Food for thought

To get you across the finish line at Oxfam Trailwalker, adequate nutrition and hydration are just as important as your fitness training. You may not be able to complete the 100 kilometres if you don’t provide your body with the fuel it needs. And, on a more serious note, if you don’t drink enough liquids — or not the right types — you may find yourself in hospital.

Fuelling up

Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are all fuel for your body. Carbohydrates and fats are your primary energy source during exercise. Most people have a plentiful store of fats in their bodies – enough to last 100 kilometres and beyond – however the body’s store of carbohydrates is limited. That’s why it’s essential to replenish these stores during an endurance event like Oxfam Trailwalker.

Carbohydrates

  • Carbohydrates are your main fuel source during high-intensity exercise.
  • Your body only stores limited amounts of carbohydrates, so it’s essential to replace them to avoid ‘hitting the wall’.
  • Foods that contains carbohydrates include bread, cereals, starchy vegetables, legumes (e.g. lentils), fruit and their juices, dairy products, sugars, honey, soft drinks, cordial and confectionary
  • Scientifically-formulated sports foods (e.g. sports drinks and gels) will also provide carbohydrates (and electrolytes) and assist with hydration. Drinking water is available at all sites.

Proteins

  • Proteins are building blocks for your muscles.
  • People who are in the early stages of an exercise program may require more protein than people who don’t regularly exercise but, in reality, most people already consume enough protein to meet this extra requirement.
  • Foods that contains protein include meat (red, white and fish), dairy, eggs, nuts and legumes (e.g. lentils). Other foods provide small amounts of protein.

Fats

  • Your body only needs a small amount of dietary fat, which provides fat-soluble vitamins and assists with other bodily functions.
  • Your body will use fat as fuel during the event, but you probably don’t need to increase your fat intake during training or the event (unless you’re trying to prevent weight loss). Your body probably already has enough fat available for the event.
  • Foods that contain fats include meat, dairy, eggs, margarine, oils, nuts, seeds, fried foods, takeaway foods, certain confectionary and bakery goods.

What to eat before the event

As your body can only store a limited amount of carbohydrates, you can increase your store directly before the event by carbohydrate loading. For three to four days before the event, increase your carbohydrate intake. During this time, eat less high-fat food because it makes you feel full and you won’t be able to eat the carbohydrates.

On the morning of the event, eat a high-carbohydrate breakfast 1–4 hours before the event to top up your carbohydrates one last time. Alternatively, if you have an early start, eat a bigger dinner the night before and a smaller, carbohydrate-rich snack in the morning. Or you can simply be mindful of eating carbohydrates early and consistently in the event to ensure your levels are topped up. This will help you to avoid hitting the wall.

What to eat during the event

What you eat during the event is a personal decision and should be trialled throughout your training. Seasoned participants will have their own proven eating plan. For those new to endurance events, the following are a few basic tips to get you started:

  • Eat meals and snacks that are high in carbohydrates. Eating every three hours should keep you on track.
  • Meals can include sandwiches, wraps, rolls, noodle soups, rice and pasta.
  • Snacks can include fruit, pikelets, muesli bars, bread with jam and pretzels.
  • Plan when you’ll eat. It’s often hard to replenish carbohydrates once you’ve hit the wall.

Recovery

  • Drinking water and eating carbohydrates and protein is important for recovery.
  • Fifteen to thirty minutes after the event, have a snack that includes some carbohydrates and protein. This will help you recover effectively. During this time your muscles can easily absorb carbohydrate and protein.
  • Make sure you drink plenty of fluids 24 to 48 hours after the event. Try sports drinks if you need to recover more quickly.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol after the event. It has a negative impact on the recovery of nutrition and on soft-tissue injury caused by exercise.

Text by Emilie Isles, accredited sports dietician and Oxfam Trailwalker past participant.

For more information, consult a local sports dietician via Sports Dieticians Australia.

Hydration

Full hydration is vital for optimal performance

  • Sweat losses during exercise can cause a rise in body temperature and impair cardiovascular function
  • Effects on performance are seen at all levels of dehydration
  • Sweating increases with harder work, longer duration of exercise, or hot environment
  • Signs to watch out for:
    • Weight, urine colour, thirst
    • Tiredness, lethargy, difficulty concentrating
  • Dehydration can cause general fatigue and reduce mental function:
    • decision making
    • concentration
    • impaired motor skills
    • muscle endurance
    • Fluids should be taken in prior to, during and post-exercise
  • Dehydration is common

Don’t over drink!

You can also be over-hydrated (hyponatraemia):

  • Can cause confusion, disorientation & even coma
  • Caused by drinking too much fluid

Tips for good hydration

  • Start your event well hydrated
  • If it is going to be hot, plan ahead and ensure you are carrying enough fluid.
  • Cool fluids can be more palatable
  • Good choices
    • Water, sports drink , cordial, fruit juice
    • Poorer choices
      • Energy drinks, cola drinks, tea or coffee, soft drink

Hydration packs vs. water bottles

Hydration packs

Some advantages to using hydration packs/bladders like Camelback or Osprey bladder with a drink tube are:

  • Water is one of the denser, heavier things teams carry out on the trail and carrying it close to one’s back is the best way to carry the weight.
  • Convenience: you can drink as you go.
  • Weight and bulk: hydration bladders are generally lighter than a water bottle.

 Water bottles

Some advantages to using a water bottle are:

  • Easy to use
  • Easy to refill
  • You can have different drink in different bottles

Some teams carry both, the hydration pack is filled with water whilst the water bottle is filled with electrolytes. This is a matter of preference and what you feel comfortable carrying. Experiment in your training walks whats it’s like carrying hydration option or both.

Hydration tips from Dietitian Zoe Watt and information about hydration packs by Paddy Pallin expert Hamish.