By Stephanie Gaskell, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Sports Dietitian, Competitive Ultra Trail Marathon Runner. Nutrition Strategies
Some years ago I participated in a rogaining event and I rather enjoyed it, not that anyone would or should ever take my directions! Looking back on this adventure I was trying to remember what I did nutrition wise. Back then I did not appreciate the importance of good nutrition like I do now.
I have been asked to provide some information about the general nutritional considerations for rogaining. The recommendations are just that general as the nutritional demands will vary for each event largely dependent on factors such as:
- Environmental conditions
- Terrain and
- Physical fitness and competitiveness of team members involved
For specific advice I recommend seeing a qualified sports dietitian. Nutrition Strategies provides this service and can tailor a nutrition plan to your needs. I will be providing you with nutrition tips through social media throughout the year, so stay tuned. For now a general overview follows.
Physical Demands of Rogaining
Rogaining is an endurance sport and a sport that requires much concentration and alertness, thus nutrition plays a key role. Depending on the competiveness of the athlete and the intensity they achieve in the event will influence fuel requirements.
Main Fuel used in Rogaining
Carbohydrate is the main fuel and you want to make sure that you go into the event with an adequate supply – otherwise you may not perform to your best ability, legs may feel heavy and you may be sluggish and tired before you start the event. Not a good start!
Nutrition Leading Up To the Event
If you want to start the event well fuelled and ready to go consume a diet high in carbohydrate in the days leading up to the event. Carbohydrate rich foods include:
- Breads/cereals/pasta/rice and noodles
- Fruits and
- Some vegetables such as potato/corn etc.
When I discuss carbohydrate rich foods I do not mean carbohydrate and fat rich E.g. pastas made with cream based sauces and lots of cheese, meat lovers pizza, going to the bakery and filling up on cream based buns etc. I don’t call these carbohydrate rich…Sorry my friends. These options would be what I refer to as energy dense and nutrient poor, they are not useful in achieving my nutrition goals as an athlete for this part of my plan. They can be useful in other areas of your nutrition plan E.g. at times when getting in plenty of energy is most important etc.
Whether you need to carbohydrate load the days prior depends on your goals. I recommend seeing a qualified sports dietitian for specific advice on this.
The aim of your pre-event nutrition is to top up liver glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. Consuming a carbohydrate rich meal or snack before the rogaining event will help to maintain normal blood glucose levels, improving your physical and mental performance.
You want to start the event well-hydrated but be smart about it and don’t go overboard, over hydrating potentially putting you at risk of hyponatremia (low blood salt levels). Again if you need more specific advice seek a qualified sports dietitian for advice.
You want your meal/snack to be easy to stomach, carbohydrate rich and low fat. It should be something you enjoy and is important to you (helps provide a psychological boost). It is not recommended to try new foods on race day this should be trialled in your training.
I suggest eat 2 – 4 hours prior to the event – this of course depends on the timing of the event.
Some examples are:
- Breakfast cereal (may want to choose lower fibre varieties like cornflakes or you may find Weetbix or porridge is well tolerated) + low fat milk with one piece of fruit or fruit juice
- Toast with low fat spread E.g. jam, honey, vegemite and glass of fruit juice
- Low fat hot potato with creamed corn
- Piece of fruit + low fat yoghurt
- Pasta with low fat tomato based sauce
- Low fat cereal/muesli bar with sports drink
- Low fat sandwich E.g. honey and cinnamon, jam, vegemite
- Low fat fruit smoothie E.g. low fat milk, banana, honey, cinnamon
For more specific individual advice for your needs e.g. how much, I recommend to see a sports dietitian. The same goes for if you have gut upsets or Irritable Bowel Syndrome I recommend to see a sports dietitian with a special interest in this area.
If the environment is going to be hot and humid then you need to ensure you are well planned with your hydration strategies. I suggest focusing on your hydration prior to and during the event. You don’t want to go into an event already dehydrated and then the event dehydrates you further. Dehydration places such demands on the body and very small fluid deficits may impair your physical and mental performance.
You can work out an estimate of your basic fluid loss in a similar environment to that which you will be competing by the following:
- Weigh yourself before (in minimum clothing) training AND
- Immediately after training (in same clothing towel dried)
This is your approximate fluid loss E.g. 1 kg weight loss = 1 L fluid loss
You should have a basic hydration plan that is flexible if needed. For example if I lose 1 L of fluid per hour, this does not necessarily mean I will replace 100% of this but I will aim to rehydrate myself towards this. I will tend to take fluid in regular periods during the day to a plan. If you need to be reminded of this I recommend setting your watch to when you should be consuming nutrition or fluid.
What about Electrolytes?
Sweat is made up of three electrolytes – sodium, chloride and potassium. Sodium is lost in the greatest amount. There is plenty of sodium in food and I would suggest you can achieve your requirements through food or sports drink. If it is hot and humid and you are working at a high level and you are struggling to manage with foods you may look at higher sodium options such as electrolyte replacement drinks e.g. Gastrolyte, Hydralyte Sports or something as simple as stock cubes in water. I will discuss more about this in another article, stay tuned.
During the event, the major fuel used largely depends on your intensity. Main fuels will be from muscle and liver glycogen stores and some fat. Consuming foods or sports nutrition supplements containing carbohydrate like:
- sandwiches, wraps, low fat cereal/ muesli bars, lollies, gels or sports drinks
These will be important to not only help fuel you but to also help stimulate your brain and hence help maintain alertness and cognitive function. Don’t forget the importance of including foods that are psychologically important to you E.g. there is room for some treats like chocolate, buns etc. Just don’t make this your sole source of nutrition for the event.
Remember the importance of regular nutrition e.g. don’t leave it to too late and only consume nutrition when you are feeling tired this is likely too late. Follow a nutrition plan E.g. are you going to consume carbohydrate rich foods every 30 mins, 1 hour etc.? Work this out and set a reminder on your watch or this can be the task of you or your team mate.
What about flavour fatigue?
In an event that is of long duration like this it is likely that you will experience flavour fatigue. It is most important to have a range of foods available during your event e.g. have some sweet and savoury options. You may also wish to include some plain neutral options.
For example, I soon get sick of consuming a gel every 20 mins in my trail runs and therefore I include a number of options such as gels, lollies, different fluids, solid foods etc. If it is cold then I make sure I have some options that will help warm me up if needed e.g. hot soup often noodle based to help get in more carbohydrate. Soup is an excellent way to get in not only carbohydrate, fluid but also electrolytes if needed.
For more specific advice on the amount you need see a qualified sports dietitian.
Most competitors forget this part yet it can be one of the most important. You have just challenged your body to a very high level and therefore you need to reward it and help promote recovery from such a challenge. It is important to include some high quality lean protein and carbohydrate rich foods. This is for another article, stay tuned.
- Be planned and prepared in your nutrition, don’t leave it to chance!
- Develop a fluid and fuel plan and make sure you practice this in training, refining it for competition.
- Include a variety of nutrition options to help prevent against flavour fatigue.
- Don’t forget about your recovery. In order to enhance your training adaptations you need to provide your body with the right fuel!
- For more specific advice see a qualified sports dietitian.