Thursday 30 October 2008

Kalahari Marathon - Nutrition & Hydration review

My full race report for the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 can be found here.
My equipment review can be found here.

Now for food and hydration.

I'll review all the food and hydration items I used.

Breakfast - Scots Porrage oats 75g, dried milk 60g, 20g Honey Banana chips - 577Kcal
I mix this together myself into a resalable freezer bag, and then simply pour in hot water and eat straight from the bag. I don't see the point of buying expensive dehydrated porrage meals, or using lower calorie instant porrage like Oatso-simple. It's low cost and easy to make breakfast, and importantly, you have control over the content and the calories. Breakfast is very important on multi day events. This breakfast as listed is almost 600 Kcal. It is very filling, and it certainly takes me a while to eat it. Personally, I don't find eating porrage in hot conditions a pleasure, but oats are the best slow burn carb fuel, so I eat it because I must. The banana chips I put in were not going down as well as usual, so next time I think I'll swap for 20g dried cranberries. Apart from that, I feel well fuelled for the day and I don't get hungry quickly. Having a big calorie breakfast has the obvious advantage of keeping you full for longer, so you don't have to eat snacks as quickly. A number of competitors always say that they struggle to eat snacks once they have started running. This is all the more reason to have lots of calories in the morning while you are still able to eat. Nevertheless snacking on the move is more or less vital, as the breakfast won't carry you through a long days effort.

PSP22 - Carbohydrate-loader drink - 185 kcal
I have 50g in litre of water with my breakfast, and sip the rest up to about 20 minutes before the start each day. This tops up my breakfast to almost 800 Kcals, as well as ensuring my hydration level is topped up too. Of course I will have been rehydrated immediately following the previous days effort, all evening, and I will be sipping water all night as well.

Energy bars
Clif bar - 240kcal
- 70g
The chocolate chip bar is one that I usually eat. It's easy to eat, not too chewy. I'll eat a few small bites with some water when running between CP's, or perhaps a little more if seated at a CP. They taste good, are I feel fuelled after eating them

Honey Stringer bars 190kcal - 50g
Unless you like honey there is no point even trying these. They do come in a few flavour, but obviously the base content is honey. They taste good, probably even better than the Clif bars, but they have less calorific value. They also are very very sticky and gooey in a hot climate. They seem to have a top layer with goes sticky, the rest remains solid. I did enjoy eating these, but the low calorie value of them puts me off a little

Mulebars - 359kcal - per 100g (Pack content 71g)
I got a couple of chocolate fig fiesta flavour to use on day 4. I'd never eaten these before. I thought they were quite cake-like. The flavour I had really tasted good; a combination of chocolate and fruit. I was eating these almost in one go, whilst running pretty quickly during the night stage. Washed down with plenty of water, I didn't get any indigestion or discomfort. I felt full and well fuelled for a long time after eating one. think I've found my new favourite on-the-go snack. I'll be packing plenty for the Atacama Crossing in Chile.

Trail Mix - 60g salt & sweet cashews/10g cranberry/10g Macademia/20g Banana chips - 578kcal - 100g
I bought all the individual items and mixed up my own bag of trail mix. In the Sahara I had enjoyed eating this on the go, but I had based it around a purchased fruit and nut mix, which had a higher cereal content that made it easier and more enjoyable to digest. As it was in the Kalahari, I didn't get the desire to eat these while on the go. Sometimes at a CP I would get out the bag and eat a few handfuls, but more often than not I would eat these after the race had ended, which is not their intended use. The only way to get trail mix with nuts to go down, whilst running in the desert, is to take a mouthful of water with every handful of mix. Otherwise it's very hard to swallow in the heat, when your mouth is dry. My advise is don't base your entire on-the-go food on a nut-based trail mix. Make sure you have something else that is easier to eat, just in case you find, like me, that eating it is not always appealing. Make no mistake, if that is the only food I would have had, I can force myself to eat it, but because I had a choice each day, I opted for the easier to digest energy bars.

Pop Tarts (2) - 402kcal - 98g
People laugh when they see these, but don't knock them. Plenty of quick calores for the weight and easy to eat, especially since they'll get broken up in the wrappers. I ate these for an after dinner treat on the rest day, and really enjoyed them. I have previously used them twice to quite literally give me enough energy not to quit a race. They are my little life-savers. I don't use them for breakfast unless I can't force anything else down, in which case they come in handy.

