Nutrition tips for trail running

Ernährungstipps für das Traillaufen

Some have a sucker's stomach in the truest sense of the word and tolerate all kinds of food if they (have to) eat something while running, others can't avoid jumping into the bushes every quarter of an hour.

In my early days on the trails, I had to learn to rethink what I ate on the go. Running in undulating to mountainous terrain sometimes uses up more energy than a leisurely run on flat terrain. It's about fine-tuning the diet or food to your needs. But it's about more than your own needs, because many runners often get nothing or hardly anything down while they run. Drinking water is usually still fine, but as soon as it comes to filling up the increasingly empty stores in the body, an inner resistance pushes in between.

Reasons for this are, on the one hand, a real reluctance to take in calories that you actually want to use up at the same time. This can often be observed in runners who are obsessive about their sport and just don't want to weigh a gram too much. And they can bite their way through for a very long time and run for hours and only survive and master the route by absorbing water. But that takes revenge the next day at the latest, when the body reports muscle heaviness or you have the feeling that you can't get out of step at all. Something like that can go well for a while, but eventually ends with fatigue and performance drops, among other things.

The fact is: your body works for you when you run and your job is to make sure that the engine and transmission run smoothly. In a figurative sense, you wouldn't just pour water into the tank of your Ferrari and hope that it was guaranteed to get you from A to B. No, the Ferrari would run out of energy pretty quickly and break down in the middle of the road. And that can also happen to you in trail running. So make sure you have good stuff in your tank.

Meals during training or competition

I'll show you a few ways you can keep your tank at a good level without getting stranded along the way, meaning having to abandon a run, or deal with cramps, stomach problems, and worse. The proven nutritional suggestions are based on a lot of experimentation, self-trials and many years of experience. I always say: Nutritional science helps us to understand connections in a larger context, but it often fails when it comes to concrete implementation in practice.

If you are planning a longer trail run, you should use the following formula: Per hour run: 500-650 ml water, around 120-180 calories, 50-70 g carbohydrates.

Example: Your planned run should last 2:30 hours. You start drinking water and the first load of carbohydrates after 45 minutes. It's important not to wait until you're low on carbs, but to counteract this natural, physiological process by starting to replenish within the first hour.

It is best to set a timer in your watch, for example every 20 minutes, that reminds you to drink and eat. It makes the most sense to kill two birds with one stone in the simplest way by taking a powder, which also provides you with electrolytes and gives you energy.

This is possible with products like Tailwind , Skratch Labs , Moonvalley , Maurten and various others. I've drunk my way through a variety of products over the years. Many can deliver what they promise, but most fail either in taste or texture. It is not always advisable to mix gels, powders and bars. Because of the up and down movement when running and bumps that you have on trails under your feet, there is a certain risk of not being able to tolerate solid food or only to a limited extent.

Tailwind product

I got stuck with Tailwind in 2017 and use it on longer hikes in the mountains, long runs on flat off-road trails, and runs with some elevation gain where I know full well that the body is giving off a lot.

Tailwind has the benefit of knowing exactly what a measuring spoon that comes with it is. For example, in the above example of 2:30 hours, I mix 4 scoops of Tailwind in 500 ml of water so that I have a concentrate and drink the first time after 45 minutes, then every additional 15-20 minutes. That may sound like a rigid program, but such a routine always pays off in hindsight.

A scoop of Tailwind contains exactly 100 calories and approximately 28g of carbohydrates. For more intense exercise, I calculate 2 scoops per hour, which covers 200 calories. The effect is enormous every time. It tastes great, doesn't make you thirsty and the energy is just there. I also avoid mixing solids with liquids, which is what makes products like Tailwind so useful.

What is still practical about liquid carbohydrates:

  • Flavors tend to be subtle, and many brands also offer “neutral” as a flavor
  • You know what's in a spoon and can measure exactly what you need
  • Many brands have practical sachets, so you can dose the right amount on the go

The motto for nutrition on the go is: keep it simple. The less you have to think about what you need when and just keep practicing your own rhythm, the more you can concentrate on running and the path in front of you. It's easier than you think with the right nutrition. It's often just in our heads that we complicate things that aren't all that complicated in themselves.

Another goal is not to feel drained and empty after the run, but that you are still useful afterwards and don't have to chill on the couch for a few hours. Of course, that would also be a well-deserved break and downtime, but the right nutritional strategy will also allow you to recover much faster than if you try desperately to make ends meet on water alone.

Of course, if you are or want to be an ultra-trail runner, it may well be that after a few hours you feel like biting into a potato or a piece of a bar. This is also possible in small quantities in combination with Tailwind. Find out which product serves you best as your main meal. It's all about testing and practicing.

Oh yes, the thing about the gels is this: Of course they are also good and can be practically portioned. Sometimes with this solution, it can be challenging to drink enough water as the gels retain fluid and you can become dehydrated. There is also a lot of packaging when using gels and considering that you might have to carry the packs with you for a few hours.

Signpost: The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Nutrition on the go is the most underestimated factor in trail running. If you manage to give your body what it needs along the way, you will be rewarded with an energy level that is as constant as possible. And you can get even more out of your run through nature.

Trail running book
This post is adapted from the book "Trail Running for Women" by Anna Hughes .


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