Dear Daddy - Should I eat solid foods or gels during endurance events

The answer to this question comes down to individual preference.

Ideally if your stomach will allow it and you don't suffer flavour fatigue liquid energy such as gels is best as it will digest quicker and give your stomach less to process during exercise when your body is already under stress. Liquid energy such as gels also allows you to keep a higher intensity whilst refuelling. I remember reading that Norman Stadler, a two time world champion and ex German Ironman Pro, use to consume something like 18 gels on the bike during Ironman Kona!!!

However if you're anything like me, I really struggle to take more than about 3 gels in a race especially combined with sports drink. I find it all becomes too sweet and my stomach starts to reject what I put in, causing me nausea and dehydration. I also fall into the trap of drinking lots of plain water in this state as I’m so over the sweet/sickly feeling which only makes the problem worse as it just puts extra strain on a gut that’s already struggling, and flushes out any important salts I had left in my body.

I will only take gels for up to Olympic Distance or runs up to marathon distance as I need to keep the intensity up and due to the shorter duration I don’t seem to run into the same problems when fuelling on gels for longer. Beyond that I now opt for solid fuels. I also choose to use a sugar free electrolyte drink. Basically I'm trying to keep what I fuel my body with as close to foods I would normally consume throughout any given week, particularly for over 4 hour endurance events, and I'm finding my stomach and energy levels are much better for it. I aim to consume at least 60g/cho per hour.
Some endurance athletes will find a combination of solid fuels and liquid energy works for them. For a half ironman triathlon I would now use a combination of gels and solid food, by having a sandwich and a banana on the bike, and a gel on the bike and run, but then any events beyond that distance/time - no gels just solid food.

A recent trend these days in the Ultra running world is to fuel your body using baby fuel as it provides good energy, is low in sugar and moist and soft for easy digestion. Can't say I've tried that one myself! Perhaps you could raid the pantry and try this one Hoff!

Foods I'm using to fuel myself during long endurance sports is fresh white bread Vegemite /honey peanut butter sandwiches crust cut off for easier digestion, tomato and cheese rolls from bakers delight, bananas, chewy muesli bars, pringles, and Coke for a bit of a sugar hit when/if required.

There are a lot more real food alternatives and things like energy bars and ultimately you got to find what you like and works for you whilst exercising, including how the food will keep and how easy it is to carry! The nutritionists will say aim for low fibre as being a good starting point but do acknowledge it is very individual and what people can tolerate varies considerably.
Admittedly I need to slow a little more to digest solid foods but often, when doing 4+ hour endurance sports, slowing down to eat is not going to impact my race too much. Besides, I'd rather feel normal during and after a race instead of like death warmed up.

For fluids I use Hydralite or Proformance Prodrate. I mix it a little weaker than recommended as sweat testing shows I don't lose a lot of salt and I find it much more palatable as again it’s not so sweet. I generally drink to thirst, but if I’m not feeling thirsty I like to take a little swig every ten minutes or so just to ensure I’m keeping well hydrated. The other advantage to not drinking copious amounts of sports drink and gels for fueling is it is much better for your hip pocket when it comes to the routine 6 monthly visit to the dentist!

My nutrition plan is certainly not locked away, rather it is in a constant state of flux as I become more experienced and learn more about my body during endurance events. On race day I generally have a plan but I like to bring many options where possible and then go with what I’m feeling like and what is working best on the day particularly for the longer style endurance events.
Posted on 16 Sep 2017 by Anna
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