What The Elites Eat: Fuel Like a Pro On The Trails
Allison Pattillo / July 19, 2014
Insights about what elite runners consume during long runs and races.
When it comes to what to eat on the trail, elite ultrarunners have many miles of experience. But new products, varying needs and personal preferences all play a role in what they eat. So does practice. (Rule No.1: Never ingest anything new on race day!) From powders to cheeseburgers these runners have tried it all. Read on to learn what works for them.
Re-fueling is essential, but you don’t want to feel uncomfortable when you stride through streams and around mountains. Remembering these three guidelines should help:
1) Always test new food and drinks in training.
2) Aim for ingesting about 200-300 calories per hour in liquid or solid form, but remember too much food is almost as debilitating as too little.
3) Pack out every wrapper—the next trail user doesn’t need to know your favorite flavor of gel!
Find out what several top ultra-distance runners eat on the run while racing by clicking through the photos below.
RELATED: What Elite Road Racers Eat
Brandy Erholtz, 36, Evergreen, Colo.
Erholtz was the winner of the 2014 Gorge Falls 50K in Oregon, placed third at the 2014 Moab Red Hot 33K and is a five-time member of the U.S. Mountain Running Team. “Fueling is something I am still working on. For 2-3 hours runs, I don't usually take much. However, after completing some ultras, I’m practicing. My favorite fueling sources for long trail runs are PowerGel Double Latte and Orange Dream. I also really like PowerBar’s cola-flavored Energy Blast Energy Chews. My favorite indulgence before or after a long run is a big soft chocolate chip cookie!”
Ellie Greenwood, 35, North Vancouver, BC
Ellie Greenwood won the 2014 Chuckanut 50K and 2012 Western States 100 and has more than 40 podium finishes in ultra-distance races to her credit. “What I eat on the trail very much depends upon my run pace and distance. For runs under two hours, I tend not to eat anything. For longer training runs I will mix gels and Clif SHOT Bloks, with eating more natural products such as dried fruit and nuts. In races I tend to stick to gels and SHOT Bloks as I find they sit on my stomach better when I am pushing the pace.”
Kirk Apt, 52, Grand Junction, Colo.
Apt won Colorado’s Hardrock 100 Endurance Run in 2000 and finished it for a record setting 20th time in 2014. He plans to run his 20th Leadville 100 in August. “I used to make my own gel. I'd blend tofu, liver, scrambled eggs, rice, sweet potato, avocado, salt, plain yogurt and water until it was really smooth, then put it in squeeze bottles. The trick was getting it so smooth, so that you could almost get it down before you tasted it. But it become too labor intensive. Now I eat anything that looks good."
Max King, 34, Bend, Ore.
This year the 2:14 marathoner has been testing his legs at longer training runs, with a course record (3:35:42) at the Chuckanut 50K on March 15 in Fairhaven, Wash., and a victory at the Ice Age Trail 50-mile run (5:41:07) on May 10 in La Grange, Wis. He also tackled his first 100-miler, the Western States Endurance Run on June 28, finishing in fourth place. “Just using gel and water works for me. Blueberry Pomegranate Roctane Ultra Endurance Gel by GU is my top flavor. But after a race, any real food is good!”
Michael Wardian, 40, Arlington, Va.
Michael Wardian is a serial road and trail racer. Highlights for this year (so far!) include winning on the 225K Coastal Challenge Expedition in Costa Rica, UVU North Pole Marathon and Big Sur Marathon. “I like to use Vitargo carbohydrate powder and water because I can mix it to different strengths based upon weather conditions and my needs.”
Nikki Kimball, 43, Bozeman, Mont.
With finishes and wins at dozens of ultra events, Kimball can now add nine-time finisher at the Western States 100 to her list. The three-time Western States winner finished in fifth place with a time of 19:31:51. In April she won the Marathon des Sables in Morocco. “My nutrition needs have really changed. For years I chose high-carbohydrate food when I was racing, but it stopped working for me. Now I focus on high fat and high protein before a race. During a race, I use Vespa. It’s an amino acid supplement that helps you use your own fat instead of relying on outside sources of food. It really works for me. It means I can go further on less food and don’t need anywhere near 200 calories an hour. When I take on food, it’s things like gel, cold watermelon (great for a hot day) and electrolytes. Although, I do sometimes like to eat a cheeseburger mid-race!" Photo: Cal Harrington
Stevie Kremer, 29, Crested Butte, Colo.
Steve Kremer won the World SkyRunner title in 2013 and this spring finished atop the podium at both the Collegiate Peaks 25-miler in Colorado and Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon in Spain. “I prefer gummies or chews as a quick energy boost because they are fruity and delicious and easy to chew!”
Timothy Olson, 30, Ashland, Ore.
Timothy Olson won the 2012 Western States 100 in a record-setting time (that still stands) and repeated his victory in 2013. He also won the Montrail Ultra Cup series in 2012. He's known for eating a low-carb diet. “I have three go-to eats for on the trail. For hard runs and races I use VFuel energy gels. I eat PocketFuel hazelnut butter as my breakfast and pre-run fuel and also use it on the trail in 100-mile runs and big vertical days in the mountains. EPIC 100% bars are my choice for recovery and long days hiking and running in the mountains, especially when my wife and son join along.”
Jared Campbell, 34, Salt Lake City, Utah
Campbell is a two-time finisher of the almost-impossible-to-finish Barkley Marathons in Tennessee and 2010 winner of the Hardrock 100 and has run in more than 40 ultra-distance events. “I eat as much real food as possible when I’m running—raisins, chocolate covered almonds, salted almonds, dried cranberries, plus some gels and PROBAR Meal bars. At aid stations, I’ll go for hot soup and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”