Trail Running Nutrition: Everything you need to know!

Carbohydrates

Maintaining good health is largely determined by a careful diet, and food is the primary fuel for maintaining our body’s energy supply-performance balance.

In the following lines, you will learn about trail running nutrition and the basics of a balanced calorie intake diet, which of course, you will have to adapt to your own needs and requirements.

Table of Contents

Basic knowledge of Trail Running Nutrition

What is a Trail Running diet?

That is a diet designed to meet the nutritional needs of a trail runner or an ultra runner. It is a daily diet based mainly on carbohydrates, the average consumption of which should correspond to 65-70% of the total calories consumed. This percentage is adjusted by an additional 5% before or after a run and is reduced by 5% when the athlete is not training.

Regarding the type of diet and the quality of the calories consumed, it is emphasized that proteins and fat are recommended as complementary calories shortly before or shortly after a trail race.

A runner’s diet should be based mostly on carbohydrates, individualized, and adapted to his body type and age. The intensity of the exercise that is followed must also be taken into account, as well as the time that it is applied.

Carbohydrates

Glycogen is the human body’s main fuel and is stored in the liver and muscles. It is a substance that results from carbohydrates, including bread, pasta, and potatoes.

If you need complementary foods rich in carbohydrates, consuming an energy gel, energy bars, or chewing carbohydrates is recommended.

When your glycogen is low enough, you will understand it from the distinct feeling of discomfort as a “bonking” that it causes. Therefore, as a precaution, have the special complementary glycogen snacks with you to avoid unpleasant accidents.

Proteins and fat

Protein and fat supplements are consumed before or after running. Fat is a source of energy but not immediately usable, as it takes some time to turn it into fuel. Fat provides you with long-term storage; it’s your energy store.

If you need a light fat supplement before the race, prefer to mix fat with waffles and energy bars, but without exaggeration. For quick glycogen coverage, you should prefer carbohydrates. You might feel uncomfortable and “heavy” if you consume enough fat before the race. 

Proteins should be part of a runner’s daily diet. They are excellent at rebuilding tissues and strengthening the body after strenuous exercise. Ideally, they should be consumed within 1.5 hours of the end of the daily exercise program. A small amount of 15 grams per hour is acceptable during the run.

Why choose a Trail Running Nutrition?

If you are a professional athlete, a trail running diet is a one-way choice to maintain good health without collapsing on the track. However, this does not mean that you should be limited in your diet during a non-competitive period. It is best to consult a qualified nutritionist who will guide you based on your personal needs and preferences.

The parameters that will be evaluated by the nutritionist who will undertake you are the following:

  • Prevention of gastrointestinal disorders
  • Reduction or increase in body mass
  • Balancing nutritional intake and energy needs
  • Designing a personalized sports nutrition program

Your body will have the last word in everything. Listen to it and if for any reason you get upset during a trail running diet program, inform your nutritionist and make the appropriate adjustments. Try to keep a balance without exaggerations.

Trail Running Nutrition Program

It is emphasized that the diet plan of each runner should be individualized based on your body type, your personal needs, and the exercise program you follows. However, general guidelines can put you more or less in the mood for a professional runner’s diet.

Diet the night before the race

The night before the race, try not overdo it with your meal. Avoid consuming huge amounts of food of any composition, especially fats, proteins, and fiber. Likewise, do not get carried away with hot or spicy meals that can cause stomach upsets.

It is best with balanced amounts of healthy fats (olive oil, avocado), and a meal rich in carbohydrates. After all, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids contribute to the proper functioning of your brain, heart, and immune system.

Diet before the race

Two and a half hours before exercise, choose to consume a carbohydrate-based meal with a bit of protein. Dried fruit, a banana, flatbread with peanut butter are excellent choices for a meal of about 500 calories. If three hours have passed since your last meal, you can eat a carb snack no later than half an hour before running time.

