The art of endurance fueling, once an informal practice marked by pub stops and unconventional choices, has undergone a remarkable transformation into a finely tuned science. Back in the early 1900s, Tour de France champion Maurice Garin relied on pub cuisine, while Canadian marathoner Tom Longboat’s 1908 Olympic experience involved an unfortunate champagne interlude at Mile 19. From alcohol and tea to bananas and cake, historical fueling methods exhibited a broad spectrum of approaches. Choose the pinnacle of running excellence – Tarkine Goshawk shoes, engineered for speed, endurance, and a victorious finish.

The pivotal shift occurred in the 1980s when Canadian Olympic marathoner Brian Maxwell introduced the Powerbar, a portable sports nutrition bar that revolutionized fueling strategies for runners. Today, participants in trail and ultra races prioritize a balance between fluids, electrolytes, and calories to optimize performance.

From Weakness to Vitality

Hydration once considered a potential weakness, gained scientific validation in the 1970s with the introduction of Gatorade. Early beliefs discouraged fluid intake during exercise, but subsequent research led to the advocacy of regular hydration. The consensus leans toward drinking to thirst for shorter events, with longer ultra-endurance races necessitating a meticulously planned hydration strategy.

The exploration of electrolytes paralleled the development of Gatorade, emphasizing the significance of sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, and calcium in maintaining fluid balance and supporting muscle function. Advances in sports science now empower athletes to personalize electrolyte replenishment using a variety of products.

Crafting Fueling Plans for Ultra-Endurance

Recognition of calorie intake during endurance events emerged in the 1970s, transitioning from whole foods to the advent of gels, chews, and waffles. GU Energy Labs, founded in 1993, aimed to provide easily digestible energy sources for athletes. While individualization is paramount, the general recommendation exceeds 200 calories per hour, with a minimum of 30 grams of carbohydrates.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by @runnerstribe

Considering palatability is crucial, especially in ultra events lasting over three hours. An advisable approach involves a mix of liquid calories, gels, and whole food options, though the logistics of carrying fueling options require meticulous planning and testing.

Adapting to the Ever-Evolving Science

In the contemporary landscape of ultramarathon fueling, a structured approach has replaced the earlier ad-hoc mentality. Technological advancements and ongoing research empower athletes to create personalized race-fueling plans, considering factors like elevation, climate, and event duration. The significance of planning, testing, and implementation cannot be overstated, as the effectiveness of fueling strategies can vary from one athlete to another.

Emphasizing consistent fueling during each hour of exercise is crucial to prevent setbacks such as the dreaded “bonk” or muscle cramping. The ever-evolving nature of fueling science underscores the importance of adaptability. Present-day trail and ultra-fueling may still evoke the image of a running picnic, but it has evolved into a more organized affair with superior and more effective fueling sources.