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Sports Nutrition: More Is Not Always Better

That’s why your focus should NOT be “How many calories can I consume before I get sick?” but rather, “What is the least amount of calories I need to consume to keep my body doing what I want it to do hour after hour?”

Talk about a paradigm shift. Think about that for a moment.

I was reading the latest issue of Endurance News by Hammer Nutrition and came across an article stating the new dosage recommendations for their endurance sports fuels.

Here are a few points that you may find interesting.

  • “…over the past few years we have found – both from our personal use of the products and from clients’ experiences – that more often than not, less calories are required…” – I really like the fact Hammer is incorporating real world experiences and results when developing their recommendations. Scientific studies have their value but it is often hard to beat real world results from thousands of athletes under a wide range of conditions.
  • “Fueling this way – the “less is best” approach – makes much more sense, if only because a “not enough calories” problem is significantly easier to fix than an “uh uh, I overdid it on the calories” problem. – A couple times in my endurance sports journey I consumed too many calories. The belly bloated like a beached whale, no nutrition was being absorbed, and it had to be removed from the body in a rather unpleasant way. No fun! I will say, bonking is no fun either. I have had the pleasure of that as well.
  • If your fuel contains more complex calories sources (protein, fat, and carb mix), less calories/hr typically can be successfully digested than from a carbohydrate only source.
  • Lighter athletes typically need less fuel calories than heavier athletes.
  • All conditions affect the bodies ability to absorb the fuel. (weather, terrain, exertion level, mental state, etc)
  • Regardless of the recommendations, you still need to go through the process and determine what works for you. – Surprise!

Brief summary of Hammer’s revised get-you-started guidelines.

All of the suggestions are based off of an individuals weight.

  • Hammer Gel (carbohydrate gel)
    • Weight range: 120 – 190lbs+.
    • Serving range (based on weight): 1 -3 servings/hr (90-270 cals/hr)
  • HEED (carbohydrate / electrolyte powder)
    • Weight range: 120 – 190lbs+.
    • Serving range (based on weight): 1 – 2.75/hr (105-289 cals/hr)
  • Sustained Energy (carbohydrate/protein powder)
    • Weight range: 120 – 190lbs+.
    • Serving range (based on weight): 1 – 2.75/hr (107-294 cals/hr)
  • Perpetuem (carbohydrate/protein/fat powder)
    • Weight range: 120 – 190lbs+.
    • Serving range (based on weight): .75 – 2/hr (101-270 cals/hr)

My experience

I also feel it should be noted that the length of the event may also be a factor on the amount of calories comsumed. For me, it has been a progression through the last 10+ years that I need less or even no calories for shorter events. What is a shorter event? For me this is typically 1.5-2 hour events. Of course, for someone else this may not be true. Again, you have to determine what works for you!

Through both of my last two fairly long trail running events (Bandera 100k and Rocky Raccoon 75), I had solid energy levels for my nearly 15 – 18 hour adventures. For energy levels, I am also referring to mental clarity as much as physical energy. For both events I used HEED, a carb/protein/fat based bar, and electrolytes (Endurolytes) as my sole fuel and electrolyte sources for the day. I consumed in the range of 175-225 cals/hr (at ~165 lbs) which fits pretty well within Hammer’s suggested range based on my weight.

For shorter (higher intensity) events, I may only use a carbohydrate source of fuel as my stomach usually remains happier. For most ultra events I probably hover in the 125-250 cals/hr range.

I have also sensed that I need more calories when running on the trail versus the road.

Type of calories

Besides simply the amount of calories, the type of calories may be important. Some people can eat anything and others prefer a specific known source. I have somewhat of sensitive stomach so I prefer a fuel source that I know has worked for me. I have experimented a few times in races. Sometimes it has worked out fine and others – not so well.

Are you drinking?

We also can’t forget the importance of drinking fluids with our calorie sources. Hammer Nutrition recommends 20-25 ounces/hr. Again, this will also be an individual growth opportunity. Some may need more, some less. The length of the event and conditions may also dictate your need.

More reading

Although we are all an experiment of one when it comes to ultra endurance sports nutrition, if you often have stomach or energy issues, the Hammer suggestions may be worth investigating.

You can read the entire article on page 52 of the January Endurance News publication which also breaks down the calorie/weight ranges into smaller sub-groups.

If you are looking for even more insight, Hammer has an Endurance Sports Nutrition Fueling Guide filled with information that can guide you in your journey to create a fueling/hydrating strategy that works for you.

A simple mantra that may help most of the time:

Race the way you train – Train the way you race

Then be willing to adapt when what used to work, no longer does.

What strategy do you use to keep your energy levels and stomach happy during ultra events?

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David –

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

2 Responses to “Sports Nutrition: More Is Not Always Better”

  1. on 18 Feb 2010 at 10:11 am Jason


    Nice post. I can say that at the RR 50 miler my stomach started to reject the huge amounts of Gatorade I was drinking. I switched to plain old water around mile 31 or so and I think that saved me as my stomach calmed down a lot. So, I am off the Gatorade bandwagon and sticking with water as my fluid source.

  2. on 19 Feb 2010 at 2:07 pm David Hanenburg

    Hey Jason – Way to listen to the body. Sounds like you make the right choice. Put that in your running toolbox for future reference.