Adventure racing is an endurance sport that pushes the athlete to their physical limits. It also requires a strong and determined mind to carry the racer continuously for hours and days on end.
This video gives a great insight into AR, its wonders and challenges.
Spending the day with Anthony Emmet opened my eyes to the complexity and physical demands of the sport. I joined Anthony on one of his training sessions where he set up a simplified Adventure Race (AR); we completed a 23km mountain bike, followed by a 7km run and finished with a 7km kayak, stopping to change kit, equipment and top up fuel supplies at transition between each discipline and finishing in just under 5hrs 30mins.
During the day it became apparent that nutrition is only one element of what is a complex race which requires a lot of pre-race planning and experience: organising kit at transition; route planning and navigation; having enough food provisions and working as a team; supporting the weakest team member at any given point during the race.
AR is about finishing the race in the quickest time possible which means limited times to stop and eat with short windows of sleep. Fuelling for AR requires maximising times of opportunities to eat with high energy, low weight nutritious foods, making every mouthful count. Food needs to be portable, palatable, non perishable, be able to mix with cold water and lightweight.
Asking Anthony what has worked best for him, he replied, "being prepared for any eventuality". Anthony already has a well thought out nutrition plan; the team plan 24-hour ration packs. These are divided into 4 bags, one for every 6 hours when the team stops for a short period of time to eat. This allows them to manage as best they can what they need for a section of the race purely based on pre race estimated times and route planning.
What I surmised from the day was that Anthony’s team needed nutrition advice on how to get the most out of these rations (energy and nutrients – including, fats, proteins and micronutrients). He highlighted the importance of staying healthy over speed e.g. at any time a team member could become dehydrated or sick.
The biggest nutrition related issues his team face during races include: eating enough energy, staying hydrated, GI upset and ulcers in the mouth.
I reviewed both what Anthony ate on the go and at the 6hour stops. Because AR requires teams carrying 24 hours plus supply of food, he pays particular attention to calories per 100g, where 400kcals per 100g indicates high energy low weight to carry. From here I tweaked some of the snacks/meals to help balance the nutrients (mix up of different types of carbs and provide a source of fats and proteins).
Top tips to fuel for AR
1) Choose kit with many easy to reach pockets to store food and grab quickly on the go, leaving little excuse not to eat regularly - e.g. multiple pockets on back packs, nose bags on bikes, buoyancy aids with pockets (so the food is always staring at you!). Anthony likes to keep his savoury slower foods in his left pocket and faster sweet foods in the right.
2) Team work – when you eat and drink, the team eats and drinks.
3) During training, practice race nutrition strategies and trial eating different foods and fluids. The stomach can be trained to digest food better during activity. Practice eating/drinking on the bike, running and kayaking.
4) Choose high energy dense foods and try to make them as nutritious and as close to real food as practically possible. Do not rely on gels, high sugar energy bars and sports drinks to provide you with all your race energy, this will cause stomach upset and flavour fatigue and eventually rot your teeth.
5) Energy and nutrient content of meals/shakes can be maximised by fortifying them:
- Energy – add skimmed milk powder and/or MCT powder
- Protein – skimmed milk powder, whey powder (unflavoured whey can be added to freeze dried meals especially if bought a cheaper meal, as these tend to have poorer protein content)
- Micronutrients – 100% powdered fruits/vegetables are light weight to carry and can be used to protect health during races. With Anthony, I used LYO Powders that are soon to be launched to purchase at LYOFOOD
Additional items that could be trialled and are good for palatability and improved tolerance include; dried sweet potato powder, dried egg powder, pats of butter, desiccated coconut.
6) Aim to eat 300calories every hour, eating at 30-60minute intervals. Remember what you eat whilst running/riding and kayaking will all vary i.e. harder to eat running, easier to digest food whilst on a bike, access to food whilst kayaking. (Drinking is easier whilst kayaking and Anthony takes advantage of getting energy through liquids, especially when conditions are rough and taking your hands off the paddle is not an option. He and his team can be kayaking for up to 16hrs). So on the day we tested Peronin a high energy, protein drink (which I had fortified with additional nutrition supplements).
Suggestions for on-the-go high calorie snacks
Chia charge bars, squeezy peanut butter, honey stinger waffles, chimpanzee bar, Pulsin maple and whey crisp and the usual suggestions of babybel, salted nuts, malt loaf (try buttering it), home made trail mix (mixed nuts, dried fruit, dark chocolate, jelly sweets).
Or, if trying to keep costs down, make up your own chewy bar with a mix of nuts, ground chia seeds, coconut, oats and honey (recipes can be found online).
Recipe: On-the-go energy pack (simply add 300ml of cold water and shake)
2 handfuls of oats, 1 scoop of whey protein (20g), 1 tablespoon of desiccated coconut, 2 tablespoons of ground chia seeds, 2 heaped tablespoons of skimmed millk powder, 1 teaspoon of dried fruit powder.
High calorie meals (adding cold water)
Anthony uses cold water to rehydrate his freeze dried meals, as carrying a stove costs extra weight so is not an option. He adds cold water to the freeze dried food whilst on the go, tucking it back into an easy reach pocket for 20-30 minutes so it is ready to eat on arrival at transition or on a stop break.
The higher the calorie content of the freeze dried meals the better e.g.
There is a vast range of freeze dried foods available - I would suggest trying a variety for taste preference, weight and cost.
High calorie drinks
Other ‘in race’ strategies I advised to trial:
- Saliva spray
- Caffeine gum
I also helped Anthony focus on his nutrition around his training (fat adaptation strategies, muscle mass (strength) gains and fuelling appropriately for high intensity sessions).
Thank you to Anthony for his time and best wishes for his racing and adventures in New Zealand.