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International Journal o f Sport Nutrition, 1994, 4, 166-174

0 1994 Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.

Nutritional Intake During


an Ultraendurance Running Race
Barbara D. Eden and Peter 1. Abernethy
The food and fluid intake of a male ultraendurance runner was recorded
throughout a 1,005-km race completed over 9 days. The nutrient analysis
showed an average daily energy intake of 25,000 W with 62% from carbohydrate, 27% from fat, and 11% from protein. Carbohydrate intake was estimated to be 16.8 g . kg-' . day-'. The protein intake was estimated to be 2.9
g . kg-' . day-' and water intake to be 11 L per day. These figures are within
the recommended levels for ultraendurance athletes (2, 10). Food and fluid
were consumed in small amounts every 15 to 20 min to ensure maintenance
of blood glucose levels and adequate hydration. This case study suggests
that if the guidelines for prolonged exercise are followed, then athletes can
successfully complete ultraendurance events.
Key Words: nutrition, athletic diet, nutrients, carbohydrate

The Sydney to Melbourne (Australia) race involves running 1,005 km within


9 days. This type of ultraendurance event is physiologically and psychologically
stressful (6). The athletes' nutritional practices influence their ability to complete
the race. In particular, the replacement of fluid is important to reduce the risk of
dehydration. Similarly, the maintenance of energy supply is important to help avoid
oxidative substrate exhaustion (7, 2). Dehydration and hyponatremia also need to
be avoided if the athlete is to complete the ultraendurance event in good condition
(6, 10). Therefore, consuming sufficient water and electrolytes during sustained
exercise is a chief consideration. It is recommended that ultraendurance athletes
consume between 1 and 2 L of fluid per hour of exercise (lo), and if exercise is
over a number of days then sodium intake should be approximately 1 g . W' (6).
Similarly, the consumption of carbohydrate to maintain normal blood glucose levels
is necessary to avoid hypoglycemia and fatigue (7-9). In an earlier published paper
(I), we presented the blood glucose levels of the athlete during the race and reported
that hypoglycemia was avoided by a regular intake of carbohydrate.
It is also important that an athlete consume sufficient fat, protein, and
micronutrients during periods of stress (2). The exact micronutrient requirements
B. Eden is with the School of Sport and Leisure Studies, The University of New
South Wales, St. George Campus, P.O. Box 88 Oatley, NSW 2223, Australia. P. Abemethy
is with the Department of Human Movement Studies, The University of Queensland,
Brisbane, Qld 4072, Australia.

Ultraendurance Running

167

of an ultraendurance athlete are unknown; however, it is thought that the required


levels are above the Recommended Daily Intakes (RDIs) (5). A previous study
by Rontoyannis et al. (14) reported that the winning competitor took a polyvitamin
tablet, 500 mg vitamin C, and a protein tablet twice a day. This runner averaged
an energy intake of 43,370 kJ (10,330 kcal) per day with 94.7% from carbohydrate,
3.5% from fat, and 1.8% from protein. However, it has been suggested that
athletes who take in a large amount and a wide variety of food probably do not
require vitamin or mineral supplements (2, 5).
The aim of this study was to investigate the food and fluid intake of a
novice ultraendurance runner who completed the race in 8.5 days, in order to
see if all nutritional requirements were being met. This investigation also contributes to the pool of information on ultraendurance events and competitors, which
may be used to develop guidelines for organization of and participation in such
events.

Method
This case study was carried out during a 1,005-km nonstop running race (SydneyMelbourne) held from April 24 to May 1, 1990. The racecourse began in Sydney
at sea level, climbed into the Tablelands and the Australian Alps (altitude of
1,000 m), and then descended to the coastal plain. The maximum temperature
was approximately 25 "C during initial days, fell to 8-10 "C while the runners
were crossing the mountains, and rose back to 14-17 "C for the final days.
The subject was a 38-year-old male runner (weight 55.5 kg, height 171.5
cm, 5.6% body fat) with a V02max of 70.6 ml . kg-' . min-'. He had previously
completed marathon, 24-hr, 40-hr, and 6-day events. For the 6 months preceding
the race he trained regularly both day and night, covering 240-320 km per week.
Three times a week he jogged the 25 km home from work, and once a week he
ran from midnight to 5 A.M. to accustom himself to night running. The subject's
food intake was recorded using the diet history method, and nutrient intake was
estimated using the Diet 1 version 3.1 nutrient calculation software package
(Xyris Software, Australia, 1991). During the training period his energy intake
was estimated to be 16,000 kJ (3,830 kcal) per day with 15% from protein, 30%
from fat, and 55% from carbohydrate. This involved the athlete consuming 500
g of carbohydrate and 125 g of protein per day. The intake levels of all the
micronutrients were above the RDI, and fiber intake was estimated to be 75 g
per day.
The support team consisted of six people including a leader, two drivers,
a massage therapistlregistered nurse, a cook, and a runner who delivered food
and drink to the running athlete. As people worked in shifts, all team members
were instructed by a trained nutritionist on how to prepare the supplement drink,
called Maximum, and how to record the athlete's dietary intake so that it was
standardized. Maximum, a glucose polymer powder, was mixed with water, fruit
juice, or soup, and it contained electrolytes, sodium (10 mmol - L-I), and potassium
(5 mmol - L-I). The timing, type, and quantity of food and fluid consumption
were systematically recorded as was the type of activity that the athlete was
performing while eating or drinking. The dietary intake was analyzed with the
nutrient calculation software package Diet 1 version 3.1 (Xyris Software, Australia, 1991). The per-hour expressions were based on the periods of physical activity
for each day.

