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The short answer to the question of what ultramarathon runners eat during 48 HR competition is – it varies widely by runner. We saw competitors eat energy gels, jello, fruit, soup, sandwiches, noodles, candy, pudding and much more. The food was coupled by a variety of sports drinks and some athletes were taking in lots of red bull, or red bull like, energy drinks. Some runners even drank a little bit of beer.

What 48 HR Ultramarathon runners eat during competition

The commonality was that everything that was consumed was pretty easy to digest. We did not see any steaks or overly fatty items. Many of the runners also kept a detailed record of every bit of food they consumed for further analysis. 

Read on to learn what we experienced while helping crew Patrycja Bereznowska, world record holder in the 48 HR category. We also talked to her crew leader and long time friend, Karolina Sarnowska, about the process of fueling these world class athletes. 

What runners prepare for a 48 HR ultramarathon race

Prior to the start of the 48 hr race the runners set up their stations. Our runner, Patrycja, had an entire suitcase of fueling options set up in her rest tent area. There was also a row of tables setup with a dedicated area for each crew to prepare the food and drinks that the runner might want to consume during the race.
We were able to capture the food serving area while the runners were still getting ready: 

What we saw runners eat during the 48 HR ultramarathon

While helping to crew the current world champion during the second night shift of the 48 hr ultramarathon, we didn’t just get to see what she ate, we actually had to prepare it. We had the best seats in the house. Also, due to the close distribution of feeding stations, we got to look over what the other runners were eating and speak with other crew members. 
 
What Patrycja Bereznowska ate during her 48 HR utramarthon
We worked alongside Pati’s crew lead Karolina and we prepared and served the following items during the second night of the race:
  • Jello Snacks – we saw a pineapple flavor and a peach. These were prepared for quick consumption – about three spoonfuls.
  • Banana – we prepared these into about 1-inch thick slices with the skin on so they could be taken in one bit.
  • Watermelon – deseeded to alleviate any worries of stomach issues from the seeds. Served in a cup in small chunks.
  • Potato with salt – one small potato per serving cut into small chunks and sprinkled with Himalayan salt.
  • Gu Energy Gel – one with caffeine, and one without.
  • Scrambled eggs – protein packed energy.
  • Avocado – crushed up and served sprinkled with salt.
  • Endugen – a composition of carefully selected plant extracts in pill form, taken every 6 to 8 hrs – helps with tiredness (contains some green tea). 
  • Jello candies – these were a Polish brand of candy from Wawel.
  • Cheese sandwiches – there was a request in the morning as a craving for salty and fatty foods arose. 
  • Cookies, brownies, crackers.

NOTE:  Any gels or other products that contained caffeine were kept separate  from all the other foods to ensure proper accounting of the stimulant. 

These items give you a good idea of what Pati ate during the race. 

Of course just as important was the fluid intake, there was a heat wave that came through about 24 hours into the race. These were the drinks Pati took on during the race:

One thing Pati never took in during the race was plain water. The theory being that it goes right through you. The only water I saw used was there to wash off the hands after consuming something sticky.

Fueling strategy and analysis for a 48 ultramarathon race

We spoke with her and her crew about the strategy behind this very varied intake. The idea is to really listen to your body and have a wide variety of options for the runner on hand. 48 hours is a long time and your body will go through ups and downs. Pati was dealing with some stomach issues at one point and had to keep the intake to really the simplest of foods and drinks. 

We also took a picture of every item consumed. The picture would be time stamped and used for further analysis with Pati’s dietitian.  

A day or two after the race, Pati would recap the ups and downs of the race with her crew. They would then look at what was consumed prior to any of the highs or lows. A further discussion with a dietitian would follow to see which foods should be eliminated from future undertakings. 

Other fueling strategies at the 48 HR ultramarathon

Aside from Pati, we were also able to peek over at the competitions’ fueling options. We saw a runner that only prepared a pudding type of food and stuck to it throughout the race. 

We saw runners that had beer as part of their hydration strategy. Some beer was non-alcoholic. Some beer was our Taiwan standard Gold Medal brand.  Noteworthy is that some runners just drank a little bit and some surprising large quantities (we’re looking at you Japanese runners). 

We also spoke with the crew lead of the Australian team. He told us that his two runners had completely different strategies.

Alicia Heron, who broke the Australian record in the 48HR category had everything planned out in detail: calorie intake per hour, red bull intake quantities (there was a lot from what we could see), salt, etc..

His other runner, Matt, just had his food laid out and he was going to manage it by himself. Unfortunately Matt had some stomach issues for a few day prior to the race and had to drop out early in the event. 

Our final takeaways from crewing the 48HR ultramarathon race

The 48hr ultramarathon is truly a unique event that tests the runners physical and mental fortitude to the limit. 

It’s a race that shows us how different people are. This was visible in the wide variety of fueling strategies on the course. It’s a testament to our human ability to solve problems – in this case the problem of how to consistently deliver energy into our bodies while running continuously for 48 hours. 

It was a truly impressive event to watch and we look forward to participating (as crew) in future events.