QMT fuelling guides
Quebec Mega Trail! Undoubtedly, the highlight of the summer trail running scene in Quebec (if not Canada). Boasting nine races, from 1 to 160 kms, over some beautiful and often technical terrain, it has something for every taste.
When it comes to finishing a long distance trail race like QMT, it will most likely be down to successful executiion of a sound nutrition strategy. The longer the race, the more important fueling becomes! Strategies vary as the races get longer.
Our 5 top nutrition tips for QMT
1. If this is your first experience training for a long distance race like an ultramarathon, your training plan should be as much about developing your nutrition strategy as it is your physical fitness. By getting to know how your stomach reacts to different foods and how they help your energy levels, you can better develop your race day fueling strategy.
2. Start fueling early. Don’t wait until you are hungry or feeling like your energy is down. By getting a few calories into your body from the beginning of your race, you’ll do better to avoid bonking, plus you will keep your digestive system active.
3. Eating a little something more regularly is better than big feeds that are spread out. Your digestive system will remain active and so it will help you avoid digestive issues.
4. Carbs are key (and always have been). There have been plenty of fashion diets that have come and gone but our muscles burn glucose best when it comes to moderate to high intensity exercise and the best source is carbohydrates.
5. Fats and protein come in handy when it comes to many hours out on the trail to the point where you’ll be missing meals. Protein consumption will help avoid the body using its own protein (muscle mass) as a fuel source while fat will be burned slowly alongside the carbohydrates.
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10, 15 and 25 km races
Simple carbs and sensible hydration.
With the mid pack runners expected to finish from between 1 hr and 3 hrs, the fuelling strategy would be similar to a half or full marathon fuelling strategy; aim to consume 100 calories of simple carbohydrates every 30 to 45 minutes.
For the two to three days prior to the race, you should aim for meals with plenty of carbohydrates so that you can build up your glycogen reserves. Glycogen is what gives us the energy to run for the first 60 to 90 minutes. When those reserves are depleted and you start to feel sluggish, even dizzy from lack of energy, this is called `hitting the wall`.
The harder you run, the more energy you burn and so should aim to consume your carbs more regularly. If you have a rough idea of the time it will take you to finish your race, you can use the table below to plan your fueling strategy and know how many Energy bars you’ll need:
If you eat a bar every 30 minutes :
2 hours races : 4 bars
3 hours races : 6 bars
4 hours races : 8 bars
If you eat a bar every 45 minutes :
3 hours races : 4 bars
4.5 hours races : 6 bars
6 hours races : 8 bars
While your fueling strategy should be the same whatever the weather, your hydration strategy can vary a lot depending on the heat and humidity on race day (plus, how well acclimated you are to it). If you're running for more than two hours in hot weather and drinking a lot, aim for fluids with electrolytes. The more you sweat, the more you will need to replace those fluids and the more important electrolytes become. Hydrating with many litres of only water can lead to hyponatremia (a problem where your blood to salt level is too diluted). Energy bars with added electrolytes, salty foods and salt tablets can help, but by drinking fluids with electrolytes already in, it is one less thing to think about and your fluid absorption will be easier.
Aid station notes: On the 10 km race there is no water station or feed station, you will have to be 100% self-sufficient. On the 15 km course there is 1 station halfway along the course offering water and XACT Electrolytes, XACT Energy and fruit. On the 25 km course there are 2 aid stations with similar offerings, the first is at the bottom of the first steep downhill section at 7.8 kms (a moment to rest your quads) and the second is halfway down the long downhill section at 17 kms. The hard work is in the climb in the first half but do not underestimate the strength your legs need to take that long downhill to the finish.
Despite the massive distance, there will be many fast runners in this race adopting a more marathon style approach to their fueling (similar to the 25 km fueling guide above), using energy bars and gels at regular intervals and not spending much time at the feed stations. However, for most it will be 8 or 9 hours on the trails. This means a slightly different nutrition strategy.
