In about another month, Team MRG will take on its most epic adventure to date: running 200 miles, relay style, from Muskegon to Traverse City as part of the inaugural Reebok Ragnar Relay Michigan. This is an entirely new experience for me — running through the night is going to be interesting! — which is why I’m so excited about it. We’ll be riding in a van, cheering each other on as we all run 3 legs of this race. Our physical (and mental) strength will be tested as we navigate this journey together (and get to know one another very, very well…) It’s just going to be a ton of fun.
There are a bunch of logistics to figure out leading up to race day, of course: Getting everyone to Muskegon, booking lodging there the night before the race, determining who runs when…And then, there’s the food question. You may know what to eat before and after you run, but how do you eat during a Ragnar when you are running three times within 24-30 hours?
Since many MRG readers are also tackling this race on Sept. 30-Oct. 1, I checked in with the experts at Ragnar to get their thoughts on what we all should consider when it comes to fueling throughout the race. “It can be tricky to plan food intake in between your legs, and you probably won’t feel like eating like you do normally — that’s OK!” says Holly Klamer, a registered dietician and a Ragnar Relay ambassador and guest blogger who lives in Colorado. “Nutrition is important during training, and it can also help you during a Ragnar to feel like you’re at your best. The more in tune with your body you are, the better chances you will have of refueling adequately and not having digestive issues.”
Holly also advises us to keep in mind everybody is different. “Don’t follow a teammate’s eating plan just because they are doing it. Estimating when your start times will be during a Ragnar can help you plan when to eat, although be prepared that these times can shift dramatically during the race.”
Here are Holly’s tips to navigate your nutrition during a Ragnar:
1. Bring familiar foods with you.
Stick with what you know works for you. Like to eat PB&J 2 hours before you run? Do that during a Ragnar. A good idea is to bring plenty of different food options to keep with you in your van. That way while you are running and waiting you can have familiar options available.
Especially after your first run, you may not eat full regular meals like you do at home. That’s normal. Try to stay somewhat on an eating meal schedule around your running legs. If you have plenty of time before your next leg, eat your larger meal then.
By eating familiar foods and a consistent as possible eating pattern, you can help limit the chances for GI distress during your runs and help increase your energy levels and recovery.
2. Eat something about 2-3 hours before you run.
You don’t want to feel hungry right before you run. To deter that, eat something 2-3 hours before you are planning on running. It can be something light. Estimating when 2-3 hours is before you run can be tricky for a Ragnar; you can estimate when this will be based on your teammates running pace for their legs.
Most people prefer this timeframe, but some people prefer to eat something closer to their run or greater than 3 hours before. Experiment with eating before your runs during training so you know what you prefer when doing a Ragnar.
If you are going for a longer run, you may want to bring food or sports drink on your run. Again, everyone is different so experiment with eating something while running before the race.
3. Listen to your body.
Sometimes during a Ragnar your system can be thrown off because of the strange running times and back to back runs. If you know you should eat something but feel nauseous or that you just can’t eat, listen to your body.
If you feel like you can’t physically eat, try to at least get some liquids in that have carbohydrates and electrolytes.
4. Take some coolers.
This may take some coordinating with your other teammates and figuring out how much space you have in your vans. If you want to eat foods that should be refrigerated, make sure to keep them in a cooler with ice. This is important because you don’t want to give you (or your teammates) food poisoning during a Ragnar! Plus it will really open up your options as far as eating “real” food. Rice cakes, trail mix and chips aren’t substantial race day food.
4. Eat a combination of carbs, protein and fats.
Sometimes runners get carbohydrate tunnel vision during running events. While it’s true that carbohydrates can help rebuild muscles and give you quick fuel while running, getting quality fat and protein sources throughout your Ragnar event is also important. Eating all the macronutrients can also help support stable blood sugar levels throughout the event.
This can easily be done by eating simple meals/snacks like a sandwich, nuts and dried fruit, Dannon yogurt, etc. Don’t get locked into tunnel vision and remember to get varied carbohydrate, protein and fats.
5. Don’t OD on the fiber.
High fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes are nutrition power houses and can have many health benefits for runners. However, during a running event like a Ragnar getting too much of these foods can cause major digestive issues.
Everyone is different for what amount of fiber they can handle during a running event. Experiment with different foods during your training to see what high fiber foods your body can and can’t handle before running and during recovery.
6. Eat something after you run.
Finishing your leg, passing the baton off to the next runner and cheering on teammates are what Ragnar is all about. However, don’t get so caught up in the fun that you forget to eat. You may feel fine after your first leg, but practicing good nutrition throughout Ragnar can really impact your second and third legs (or more for ultra teams).
7. Don’t rely on your teammates for your food.
On most teams everyone brings enough food to share, but you don’t want to rely on your teammates to provide what you will eat and drink during a Ragnar. It’s kind of an un-written code that you should bring your own food and enough to share. However, remember that everyone is different and what your teammates bring may not be what’s agreeable for you.
8. Recover properly.
Lastly, when you’re all done with your legs for Ragnar, have some post-recovery beverages, food and probably much needed rest. A tip for hydrating: use Nuun hydration to speed up the hydration process. Eat a good meal when you’re done. If you are van 1, this probably means heading to a breakfast joint, relaxing with your teammates and eating a hearty breakfast. If you are in van 2, you might have to wait a little longer for the post-race recovery meal. Try to wait it out, and don’t fill up on garbage.
Every Ragnar you do and each year may be a little different in terms of how you feel and your nutrition. The best you can do is bring a variety of familiar food options with you, eat something before you run and at meal intervals that fit within your run schedule, hydrate and eat varied carbohydrates, fats and proteins without over doing the fiber. It’s always nice to bring extra food to share with teammates, but don’t rely on mooching off your teammates’ food the whole Ragnar because what works for them might not work for you.
Keep in mind that refueling after your first leg is important for adequate energy for your second and third legs. Don’t get so caught up in the fun of Ragnar and cheering on teammates that you allow your nutrition needs to go out the window. Eating properly and hydrating throughout a Ragnar can help ensure that you have a great time and are able to run your best.
Are you running Reebok Ragnar Relay Michigan next month?
Have you run a Ragnar before? How did you fuel throughout the race?