Peperami (2 per day) - 324kcal (for two) - 54g
These salami snacks always go down well. Any time of the day, I can enjoy these. They are salt, fatty snacks with lots of protein, not a lot of carbohydrate. So, they are not going to be your main source of on-the-go fuel, but sometimes when you don't feel like eating anything else I turn to these. Usually after eating one, I'll get my appetite back for eating something else too. Don't leave home without them!

SIS Go - 72kcal - 20g
Obviously you can mix this up to whatever concentrate you wish. I buy the big 1.6l bottles, as a pose to the sachets, and bag 20g up into tiny 2x2 inch sealable bags. Remember that high carbohydrate content in a drink will inhibit fluid uptake through the stomach, so don't make your concentrate too strong. I usually mix to half the manufacturers suggested instructions. If they say 50g per 500ml, I'll mix 25g to 500ml. Not always do these drinks have much salt included. So, if you are not eating any salty snacks, like Peperami, you may wish to add a small amount of salt to the mix too. I was in fact mixing this quite weak. I would only use 20g per 800ml, because I was supplementing with Endurolytes. I would start the day with plain water in each of my 800ml bottles. Then I would typically have a 20g bag of SIS Go to mix into one 800ml bottle at CP1, then each CP onwards. I would always keep my other 800ml bottle for plain water only. At no point during the week would electrolyte ever go near that bottle. Sometimes you just want to drink plain water, untainted by any electrolyte.

I would swallow 2 capsules per hour. The dosage suggested is 1-3 per hour, possibly more in a hot climate. However, because I was also using SIS Go, I felt comfortable with 2 per hour. I would swallow these on the hour every hour. Set your watch for an hourly chime to remind you. This routine also helps break the day up strangely. You can look at your watch and think, ok 20 mins to my next Endurolytes. It takes your mind off the distances. Using the combination of SIS Go and Endurolytes I didn't suffer from any cramps and my feet didn't swell at all. There were a few times I forgot to take the Endurolytes, and I would have an extra one later, but I would always be using the SIS Go at every CP religiously. I would advise packing each days capsules separately. If you put them for the week all in one bag and accidentally spill water into it, they will all gel together and melt into one big capsule-ball, and be ruined.

SIS Rego - 175kcal 50g
As soon as I finish a stage I rehydrate with a Dioralyte straight away. Every athlete ends the day dehydrated, it is unavoidable; some more than others of course. Fast rehydration is important to recovery. I would usually have a Diorolyte in about 400ml of water. Straight after I would mix 50g of SIS Rego into 800ml of water and drink that over the next half hour or so. SIS Rego is a recovery drink. Basically, a protein shake with carbs in there too, as well as host of minerals. Fast carb replacement, after a days effort, is just as important as rehydration. Usually you won't be eating straight away (if you can, great), so drinking this will at least get some carbs in you, and the protein can get to work repairing your muscles.

Evening Meal - Mountain House 800kcal - 200g
I have tried all the main brands of dehydrated meals, and this come out top, by a long long way. I'm not going to sit a criticise every other brand I've tried, as each person has their own taste, so I would advise tasting plenty of different meals as well as these before you get to the desert, and decide what you prefer. If you don't enjoy your food, you won't eat it all. No food = no fuel for the next day.
You want to be eating the 'meals for two', which are around 800kcals. I can recommend the Rice and Chicken and the Chicken a la King. Around 600kcals are Chicken Teriyaki, and chicken noodles, and Spaghetti.
There is a UK supplier of Mountain House, but they carry a pathetically small range, and they are not the 'meals for two'. I've not tried any of their range, but they can be purchased here. I always import a quantity of these at once (20 meals typically). The cheapest place for delivery is here. RTP only charge $10 international delivery, for any quantity of anything from their store!! Their range of meals is better than the UK distributor, and does have the larger meals, but still they carry few compared to REI. REI carry the whole range, are usually the cheapest for the meals themselves, and discount by 10% if you buy 12 packs. They are however very expensive for delivery. So, you need to be ordering in quantity, or with someone else, to make it worthwhile. Always remember that there is a possibility you may have to pay import duty on goods ordered abroad. It's pot luck if you packet gets picked up and hit-up for VAT and Duty.
Mountain House meals not only taste like real food, it looks like real food, something that other manufacturers seem to have missed? I feel nicely full after an 800kcal meal, which is important to me too!