Below we present some ideas for breakfast before the race. Of course, you will adapt them to your individual preferences and tolerance. More precisely:

  • Grilled sandwich
  • A portion of rice or pasta (not whole grain)
  • Banana + slice of bread (not whole grain) with peanut butter
  • Fruit of your choice + toast with vegemite
  • Porridge with fruit or oats with yogurt
  • Fruit smoothie

Diet during the race

Throughout your race, you should maintain satisfactory glycogen levels so that you do not collapse. Especially if it is a long-distance run, you can eat nuts, cereal bars, sandwiches, or burgers. On short distances, as a rule, all our needs are met with drinking water, without food.

The general context regarding snacks during the run is about 200-300 calories per hour. If you feel your body collapsing, stop this diet or modify it under the guidance of your nutritionist. If you still endure, but your body craves a certain food, satisfy that need. 

For races of less than 90 minutes, you may not need a power supply during the run, provided that you have eaten properly earlier. Races longer than 120 minutes, however, require the intake of carbohydrate snacks and the adoption of muscle feeding strategies before and during the long run.

If you are running at a fast pace, prefer liquid carbohydrate options, while for slower paces, you can consume even solid carbohydrates or energy gels at special checkpoints. Another parameter that you should consider is the taste fatigue that you will probably face, especially in long-distance races. This possibility can be easily removed if you prepare a variety of snack options with different textures and flavors.

The cornerstone of your body’s balance under these difficult conditions is, of course, hydration. The loss of water and electrolytes is enormous in running races, especially when performed under extremely hot climatic conditions for an extended period. To avoid dehydration or oligomeric shock, you must consume electrolyte buffers and plenty of water throughout the race. 

Always listen to your body throughout the race. Apart from dehydration or the feeling of collapse, never underestimate possible gastrointestinal disorders; ignoring them will worsen your health while your performance will drop dramatically. After all, health is above any personal limit bet.

Diet after the race

After the end of the exercise, you will theoretically need: electrolytes and rebuild the tired muscles, as well as a mixture of fat, carbohydrates, and proteins to replenish your glycogen stores, consumed within 2 hours of the end of the exercise.

After a strenuous exercise, such as a running race, your body needs to recover. This process is divided into three main axes:

  • Rehabilitation of carbohydrate stores (muscle glycogen)
  • Good hydration (due to large losses with sweat)
  • Muscle repair

Balanced meals that can be suggested after a hard race are as follows:

  • Quinoa with tuna salad
  • Salad with avocado and cheese, combined with Mexican Chicken Burritos
  • Yogurt with nuts, sunflower seeds, and muesli
  • Salad and sandwich stuffed with avocado, ham, and cheese
  • Milk with fruit puree in a delicious smoothie

If your route is short, drinking water can meet all your needs. Hydration is more vital than the body itself.

Nutritional tricks

Drinking meals

If you are in a situation where you do not want to risk an irritation of your stomach, try to consume drinking meals! Energy drinks are abundant, with an excellent ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Ideally, combine an energy drink whenever with a slight boost meal. 

Training meals are equivalent to exercise meals

Practice eating like you would on the day of a critical run. Discover the paths of the race route in advance, practice on them, see how you manage to meet your nutritional needs, and apply them on the day of the race. During the race, avoid experimenting with something new; give your best while walking on familiar paths.

Schedule your meals

It’s the best way to be disciplined in a daily diet, without over-consumption of energy gels, energy drinks, and carbohydrates, even if designed for athletes. Any exaggeration can bring unpleasant surprises.

Conclusion

Trail running can be a fun, healthy activity for runners of all levels. But if you don’t fuel correctly or take care of your body after the race, it can lead to unpleasant consequences.

Now that you know all about the importance of trail running nutrition, be sure to stock up on the proper supplies and snacks to perform at your best!

Visit your local sporting goods store for snacks like energy bars, gels, and electrolyte drinks, as well as water bottles and hydration packs to make sure you’re well-hydrated before, during, and after your race.

With the proper preparation, you’ll be able to run strong and finish strong on race day!


Please note: This blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.