Dominic Douglas (PURE Sports Nutrition's General Manager) has years of experience as an Ultra Marathon runner, and with a background in mountaineering, fuelling endurance is not a new topic to Dom. We sat down to talk all things nutrition when it comes to his ultra running – his routines, challenges, his favourite PURE products, and much more.
How does your week look the week leading into an ultra?
Generally speaking, the week leading into an ultra is pretty relaxed. I start tapering early and focus on stretching and fuelling to go into the race as fresh as possible.
The loading period leading into a race can be pretty tough on the body and is mentally taxing. So I’ve always taken the approach of training harder than the actual race. That way, you’ve already been there, done that on the day.
Even though I button off the k’s, I make sure that I keep moving and have fun. This usually means walking in the hills, short mountain bikes, or swimming in the ocean. Three days out from the race, I typically focus on short walks and stretching.
Fuelling and hydrating the week leading into a race is also crucial. You put your body through the wringer in the months leading up to the race, and you need to make sure you give it enough time to recover and build up reserves for race day.
The week leading into a race is also the perfect opportunity to address any niggles or muscle soreness that you might have. My advice is to find a good physio or start getting into yoga!
Do you have a go-to meal the night before a race?
My go-to used to be a large Hawaiian pizza….controversial, but yes, pineapple is a legitimate pizza topping! However, I tend to steer clear of pizza now and opt for less fat and grease fuelled (boring) alternatives like a big bowl of brown rice, steamed veggies, and tuna or chicken.
If you’re like me and love a cheat meal, I strongly recommend waiting until after the race to smash a pizza or burger. I’ll cover one of the main reasons why below.
What do you do for pre-race nutrition?
I’m a pretty boring eater; my approach to food has always been “food is fuel”. I traditionally switch between a solid breakfast of oats with fruit or wholegrain toast with avo. Like the night before, the focus is on carbs or anything low GI over proteins and fats, which break down and move through your system faster. In terms of calories, I usually aim for around 400 for brekkie.
I usually set my alarm to wake up 3 hours before a race to start fuelling and hydrating. This kind of sucks because most Ultras begin at 5 or 6 am, so it takes a bit of getting used to.
I also start hydrating with both water and electrolytes as soon as I’m awake. I’ve also recently started to take Electrolyte Caps as part of my prep. If you sweat loads during a race, I highly recommend trialling these. They can be a lifesaver at the back end of the race and stop you from cramping.
I get up early so that I give my body enough time to digest before I start running; that’s super important. However, it’s also just as important to make sure that you are intaking the right types of food to fuel your body in the right quantities instead of “I’m running an ultra, everything and anything will do”. Trust me from experience, some foods will be rejected, and that’s not something you want to deal with 25K into a race in the middle of nowhere. Also, one of the reasons you want to avoid high fibre foods and too much coffee for breakfast!
What's the biggest fuelling challenge for an ultra?
I want to preface my answer with the following. Ultras aren't something that you can wing when it comes to nutrition. It's super important to have a clear nutrition strategy entering into any ultra-event. To make it a little bit spicier, everyone is different. Some people can run ultras exclusively on gels (sadists), while others prefer a combination of gels, chomps, and whole foods (normal people).
For me, the biggest challenge is how to intake enough calories at the back end of an ultra. After a certain point, your stomach starts to do backflips, and the prospect of eating loses its appeal rapidly. So over the years, I've developed a race strategy that favours predominately whole foods at the beginning to middle of the race and then transitions to fluid gels at the back end of the race as they are readily digestible and easier on the stomach.
A few other things to consider are the course profile (incline vs decline), weather (temperature, humidity etc.), & finally, how hydrated you are leading into the race. All these variables will impact the number of calories you need and how much hydration you need. The key is to listen to your body and adjust your intake accordingly. Easier said than done when you're 75K into a 100K race and delirious. This is where your race crew can step up and make a real difference!
What do you use to hydrate?
I usually run with 2 x soft touch bottles and an ultra-vest for most races. It's important to note that almost all vests have a space for a bladder in the back, which some people prefer over bottles.
Ultra-races require participants to carry a bunch of mandatory gear to be safe (gloves, head torch, wet weather gear etc.). I prefer the bottles on the front of the vest because it balances the overall weight better than having everything, including your hydration, in the back. Realistically it's personal preference, and there's no right or wrong way.
When people are starting in the ultra-running scene, it can be pretty appealing to start the race with both bottles filled and a full bladder (usually a few litres, the vest bladder, not your bladder). Before starting a race, it's good to clearly understand where the aid stations are and what the distance is between them. For example, 2 x 750ml water flasks are enough hydration for me for up to 20 kilometres in normal conditions. You don't always need to carry that full bladder of water and burn more calories. You'll often find that a lot of the ultra-courses also cross streams and rivers, which are perfect for filling up your bottles. It's easier and lighter to carry sachets of hydration over full water bladders.
Is your ultra-nutrition different to your marathon nutrition?
It sounds weird, but a marathon is more of a sprint when compared with an ultra. You don’t have time to slow down and ingest whole foods in a marathon. They’re also usually road based as opposed to trails. With this in mind, I typically rely solely on Energy Gels and Electrolyte Hydration with carbs added. As a backup, I’ll also carry a stick of chomps/chews if I feel my energy levels dipping.
Favourite PURE Energy Gel?
My favourite is the PURE Fluid Energy Gels (50g) because they are the easiest to get down in a race when you’re maxing out. That being said, my favourite flavour is the Banana & Manuka Honey from the PURE Energy Gel range (35g). I love bananas, but I find it hard to eat whole foods at the back end of an ultra, so this particular flavour hits home.
Favourite PURE Electrolyte Hydration?
Pineapple all the way. Hands down the best flavour to get you out of the inevitable dark places everyone goes to in a race. For whatever reason, It feels like summer every time!