Nutrition tips for training and training your body to eat anything

Your Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun® Nutritional Plan
From contracting a rogue tummy bug to your body rejecting something it isn’t used to, food and nutrition can end your Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun® if not managed correctly. Here are some tips from a registered dietician and a few RWR finishers that will help you eat your way safely through the five-day adventure! 
Just like a car needs fuel to keep its’ engine running, to get yourself through the 200km, five-day Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun®, you’re going to need to consume enough food and liquid to keep all your major organs, limbs, muscles and mind running effectively and efficiently. The minute your nutrition is compromised, be it from sickness or inability to absorb and digest food, or worse, your body’s abilities are affected. Sometimes you may be able to hang on and bring yourself back from a bad spell, but other times dehydration and fatigue may set in and that can end your race. 
“The nature of endurance and ultra-endurance events can affect how one’s body utilises food and drink,” says registered dietician and sport scientist at Food for Sport, Adrian Penzhorn. “Advice to athletes is to know your fueling strategy, pace your race accordingly and train your gut to absorb the fuels you need.” RWR finishers share their tried and tested nutritional advice in a bid to save you from any problems that may result in a DNF next to your name. 
Listen to YOUR body 
The first and most important thing to accept, especially while everyone shares their tips with you, is to remember that your body is unique to you. What this means is that you need to start experimenting with nutrition early on in your training to start getting an idea of how your body reacts and absorbs certain foods. “Everybody's body is different. Eat what you need and when you want. Listen to advice, but try it out beforehand,” says Liz Brash, RWR finisher. On the same note, when experimenting with eating during training sessions, play around with portion sizes. “How much you need to eat or drink while competing is independent of body size and rather a function of your exercise intensity and how well your body uses fuels,” says Penzhorn. “While there is a general rule of thumb that most runner’s should consume between 30-60 g of carbohydrate per hour through regular intake (every 15 minutes or so), that doesn’t mean that is exactly what you should be aiming for.” You have plenty of time before the RWR kicks off, so take it upon yourself to learn about your body and what fuels it best. 

Don’t try anything new on race day

“Test it out beforehand.” - Some wise words from RWR finisher Harriet Cullinan. You’d think it an obvious piece of advice, but when you’re tempted by a table laden with delicious treats and you’ve run 20km to get there, will-power suddenly becomes challenged. “Don’t try anything new, use foods and products you are used to,” says Penzhorn, and not just during the run either. “The smoked salmon bagel for breakfast might look great, but if you not used to running on that then don’t do it.” You obviously cannot plan for every occasion, but do your best to control what you eat by preparing, packing and carrying what you need. 

Plan for your ability

Someone who takes three hours to complete a day versus someone who takes ten hours is going to have somewhat different fuelling plans - this is a given. So where do you fit in? Based on your training and long runs, make a conservative estimate of how many hours you will be on your feet each day. Then consider Penzhorn’s advice that you need to consume roughly between 30-60g of carbohydrates every hour, and generate an eating plan for yourself. Sue Parker-Smith knew she was a slower runner and planned accordingly. “The biggest challenge is ensuring you remain sufficiently hydrated and fuelled for the day. I am a slow runner and could be running for anything between six and nine hours.” Remember though, sometimes plans fall through – like you could forget to pack your Ziplock with all your goodies, or it could fall out… and you may find yourself at the mercy of strangers and their spare food. So make sure you have a little leeway to be flexible. “Have a nutrition plan but be flexible and ready to change it up, things do not always go according to plan,” says Penzhorn. 

Pack more than you think you need

When in doubt, pack more than you think you need. You’d want to rather be overfed than run out of fuel midway. Plus, if this is your first stage-race, you might discover come Day Four your metabolism kicks in and you may require more food during the day. “Do not underestimate how much you will eat – have plenty of extras in your overnight bag – you don’t need to conserve weight there,” says Harriet Cullinan. Don’t forget that what you eat on Day One will have an effect on your performance on Day Two, for example, so don’t skimp out on one day in a bid to stay strong for all five days. “I often encourage multi-stage athletes to see their race nutrition as eating today for tomorrow,” says Penzhorn. “Pack a little extra in the way of snacks to get you through any uncertainties.”

Protein is your friend

“I made sure that I had a big protein-rich breakfast before heading out – eggs, bacon and wors. En route I topped up with nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans and macadamia) dates, a peanut butter sandwich, biltong, droëwors and boiled potatoes (with butter and salt) which gave me a great lift when I felt my sugar levels were really starting to drop,” says RWR finisher Roland Vorwerk. It’s commonly known that carbohydrates are a quick source of energy, as your body can break them down and use them quickly, so often when it comes to packing for a stage race, protein is overlooked. Protein is important as it helps repair sore and fatigued muscles, and also allows for a slow release form of energy to be absorbed. To touch on Penzhorn’s belief that during a stage race one should eat for tomorrow, “stage racing and the nature of eating for tomorrow does mean one should not forget about protein; biltong, nuts or peanut butter, cheese or protein supplements can be useful.” 
The irrepressible Magda - your RWR chef and motivational speaker!Don’t rely on gels
“Try to include as much real, whole food as possible to keep your nutritional value up too,” says Penzhorn. Arriving at a stage race with a Ziplock full of gels won’t do you any good, in fact it might do your body and digetive processes harm. “I don't think anyone can stomach only gels for four or five days straight,” says Ruanne Sandrock,” If you’re not into gels, then try packing something else that can provide an energy (or mental) booster. “My top tip is to pack a really delicious something (like a Snickers bar) for the bad times. It's amazing how something like that can lift your spirits,” says Carl Sandrock.

Pack a variety 

“A variety of options and flavours helps prevent taste fatigue, a common barrier to consuming enough food, so try to mix things up a little,” says Penzhorn. Not only will a variety aid in better food absorption, it’ll keep you a little more sane too! “Variety and taste are important,” says Anthony Erasmus, another RWR finisher. “Some of my favourites are fatty droëwors, soft dried mango strips or peach slices, mixed nut bars and I often treat myself with dates, Christmas cake or a chunk of cheddar cheese when I’m really feeling famished, which is pretty much all the time. My wife says I run to be able to surprise myself with whatever juicy food morsel appears from my running pack.” 

Eat as soon as you finish

“You may not feel like eating lunch when you finish the day's run, but force yourself to eat something and then have a good dinner. It will help,” says finisher James Robertson. The sooner you get a great meal in your body, the sooner the repair and recovery can begin. “Protein and carbohydrate rich foods or drinks should be first choice after you finish for the day,” says Penzhorn. “Aim to consume a mixture of these every two hours until (a hopefully early) bedtime. Meat-filled sandwiches and wraps, meat-topped pasta or salads, eggs, fruit and fruit juice, chocolate milk, yoghurt, smoothies or protein-carbohydrate recovery drinks are all great options.” 
Adrian Penzhorn, a registered dietician and sport scientist, founded Food For Sport. His aim is to promote health and performance through nutrition in the form of nutritional consultancy services, education and information, media relations and publications, product and recipe development, and soon an online store. 
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