Trail Running Nutrition & Preparation

When you are heading out for a big day trail running, and by this I mean more than 4 hours, it is extremely important to plan your fluid and nutrition intake.  It is likely that you are burning anywhere from 500 – 1,000 calories an hour when you are out on a long run – so if you aren’t refueling you will be doing more damage than good to your body.

I would like to be able to tell you that there is a standard formula for getting the perfect nutrition for a big day out – but I’d be lying.  I’ve worked out that there are many factors that come into play, not least of all, what your stomach can handle and what you like.  Not to mention what you got up to the night before!

Getting Ready

When I know I have a big run planned I set the alarm a good hour plus earlier than when I plan to head out to allow some time for digestion and ensure I’ve got some fuel in the tank.  So what does brekky look like?


1 x Big fruit smoothie made up of

–       One banana

–       Two tropical fruit smoothie ice blocks

–       One heaped teaspoon organic spirulina

–       One heaped teaspoon macca root powder

–       Half a cup of Orange Juice

–       Half a cup of ice water

–       Handful of berries or any other fruit

Blend to a smooth and drinkable consistency.  Knock it back!

2 x slices wholemeal bread/toast

–       Spread with Nuttelex – NO DAIRY

–       Then spread with Vegemite – I realise my non-Australian friends may struggle with this, so honey or jam is an ok alternative.

1 x banana

1 x cup of black coffee – plunger, espresso or coffee bag

I try not to have anything to drink for 45 minutes before the race unless it’s a small sip of water – helps prevent bathroom stops 30 minutes into the run!

On the run

Whilst I understand the value of gels and I’ve used them many times I try my best to avoid them.  As far as nutrition is concerned, I don’t think they offer enough to replace what you burn on the run.   That said, I always carry some for the boost of energy you sometimes need near the end of a long day out.


So what do I take with me on a long run.  It varies on whether it’s hot or cold and for how long I am heading out, but as for my last big day out which was around 7 or so hours covering 55kms in bushland I took the following:

–       Mushroom Lentil burger with lettuce in a Mountain Bread Wrap.  The recipe for the burger is a Scott Jurek recipe from his book “Eat & Run”.

–       1 x banana

–       4 x slices of pinole bars (see recipe at bottom of this post)

–       1 x Swisse Energy Bar

–       1 x FX Protein Bar

–       1.5 litres of water in my Salomon Hydra Pack (which is awesome)

–       1 x drink bottle of Gatorade (300mls – should have had 600mls)

–       1 x drink bottle of Shotz sports drink (300mls – should have had 600mls) has magnesium in it.

–       2 x Winners Sports Gels

At the end of my day out I still had my Energy bars and one gel left over.  I ran out of fluid with 6kms to go which was totally wrong! Lesson learnt – I was lucky it wasn’t a hot day and the last 6ms was mostly downhill.

Other stuff

On a run through bushland I took a few other items for comfort and emergencies.

–       Compression bandages suitable for treating snake-bite – as it turned out I did run into a snake on my last big trail run – more of that in my next post.

–       Waterproof running jacket

–       Stingose – to alleviate any inset bites or itches.

–       Chap stick / Sun screen

–       Anit-chafe lubricant

–       Tissues – you never know when you might need to go 😉


Obviously I had a map, a mobile phone – pity there were times without signal.   Too much?  I’d rather be over prepared than be stranded without.

A quick word on the Salomon Hydra Pack – it’s awesome.  Designed to move with you it is extremely comfortable and had ample storage space for even the longest trek.


Post run

The post run refreshments besides fluids – water and sport drinks – I really enjoy grapes but any type of fruit.  To get the body back on track quickly it is important to get some protein into the system within 30 minutes of finishing your run.   A recipe for the home brew recovery drink can be found in my earlier post –


Weird as it is, I’m never very hungry immediately after a big run.  But within a couple of hours I pretty much eat non-stop.  By the end of day after the run my weight is back to where it started.  I’m pretty sure the 1 or 4 well earned beers are fair contributors here.

To put it in perspective, following the big day out for 7 odd hours I came home 3.5kgs lighter than I left even after all the food I consumed through the day and straight after the run.

Practice. Practice. Practice

So what I have provided you is what I have tried and found pretty effective.  May not work for you but I hope it helps.  Importantly, practice your nutrition plan during your training run and be very clear on what works for you so you can go into your next ultra confident and prepared.

Happy Running!!

Whoops!  Almost forgot – my take on the Pinole recipe below:

A little whiIe ago I read “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall (awesome book) where he talks about the Taraumara Indians who run hundreds of miles in the Copper Canyons of Mexico. He refers frequently to a food called Pinole that these Indians use like gels.

I’ve been finding gels make me feel a bit ordinary and I can’t say that I enjoy them, so I decided to give Pinole a go. All natural and the Taraumara run 100’s of kms…. just had to give it a go!

So after much searching, here is a recipe for Pinole:

1 Cup of Cornmeal (toasted dry on the stove for about 5 minutes)- in the absence of cornmeal I’ve been using polenta seems to be ok.
2 Tbsp. Chia Seeds
4 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
2 Tsp. Cinnamon
2 Eggs
4 Tbsp Honey(or something else sweet and syrupy)

This forms the base and then I add some dried cranberries, currants and blueberries – but you could chuck whatever you like in I guess.

Now mix the dry ingredients (i.e. toasted cornmeal, chia seeds, brown sugar and cinnamon) together.

Add the eggs and honey and mix together into a grainy pasty mix.

Add the extra goodies

Spread the mixture into a slice/brownie tray lined with baking paper or at least well greased.

Whack it in the pre-heated oven at 180 deg and cook for 20 minutes.  Keep a watch on it – time is a guide.

Let it sit for five to ten minutes to cool before taking it out of the tray.  Some recipes recommend placing it in the freezer for ten minutes to ensure it doesn’t crumble when you cut it – but I’ve had no problems.

Keeps for about a week in an airtight container.

When you eat it there is a bit of a crunch and it can feel a little gritty due to the Chia seeds. But tastes fine, and trying to get the Chia seeds out of your teeth can keep you amused for ages on a long run!
If you are looking for a natural alternative to gels, energy bars or simply looking for an energy boosting food – give Pinole a try. Enjoy!

And again, Happy Running!!

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