1 68

/ Eden and Abernethy

Results and Discussion


The athlete completed the event in 199 hr. He commenced running at 11 A.M.
of Day 1 and finished at 6 P.M. of Day 9, which was 5 hr before the cutoff time.
The front-runners in the race completed the event in 5 to 6 days. In 1985, Yannis
Kouros completed the Sydney to Melbourne race over 960 km in 5 days, 5 hr,
7 min (14). The running times of our subject meant that he only rested for
approximately 3 in every 24 hr. The athlete's mean (SD)running speed was
6.04 (0.85) km - hr', which is associated with an oxygen consumption of approximately 34% V0,max (1). The runner's body weight prior to and immediately
following the event was 55.5 kg. Table 1 shows the pattern of running over the
9 days and some of the challenges encountered.
The average daily energy consumed is estimated to have been 25,000 kJ
(6,000 kcal). Table 2 shows the range of intakes to be from 32,229 kJ (7,699
kcal) for Day 8 to 16,872 kJ (4,031 kcal) for Day 5. It was not immediately
apparent as to why energy consumption on Days 8 and 5 were respectively one
Table 1 Daily Distance and Approximate Energy Intake

Day

Distance
(km)

Energy
Places

(kJ) Comments

Sydney-Marulan
Marulan-Canberra

23,885 Race schedule maintained; sore feet.


21,178 Made first cutoff point well; a few
low points.
Canberra-Cooma
32,563 Cold; climbing most of day; sore feet;
not sleeping well.
Cooma-Bombala
26,25 1 Very cold and strong crosswinds; rain
and hail; high altitude; feet improving; made cutoff with 2 hr to spare.
Bombala-Cann River
16,872 Lower altitude; less cold; reached
halfway point 9 hr ahead of cutoff
time; had first good 3-hr sleep.
Cann River-Nowa Nowa 22,122 Sore knee; bought new shoes; 23 km
short of target distance; feelings of
anger.
Nowa Nowa-Stratford
27,183 Morale low; strong encouragement
needed.
Stratford-Darnum
32,229 Confidence low initially; increasing
confidence as day progresses; thinks
he will make it.
Darnum-Melbourne
22,304 Finishing line enough motivation although tired.
24,955
"Based on 9 days running, the first and last being only partial days.

Ultraendurance Running / 169

Table 2 Daily and Mean Estimated Intakes for Energy, Protein,


Fat, Carbohydrate (CHO), and Water
Energy
Day

(H)

(kcal)

Protein (g)

Fat (g)

Mean

24,955

5,961

163

178

CHO (g)

947

Water (L)

