, and meat, were all I took in except for training where I still used gels. I went all in on it for 30 days and gave myself no excuses for cheating. What I learned during this time was some of the things I accepted for normal were only normal because I had never cut these items out long enough to know that they were effecting me negatively. For instance, at 34, I'd prefer to not have acne but I have the occasional breakout. Must mean I have sensitive skin huh?. After removing dairy it from my diet I no longer had breakouts and now if I splurge post race and throw down my favorite Ben and Jerry's quart I will have a few blemishes show up. I without doubt also have some gluten sensitivity too. I won't fall apart if I have it but I will get slightly bloated and feel less than optimal when I do. Oh and wheat beers, forget it I'll spend more time burping than drinking. I will not go into all the details but this diet works great for me and while I do not stick to it 100% it is my base diet and I learned a lot by going very simple with my intake then adding in things back in little by little. Ultimately it is about eating more fruits and vegetables and not eating crappy quality, highly processed, way too high in sodium food. I suspect there are very few who would not benefit from that.
"Neat Travis, you tried a new diet, what the hell does that have to do with in race nutrition?" Glad you asked! Once I figured that I have some mild food allergies I was able to diagnose and make some educated changes to my in-motion diet versus just reading some ad in Trail Runner Magazine and thinking "yes, this will solve all my issues!!!" Settling on what worked took most of the year to figure out (in combination with the previous 6 years). I had a few good races, then I'd tweak it and have a bad race, then I'd tweak again and have an awful race. Finally I went bare bones. I even cut caffeine way back in my regular diet as discovered that 1) I was not sleeping as well as I could be 2) caffeine also had a negative impact on my stomach. I found that if I went with a simple caffeine free gel/shot combo, straight water, and low sodium Endurolytes pills that I could mostly avoid the stomach issues. I would take a gel/hit of the shot every 30 minutes, water when I felt thirsty, and a salt pill when I felt like I needed it not on some schedule. I did this in some really hot and humid temps and never had cramping (stomach or muscle) issues so my confidence was pretty high that I could tolerate this in most situations. This was the formula that I used for Ozark Trail 100 and I had one of my most steady, consistent runs I've ever had. I will note that I did take a Prilosec the evening before the race and at mile 68 during which I am certain helped with the indigestion issues but without doubt my emotional and energy levels were high throughout and I had no muscle cramping while only taking a maximum of 10 Endurolytes which clock in at 40MGs of sodium per pill. Most salt pills on the market have almost as much sodium in one or two pills as I took in the entire 22+ hours.
I get it, if I just did regular fitness activities this would be a non-issues as they only seem to show up in the most extreme of conditions, say 60 miles into a 100 mile race. I have tried everything imaginable to combat this stomach problem and I MAY have found what works for me. Here is what sucks. I love, love coffee and I like to eat whatever I feel like. That is supposed to be a major benefit of training 8+ hours a week isn't it? However, I can't use those "benefits" if I want to keep doing the races I enjoy so much and perform how I know I am capable. Do I sacrifice eating gobs of my favorite foods and drinking massive quantifies of joe just so that a few times a year I can get though a race and not feel like a turd? Yep. It's pretty simple.