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Fuelling Strategy – long days in the saddle or on the hills and trails.

July 18, 2017

When it comes to event / race fuelling for longer endurance events there tends to be two distinct schools of thought – as I call them, the “synthetic” and the “real”.

In brief, I consider the “synthetic” to be a nutrition strategy that is built on or exclusively made up of manufactured sport fuel. Think sports beans, sticky gels, energy bars and carbohydrate drinks. For “real”, as the name implies, I’m thinking of (more than likely processed, but) real food, the type of thing that your body is going to be craving, that your taste buds will enjoy; this maybe something like flapjack, Nak’d bars, salami or picnic foods.

Frequently I talk with clients and athletes training for a long / all-day event, who are all too often worried about how to fuel a prolonged activity and equally confused by advertising and input from other well-meaning individuals recommending this or that product – throw in the available data on hydration, energy expenditure and fuel delivery systems within the body often found in sports magazines and blogs, and race day fuel strategy can be a mine field that will make the event itself look easy!

I don’t intend to go into any detail here about energy expenditure figures, measuring hydration needs or the pros and cons of measuring effective fuel delivery into the body – we can look at that at a later date!

Of more benefit, I feel to those about to embark on or training towards an all-day event, is understanding the plusses and minuses of the two primary fuel strategies I have outlined, as well as developing an understanding of how to think about an effective race day fuel routine.

Let’s consider the two types;



Pros –

  • Scientifically researched with sports performance in mind

  • Likely contain caffeine for added “boost” – research suggests the quantity of caffeine needed would exceed that which most products provide however

  • Range of products provides variation in texture and flavour

  • Fast released energy


  • Pound for pound can be expensive

  • Often do not include whole nutrient spectrum – good fats, proteins etc

  • Can lead to gastric distress if you change brands or are not accustomed to large quantities


Pros –

  • Huge range – you can take whatever tickles your fancy

  • Often able to include more whole spectrum nutrient dense energy sources

  • Real food will be easily digestible

  • Combine fast & slow release energy sources

Cons –

  • Can be more challenging to consume “on the go” – think unwrapping, chewing and eating

  • Maybe larger in size so needs / takes up more space in your kit


As far as developing a routine for fuelling your endeavour throughout the day is concerned, I recommend a baseline strategy of ingesting a fuel source every 20 minutes / three times an hour; little and often; as follows using “real fuel” in this example;

  • 1 – Drink of fluid – coconut water or electrolyte drink

  • 2 – ½ flapjack & sip of fluid

  • 3 – small salami stick & sip of fluid

  • Repeat at 20 min intervals


We will look in more detail at sweat rates and hydration strategy in a later article. The above is intended to provide a base example of the type of pattern and frequency that you should be thinking about in planning your fulling, be that using real food sources such as rice cakes, salami, flapjack bars or relying on gels and synthetic energy sources.


Whatever your fuel preference, real, synthetic or a combination, plan on developing a routine for your consumption and practice during your training – race day is not the day to be trying a new routine or product. It is likely that aid stations will provide some sort of nutrition and hydration; whether possible try to view this as added fuel, and not rely on it. But trust me there is nothing nicer than half a ripe banana and slice of fresh pineapple washed down with cold water on a hot day after 6 hours trail running! Often there will be synthetic energy sources available from sponsors, if you think you are likely to use these, try and find out in advance what they will be (most race instructions will include a list or description of fuel available at aid stations) and if you can, sample with some of the same products in advance (no surprises on the day) so you’ll know how they will react and perform in your body, then you can either incorporate these into your fuel routine or, as I often will do, view them as extra or top-up fuel sources.

I have my preference and what works for me, but that has taken trial and error to build up a knowledge of what my body needs and when.


Next time, we will look at hydration and race fluids before moving into more detail on the technical aspects of energy expenditure.


Good luck


Kit Burman-Day


#racedayfuel #teamendurancedepartment #endurancedepartmentdaily

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