Oxo Cube (beef/chicken stock cube) - 17kcal - 7g
Wonderfully versatile little item. You can use it to make a tasty drink when in between meals at camp, or you can crumble it into your dehydrated food to enhance or change the taste. I tend to take the same stock of 2 or 3 main meals, so adding a different flavour every other day ensures that I don't get bored and always find my food enjoyable.

SIS Rego Nocte - 149kcal - 51g
This is a night time recovery drink, much like the normal Rego. You can it just before bed. It is supposed to aid sleeping (didn't help in my case), but again it is more protein. Some people may think two protein drinks is overkill, but I didn't get any muscle soreness at all, all week and I think these drinks play a major part in that. Personally, I think theses do not taste every good. The chocolate is better than the only other flavour, vanilla, but still I drink them because I must, not for enjoyment. Can be drunk hot or cold.

So in conclusion, I was very happy overall with the food I took. I will probably swap the trail mix for a Mulebar or two. I sometimes had one energy bar left over at the end of the day, but I won't reduce the number taken for the Atacama, because running at altitude I am likely require more calories. 3400kcal per day sounds like a lot vs the 2000 minimum (which people do take). I have a fast metabolism and I burn through a lot of calories. I would not last a few days on 2000kcals. You can always thrown food away, but you can't get anymore if you haven't packed enough. Pack wisely.

Hydration. I've found for me that I use around 800ml per hour, and that's my rule of thumb. Everyone's needs are different, so you may use more or less. In a hot climate I'd be surprised if it was a lot less, even if you are walking. Obviously you don't want to run out of water, but at the same time, it is better that you drink the water when you need it and perhaps survive the last kilometre to a checkpoint with no water, than leave 100ml in the bottle whilst dying of thirst. A speed/Distance watch or GPS is invaluable for knowing how far it is to the next CP. Using one is integral to my hydration strategy from checkpoint to checkpoint.
I really would advise keeping your water and electrolyte bottles separate, and do consider using a chlorine tablet in the electrolyte bottle, every day or two, to kill the bugs that grown in the bottle and straw (from the sugar).

I hope that's been helpful.


  1. Hi Rich, good food analysis. One thing - don't Mule bars weight around 100g? So prett much the same cal/weight ratio as the rest?

    Do you find that there is a point into arun when you prefer liqiud cals to solid (or the opposite?)


  2. William. I weighed the mulebar at 71g and looked on the back and very quickly wrote down the kcal content. Now, after looking at their website, I suspect that the nutrition information is a little misleading. I think the mulebar packed gives the calorie content of 100g and not the 71g pack content! So, you are probably correct. Mulebar need to make their labelling as clear as the other brands (unless I just missed it totally, I'll have to check)! I'll edit the original post for clarity. Thanks for that! They still taste great though.

    There are certainly times when you don't feel like eating on a race, but I'm not sure how easy it is to get a quantity of liquid calories? Sure the electrolyte drinks have them, but I mix they so weak as to ensure my that the carn content is low. The higher the carb content, the more difficult it is for your stomach to uptake fluide for rehydration. Gels are another option, but I think they are too heavy for the carbs they provide. Maybe there is a liquid solution out there, but it would be a balancing act of getting calories and getting hydrated.

    There are certainly times when only solid food will do. Well into the night stage I was realy craving solid food, and so wolfed down those mulebars in a matter of minutes.

    It's hard to say what your palette will desire when you are in the desert, so unless you know for certain a good mix of foods would be a good idea. There is always a little trading that takes place amongst some competitors, if you find you hate everything you've bought along!

  3. So you're saying I shouldn't just take 1.7 litres of olive oil??? Back to the drawingboard...

    Thanks for your insights.


  4. You might be onto something there. Why both with tiresome carbs, just drink olive oil, hit the wall straight away and run off pure fat as fuel? :)

  5. Rich,
    Thanks for putting Pop Tarts back on my radar. I've eaten them during relay races and probably even in ultras, but hadn't considered them as an MdS fuel source. Quite the tasty carbohydrate source.

  6. Byron, I'm taking Pop tarts again to the Atacama Crossing in a few weeks time. They are just very easy to eat and pack plenty of carbs. They get a little crushed up usually, but that just makes them more enjoyable to eat. They have saved me a couple of times in big events. Unable to stomach any real breakfast or any other food, I can always seem to eat Pop Tarts. Another treat I'm taking this time is chocolate covered coffee beans. A treat and a cafeine hit at the same time.