11.1

third more or less than the mean consumption. Perhaps intrinsic (e.g., lack of
sleep and changes in morale) and/or extrinsic (e.g., terrain and nearness to
completion) factors were involved. The energy ratios for the macronutrients
were 62% from carbohydrate, 27% from fat, and 11% from protein, which are
within the guidelines recommended for sports people (5). Average carbohydrate
intake of 950 g per day equates to 0.7 g . kg-' . hr-I, which is low enough not
to interfere with fluid absorption and thermoregulation (2). The carbohydrate
beverage consumed was Maximum (Bio-organics, Australia), because it was
preferred by the athlete and had been used in training. When prepared it was
7% carbohydrate from glucose polymers. The runner consumed 3.7 L of Maximum per day, which contributed 260 g carbohydrate per day or 0.2 g - kg-' .
hr-'. In total, starches, sugars, and Maximum accounted for 43%, 30%, and 27%
of the carbohydrate, respectively. Potato, rice, pasta, and bread were the main
sources of starch.
To avoid problems of excessive fiber with the digestive system, both white
and whole-meal cereals were consumed. For example, bread and rice were a
mixture of white and whole-meal, while only white pasta was consumed. A total
of 84 g fiber was consumed in a typical day, which was only slightly more than
the amount consumed by the athlete in his training period. The similarity between
the intakes of fiber prior to and during the event may explain why this athlete
did not have the gastrointestinal problems reported by some other authors (12,
17).
For athletes, it is currently thought that increasing protein intake 50-100%
above that recommended for general health is a sufficient guide to avoid negative
nitrogen balance (5, 11). This is calculated to be approximately 1-2 g . kg-' body
weight of protein per day. It is established that this level is adequate for building
muscles (5, 11) and for endurance athletes (10). It is acknowledged by many
authors (5,6, 10, 11) that this area of study is complicated by the complex nature

170 / Eden and Abernethy

of protein use and the interrelated actions of fat and carbohydrate. In a recent
study (6) on an ultraendurance cyclist it was suggested that the level of protein
required may increase because of the greater amount of total energy consumed.
Clark et al. (6) advise that a range of 1 to 5 g of protein per kilogram of body
weight per day may be necessary to cover protein and energy requirements. The
runner's mean protein intake of 163 g . day-' equates to 2.9 g . kg-' . day-',
which is within these recently suggested limits. This protein intake was not
considered to be too high when the estimated level of protein degradation during
the race was between 78 and 88 g . day-' (1, 16).
Total water intake of 11 L per day was derived from food (1 L) and ingested
fluid (10 L) (water, 4 L; Maximum, 3.7 L; tea, coffee, soup, cordial, and fruit
juice, 2.3 L). Barr and Costill (3) suggested that the hourly fluid loss during
endurance events can be predicted from an individual's weight and running speed.
When this formula was used to estimate the fluid loss for the athlete over the
21 hr he ran each day, it amounted to a loss of 9.6 L of fluid. This compared
favorably with the amount of fluid consumed by the athlete of 11 L.
Food and drink were consumed in small portions every 15 to 20 min. Table
3 shows the frequency and the size of the servings given to the runner with the
type of activity being done. This amount of food and the timing of intake were
designed to minimize gastrointestinal stress and to maintain blood glucose levels.
During extended exercise gastrointestinal distress should be minimized (4, 12,
17) and blood glucose levels should be maintained (2). The mean blood glucose
level of the runner for each day ranged from 5.8 to 7.9 mmol(1). Small amounts
of either food or drink every 15 to 20 min ensured that the digestive system was
not overloaded and that water absorption was maximized (2).
As much as possible the athlete's desire for food type was met in order to
maintain morale; however, variety was encouraged to avoid boredom and ensure
adequate micronutrients. All but one of the micronutrients were adequately supplied (Table 4). The exception was riboflavin, with 3.4 mg . day-' being 92% of
the RDI, based on 0.15 mg per 1,000 kJ eaten, as suggested by Burke (5).
However, this intake was well above the level recommended for general health
in a sedentary male (2.2 mg . day-') (13). The mean sodium intake of 5,830 mg
day-' (Table 4) was provided by food and sport drink, with the latter contributing
only a mean daily intake of 860 mg. These data provide further evidence that
the intakes of micronutrient and electrolyte supplements appear not to be necessary during ultraendurance events when a dietary plan is followed.
The results of this case study indicate that the nutrient intake of an ultraendurance runner over a 9-day event appeared to satisfy the nutrient requirements
for such an event. Foods consumed during the event were based on what the
runner had enjoyed eating during training, and what he could tolerate while
competing. The small regular intake of food or fluids every 15 to 20 min was
adequate to maintain weight and fluid balance over the 9 days, and variety enabled
the athlete to consume adequate micronutrients and maintain interest in eating.
The fact that this athlete closely followed the nutrient requirements calculated
for him by a dietitian prior to the event is thought to have contributed not only
to his successful completion of the ultraendurance event, but also to his successful
completion of a 40-hr race 1 month later.

