“Nutrition is crucial when preparing for an ultra trail!”
In your opinion, how important is nutrition – whether everyday meals or sports nutrition – when preparing for an ultra trail race?
Nutrition is absolutely key when preparing for an ultra trail race! Whether it’s your everyday meals or sports nutrition, it plays a crucial role in training and improving your performance. An athlete with nutrient deficiencies, who eats the wrong foods or energy supplements, or whose intake is higher or lower than their energy expenditure, will encounter problems like muscle fatigue, cramps, physical exhaustion, stomach ache and bloating.
Athletes need to have a balanced diet which suits their individual needs.
Diet plays a very important role because it is the body’s main source of energy, so it really is a driving force! Good muscle and nerve contraction is reliant on a balanced intake of protein, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins and minerals; and with this type of race, it is common to experience feelings of light-headedness, confusion, aching muscles and stress.
As the official dietician for the Nutrisens Sport Challenge, you’ll be supervising the candidates throughout their year-long preparation. How do you go about supervising them over such a long period? What will the process be?
The fact that the candidates are far away makes supervision somewhat laborious, but it’s really interesting to see how much progress they’ve made over the months compared to the first time we met. This type of monitoring requires us to touch base regularly to go over their diet and which energy products they are taking, any issues or improvements encountered during their training or competitions, changing some of their eating habits, and so on.
The candidates are monitored at regular intervals, so it’s not too oppressive for them. I don’t impose things on them, but I try to catch up with them every month to see how they are and how they’re managing the change of season, or whether they need any advice about ordering energy products, for example. Depending on their training schedule and the coach’s advice, we also adjust their diet or their vitamin supplements. And I’m available whenever they need me if they have any questions or need advice.
Is the nutritional approach different for men and women with this type of preparation?
The nutritional approach is obviously different for men and women, whatever type of sport or endurance they do. It’s different for each person anyway, because none of us have the same requirements or the same eating habits. That’s why every diet preparation plan or the advice given can be totally different, even for two people of the same sex who are doing the same race, for example.
They need a healthy diet to improve their performance, and there will be certain strategic foods that they should eat and avoid during a certain period.
With the festive season approaching comes the question of “lapses”: what’s the best way of working traditional family celebrations, such as Christmas, New Year, birthdays or weddings, around a preparation plan like this one?
I’m not one of those dieticians who sees this type of event with an evil eye, quite the opposite. As with any long-term diet designed to achieve a specific goal, it’s important to have a social life and to treat yourself from time to time. However, it mustn’t undo all the hard work and sacrifices of previous months. It’s all a question of balance and quantity! Nothing is off limits, especially over the Christmas period, but you shouldn’t go overboard on alcohol or very rich foods with saturated fats (lipids). Stick to just few glasses of bubbly and some goose liver pâté. Appetizers and desserts are the trickiest things, as they are often packed with fat and calories. As for main courses, there’s usually a variety of foods and good quality produce.
However, if you have a race planned in the weeks or days after these lapses, you need to be extra careful because any over-indulgence will inevitably affect you: sluggishness, stomach ache, digestive problems, diarrhoea, vomiting, muscle weakness, etc.
Marine BERTHAUD, dietician at Nutrisens
I check in with Morgane and Nicolas every month. We adjust their diet together, depending on their training plan and their food preferences. For example, Morgane doesn’t eat much meat, so we need to find substitutes to prevent her from becoming anaemic.
As the weeks go by, the quantities will increase to keep up with the intensity of their preparation. The aim is to get to the starting line with well-stocked reserves. That means preparing the body gradually to store and release fuel as and when it needs it.
They will soon be testing the Nutrisens range to find the products which work best for them so they can stay hydrated throughout the race. They will be able to chop and change between sugary, salty and neutral tastes so they don’t feel nauseous.
One month before the race, they will be on a low residue diet, which is low in fibre to prevent intestinal irritation, and so that energy can be mobilised via the digestive tract. There will also be lots of fatty acids, omega 3 and 6, to aid nerve concentration. We’ll be opting for fresh cheese rather than hard cheese.
A week before the athletes leave, they’ll be eating lots of white meat and lean fish, and steering clear of fruit and raw vegetables. If they want to eat fruit and veg, it should be cooked, peeled and have the pips taken out. Alcohol will be off limits and simple sugars will be replaced by complex carbohydrates.