Optimising Ultra Runner’s Nutrition Strategy: Lessons from Matt Healy

by | May 16, 2023 | Run, Events & Racing, Sports, Training "How To's"

Ultra running presents unique challenges for athletes, pushing the limits of physical endurance and demanding meticulous attention to nutrition strategies. Trail races, in particular, require careful planning and execution when it comes to fueling and hydration.

Ahead of his campaign at the 109km Trail Alsace Grand Est by UTMB, we spoke to Matt Healy about his nutrition approach and examined his insights and adjustments to optimize performance.

By understanding his experience with carbohydrate intake, hydration, pre-race preparation, and the role of caffeine, aspiring runners can learn valuable lessons to enhance their own performance.

Nutrition Strategies For Ultra Runners
Matt Healy doing road speed work early in 2023.

Carbohydrate Intake: Finding the Sweet Spot

Healy has made significant adjustments to his carbohydrate intake during long runs. He notes, “If I were to compare my nutrition to last year in terms of grams of carbohydrates per hour, I have dropped my intake. I’ve gone from 80 grams to 60 grams.” Healy discovered that excessive carbohydrate consumption left him feeling full and struggling to maintain consistent intake after the initial hours of racing. By reducing his carbohydrate intake by 20 grams per hour, he found that his overall carb consumption became more consistent throughout the race, leading to improved performance.

Nutrition For Runners
Matt is fueled by Maurten.

Hydration and Electrolytes: Essential for Endurance

Healy emphasizes the importance of hydration and electrolyte replenishment throughout the race. He states, “My nutrition strategy is based around focusing on carbohydrate consumption and always having electrolytes along the way.” Recognising the significance of proper hydration, Healy highlights the need to include electrolytes alongside water during the race. By replenishing lost electrolytes, athletes can maintain fluid balance, support muscle function, and optimize their overall performance.

Pre-Race Preparation: Fueling for Success

In preparing for a race such as this, Matt Healy focuses on maintaining a balanced diet and increasing carbohydrate intake. He explains, “From about ten days before the race, I really make sure that I’m eating well, having a well-balanced diet, and increasing my carbohydrate intake.” By engaging in carbohydrate loading, Healy ensures that his glycogen stores are fully topped up, providing ample fuel for the demanding race ahead. Hydration also plays a crucial role during this period, as Healy emphasises the need for drinking plenty of water and consuming electrolytes as part of the nutrition strategy.

Nutrition Strategies For Runners
A planned caffeine strategy works well for Matt

The Caffeine Advantage: Boosting Performance

For Healy, caffeine serves as an important strategy to enhance performance during critical stages of the race. He explains, “One thing to note is caffeine. From about halfway in, I’ll start consuming caffeine, having some Red Bulls at aid stations, and caffeinated gels.” Healy aims to maintain an intake of approximately 100 milligrams of caffeine per hour. By strategically using caffeine, he seeks to increase alertness, focus, and endurance during climbs and the final stretch of the race.

It is important to remember that each athlete is unique, and individual experimentation is key to finding the most effective nutrition strategy. You might not be lacing up for a 100km race (yet), but by fine-tuning carbohydrate intake, ensuring proper hydration and electrolyte replenishment, focusing on pre-race preparation, and leveraging the benefits of caffeine, you can optimize your performance and enhance your overall race experience.

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