Ultraendurance Running / 171

Table 3 Sample of Dietary Intake Record From Day 3


Time

1:00 A.M.
1:05
1:20
1:30
1:45
2:oo
2:20
2:30
2:40
255
3:lO
3:15
3:20
3:25
3:40
4:lO
4:30
450
5:25
6:OO
6:20
7:15
7:30
7:45
8:OO
8:15
8:40
9:15
9:20
9:35
9:40
1o:oo
10:15
10:25
10:35
1o:so
11:05
11:12
11:25
11:40

Amount

250 ml
1 bowl
250 ml
1 slice
250 ml
250 ml
200 ml
250 ml
250 ml
250 ml
1 cup
250 ml
1 bowl
1 slice
250 ml
1 bowl
200 ml
250 ml
200 ml
1 whole
75 ml
200 ml
250 ml
250 ml
200 ml
250 ml
1 whole
250 ml
112 whole
200 ml
250 ml
250 ml
200 ml
2 whole
100 ml
250 ml
1 bowl
200 ml
250 ml
250 ml

Drink/food description

Activity

Maximum
Muesli, milk
Water
Toast, butter, jam
Maximum
Water
Coffee, milk, 2 sugars
Maximum
Water
Maximum
Coffee, milk, 2 sugars
Maximum
Ponidge, milk
Bread, butter
Water
Spaghetti, vegetables, meat
Tea, milk, I sugar
Maximum
Tea, milk, 1 sugar
Muffin, egg, cheese slice
Maximum
Coffee, milk, 2 sugars
Maximum
Water
Vegetable soup
Maximum
Banana
Water
Jam sandwich (white)
Thick vegetable soup
Maximum
Water
Coffee, milk, 2 sugars
Plain sweet biscuits
Maximum
Water
225 g rice cream, 70 g fruit
Maximum
Water
Maximum

Running
Walking
Walking
Walking
Running
Running
Running
Running
Walking
Running
Walking
Running
Walking
Walking
Walking
Walking
Walking
Running
Walking up hill
Walking up hill
Walking
Resting after 25 min sleep
Walking
Running
Running
Running
Running
Running
Running
Walking up hill
Running
Running
Running
Running
Running
Running
Running
Running
Running
Running
(continued)

1 72 / Eden and Abernethy

Table 3 Continued
--

Time

Amount
250 ml
1 bowl
200 ml
250 ml
250 ml
250 ml
200 ml
3 whole
250 ml
250 ml
200 ml
112 whole
250 ml
1 bowl
100 ml
150 ml
100 ml
1 bowl
180 ml
125 ml
1 bowl
200 ml
250 ml
1 bowl
200 ml
112 whole
200 ml
250 ml
1 bowl
250 ml
200 ml
30 g
250 ml
1/2 whole
250 ml
1 bowl
150 ml

Drinklfood description

Activity

Water
Thick vegetable soup
Tea, milk, 1 sugar
Maximum
Water
Maximum
Coffee, milk, 2 sugars
Cream biscuits
Water
Water
Maximum
Jam sandwich (white & brown)
Maximum
Meat & vegetable soup
Water
Water
Maximum
Spaghetti bolognaise, vegetables
Milk, Milo (2 tsp), 2 sugars
Maximum
Mince & vegetables, 1 potato
Coffee, milk, 2 sugars
Maximum
1 banana, 200 g rice custard
Water
Jam sandwich (white & brown)
Milk, Milo (2 tsp), 2 sugars
Maximum
Lentil soup
Water
Coffee, milk, 2 sugars
Milk chocolate
Water
Jam sandwich (white & brown)
Water
225 g rice cream, 70 g fruit
Maximum

Running
Walking
Walking up steep hill
Walking up hill
Running down hill
Running on flat
Walking
Walking
Running
Running
Walking on flat
Walking
Walking
Walking
Running up hill
Running up hill
Walking
Walking
Walking
Running
Walking after 2 hr rest
Walking
Walking
Walking
Running
Walking up hill
Walking on flat
Running down hill
Walking up hill
Walking up hill
Walking up hill
Walking up hill
Walking up hill
Walking up hill
Running down hill
Walking up hill
Walking up hill

UJtraendurance Running / 173

Table 4 Mean Values and Percentage of Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for
Micronutrients Consumed Over the 9 Days of the Event
Micronutrient"

Mean intake

RDI

% of RDI

Thiamin
Riboflavin
Niacin Eq
Total A Eq
Vitamin C
Iron
Zinc
Potassium
Sodium
Calcium
Phosphorus
Magnesium
Values expressed in milligrams, except for Total A Eq, which is expressed in micrograms. bFigures calculated from suggested intakes for athletes in Burke (5). All other
figures in RDI column are based on those for a 38-year-old male in National Health
and Medical Research Council (12).

References
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Acknowledgments
We are grateful to Heather Yeatman, from Wollongong University, for her helpful
suggestions. This study was supported by a grant from the University of New South
Wales.