Posted by: Bruce Duncan | January 27, 2012

Fueling for Adventure

Andy with one of the trolleys of food in Punta Arenas

As February looms ever closer, and the start of my next big race comes in sight over the horizon, I find myself slipping back into the old routine.

Lists start to dominate my life, having to pin down every single thing that I will need to take away to Ecuador, both in terms of kit and also food.

There are so many different ‘sports foods’ out there on the market, all promising so many benefits, extra power, more endurance, better concentration.  However there are very few of these that I actually use. They are all designed on the whole for short duration sports, endurance seems to be about an hour in their book, not the 4 days that I need.  As a result, a lot of the energy comes from sugars, and if you were to consume these continuously for the duration of the race, my stomach at least would be in pieces.

Over the years I have worked out what seems to work well for me, and what works both for energy levels and logistically for an expedition race.  The long and short of it is that the best thing to eat I find is normal food.

With all these huge advertising budgets and promises the vast majority of the sports foods either don’t taste very good, have too much sugar, are too bulky to carry, or are very expensive!  While the bog standard everyday food you eat to survive for your normal life provides all the energy you need, with the taste you like too!

High 5 Zero

For the Patagonian Expedition Race we take only a few scientific products.  The main one being High 5 Zero, which is an electrolyte, used to prevent cramps, and to make the water taste better.  We also take Peronin, which is a meal replacement powder, a very light form of getting lots of calories in, and the last thing is For goodness shakes, which in the powder form works well as a breakfast bomb, (plastic bag, granola, fgs powder, then mix with water).

For the rest of our nutritional needs we usually get to a country and search out the big supermarket.  And it is the only time that I usually stand looking at the calorific value of all the foods I pick up.

Food glorious Food! All laid out to be sorted into bags.

The main things we go for are plenty of savoury items, sandwiches and cold pizza are brilliant for the first few days, but can go off.  For later in the race, tortilla wraps and pate are very easy to carry and keep for a long time.  This is usually supplemented with salami and other cured meats to add both protein and flavour.  The rest of the food we get is a mixture of sweet and savoury, chocolate, crisps, bars, noodles (if we know we can heat water up), tinned/boxed fruit, flavoured milk, coke, granola, and many other little treats.

The shopping trip is always a big one, often involving 2 trolleys.  This often stands out in the supermarket, but if you consider we are usually buying 5 days worth of food for 4 people, and thats 5 days continuous, which is probably the equivalent of over 2 weeks for normal consumption, at around 6000 calories per day.

Andy enjoying some tasty food in a snow storm

While we try to maximise the number of calories we consume each day, it is almost impossible to fully refuel during the race, so to counter this I try to feed up before the race, especially the few weeks before I race.  It doesn’t affect my training, as with 2 weeks to go to a race you are not going to get much fitter anyway.  It i enjoyable though, eating loads of tasty foods knowing you will burn it off while racing.

Once back at base we set about the large task of splitting the food up, into packs that will last a certain amount of time, some for water based sections, others for foot, and some for the bike. This means that when we get to a transition we can quickly grab the right amount of food we need for the next section, and we don’t have to spend any time putting food together to get what we require.

Chocolate anyone?

The food is split up, and we also place food items that we won’t carry on an sections in the bags to use at transitions, heavy items like flavoured milk, tinned fruit and other tinned food, and if the race looks like it might need it some cooking equipment to heat up some food.

It is very difficult to produce a definitive list of what we’ll need at a race, as they are all different, in different countries and climates, and with varying amounts of external food sources, like cafes/shops you can call into during the race.

The key point is variety, you often get bored with the food you are eating, so need to be able to mix up the menu.  You have to eat all the time to keep the energy levels up, and this sometimes makes eating a chore, and as such it is vital to keep things interesting and tasty to make sure you do eat.

Wheeling in some lamb for the post race meal...

And best of all, once you finish the race, you can pig out a bit, and really enjoy some tasty food, sat at a table in a restaurant, rather than huddled together in a wet damp forest!

Over time you will learn what food works for you, what is best for which climate, and what you can get in various countries.  If you have a supported race it is very different, and for the shorter races you can get away with the high sugar food as you won’t have to keep eating it for days on end.

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