Your main source of energy will still be simple carbohydrates. Again, the ideal amount to consume is 100 calories every 30 to 45 minutes. However, the idea of eating nothing but 15-20+ energy gels is probably heavy going for some (if not most) runners, so it will be handy to take advantage of the variety of foods available at the feed stations. Salty chips, potatoes and broth will be a welcome contrast in taste to your primary fuel. Plus, complex carbs help you feel more satiated and provide a slower burning carb source.
With so many hours on the trails, there is no need to rush through the aid stations (as you might on a marathon). Take a moment to eat and refill your hydration packs. A couple of extra seconds fueling at the feed station will more likely mean a better pace out on the trails which will more than make up for the time lost. Plus, a moment to chew will reduce the risk of indigestion.
There are five feed stations along the course. Each well equipped with fruit, salty foods, XACT Energy bars, water and XACT Electrolytes.
Aid station notes:
- The first aid station is early on in the course at 6.6 kms, following a mostly downhill section. Make use of it as the following section is 11 kms long, over technical terrain with a total of 566 metre of positive climb. It could well be 2 hours for many runners between the first and second feed station.
- The second station is at the foot of Mt St Anne where you will climb 633 m in 4.4 kms. If your energy level is low here then take the time to refuel as the climb is extremely muscular and unforgiving. The good news is that if you are power hiking up it is easier to get gels and chews down to fuel your ascent.
- The third station is at the top of the climb. But the climbing is not over. You’ll understand now how to fuel for the next section as it has close to 400 m climb in about 2 kms. Make the most of the climbs to eat as it can be easier on the stomach and less chance of tripping at high speeds.
- The good news is that once you are back to the summit, there is more down hill than up left to go. You may well be 4 hours into your race so reflect on how much you have eaten since the beginning and consider that you would have usually eaten a whole meal at about this time. It helps put in perspective the amount of calories your body needs.
- The last aid station is close to 42 kms into the course and there is almost 10 kms left. Almost all of which is downhill. Fueling can be harder on long downhill stretches as you tend ot be going faster, bounce around more and work your core harder. This is where regular feuling with simple carbs will keep you going strong. Aim for small bites regularly, even stop or walk to be able to get your food in. Only once you are down to the last 3 or 4 kms can you focus on just the running, the finish line is within your grasp.
80, 110 and 160 km
Both of the 80 km and 110 km races start at 5 am on the Saturday, meaning a very early breakfast and further snacks on the bus to the start line to help load up on carbohydrates. You will be finishing your race somewhere in the late afternoon or evening. On a usual day you will have eaten two or three meals and done relatively little activity in this time. This gives you an idea of the thousands of calories you need to fuel your race.
The 160 km race start on Friday and night and many people will be finishing between Saturday evening and Sunday morning, meaning as many as four or five meal’s worth of energy needs to be eaten as well the extra for all the work your body is doing
Simple carbs in the shape of Energy bars, gels and chews are a great way to get energy in to your system fast but as quickly as it comes it will go. Regular and consistent intake will help control those ups and downs but it also helps to mix in more complex carbohydrates with fats and protein to help lower your stomach’s glycemic matrix (average of the glycemic index of the foods you are digesting), because during a race of such long distances many things can happen and forgetting the timing of your carb intake is one of the first things to go as you get tired.
It is worth noting that the ingredient maltodextrin is not a slow burning carbohydrate source but actually has a higher glycemic index than glucose itself. While rice, banana bread and pita bread may not be low on the glycemic index, they are still lower than glucose and maltodextrin so help you feel satiated while providing easy to absorb energy. Salty foods at the feed stations will also help with your sodium intake as well provide a welcome balance to the usually sweeter carb sources.
Sodium intake is very important during such long distances. Hydrating with just water can quickly lead to hyponatremia and slow down gastric emptying (that feeling of sloshing around in your stomach). So do not be shy to tuck into the salty foods at the feed station and use the electrolytes on the course. You should also consider energy drinks with carbohydrates in them to help get more energy into your body, especially if you are having difficulty eating solids.
Drop bags (or if you are lucky, your support crew):
You may have a particular food that you have been training with or love to eat when you are hungry (ice cream!!) and your drop bag or crew can get it to you while you are on the course. Drop bags are also a handy way of carrying smaller amounts of gels and chews over the whole course, you can refill your pockets at the aid stations.