Food and drink strategies to get you to the finish: Practical words of wisdom from BG Veterans, compiled by a BG aspirant (currently putting the theories in into practice)
Just Keep Eating
The number one rule. Keep eating, like it or not, little and often, every 20-30 minutes or so. There is no such phrase as “I can’t eat”. Supporters must demand it and the competitor accept it, because as one veteran puts it “it doesn’t matter what car you are driving, Formula 1 or otherwise, without the fuel you are going nowhere”. If you feel nauseous of course eat what goes down best (and stop for a minute to eat if need be), but don’t stop eating – better to throw up (you may recover) than simply run out of steam, as you won’t recover quickly enough to carry on.
Especially on the up
Tuck in as the big climbs approach, whilst in steady state, before the huff and puff begins. The extra fuel is a psychological boost for the challenge ahead. Avoid where possible trying to eat on steep downhill. Not only is it practically difficult (think Jim’ll Fix It roller-coaster dinner) but all the sloshing and jolting can enhance nausea; and besides, most of the big BG descents are shortly before the breaks.
Make a Meal of it at the Road Crossings
Now we’re talking! The road junctions at Threlkeld, Dunmail, Wasdale and Honister provide the only real opportunity to have a proper hot meal. For many, just the thought of that curry and rice, pot noodle or bacon sandwich can provide the extra mental incentive to keep going. The choices should be a firm favourites, perhaps with strong taste, and where possible consisting of slow-release complex carbohydrates such as pasta and rice. Savoury, easy to eat (and heat) are best – but have something simple for the stomach on hand, such as plain bread, in case that is the only thing that will go down. No need to force bacon and eggs down at Wasdale just because it’s morning!
On the run itself the energy food that is easier to carry tends, by and large, to be sugary. Sweets such as jelly babies, cola bottles and the like are made of simple sugars – quick release carbohydrates which give near instantaneous energy, swiftly followed by an energy crash. The sweet stuff also gets hard to stomach after a while, and whilst one runner is said to have completed the round by being drip-fed squirms, most runners will find that they can’t have their cake and eat it.
If a bad period appears terminal however, a sugar rush strategy is a risky manoeuvre that may just bridge the way to an easier section or road crossing. A tasty sweet treat could also be the “bag of morale” that makes all the difference.
Better still, temper sugars with more complex carbs and fats to slow the rate of energy release. Fats may also help settle the stomach, and ultimately will provide of the energy consumed. The 1,800 or so of carbohydrate calories that are stored in our muscles may well have been depleted by Threlkeld – but with the body only able to absorb around 60g, or 240 calories per hour of carbohydrate, the remaining 500 required calories per hour of energy has to come from body fat, which is seen as a less effective energy source. An interesting article on training to process fats more effectively can be found here.
Smell the Coffee
Another firm favourite is coffee, and more specifically caffeine. Whilst it can cause nausea – and mild diuretic and laxativeeffects – it is taken by almost all BG competitors for its power to improve concentration, reduce fatigue, and enhance alertness. Many believe that the magic beans genuinely improve performance and endurance during prolonged, exhaustive exercise such as the BG. For maximum effect abstain from coffee in the few days before, and for a big, tasty hit, arrange for a “proper” coffee at the road crossings. You’ll deserve it!
On the move, chocolate covered coffee beans are increasingly popular, as are caffeine sports drinks – and energy gels.
Opinion is divided on the use of “scientific” sports foods and supplements. Traditionalists vociferously shun such creations – including Joss Naylor, who swears by honey or tongue sarnies. For others, carbohydrate gels, drinks and bars are simply easier to get down the hatch. Electrolye tablets and powders are however almost universally taken – not as a complete substitute to a good bag of ready salted – but many BGers ensure that some electrolyte solution is at hand either en route or at the road stops.
Know Your Onions
No two runners will have the same preferences and each competitor must experiment to find their own personal cuisine of choice – the proof of the pudding is in the eating! Variety is also key – many runners’ tastes swing wildly from one stage to another – even favourite foods can turn stomachs by the time the slate mine is in view. Moreover, be prepared for the unexpected: a couple of runners have mentioned having intense cravings for fruit, even though they don’t eat much normally.
As should be evident by now, there is no silver bullet, no BG elixir that will fuel the way to greatness. But there are some themes – and for the aspirant BG contender, what follows is a good place to start.
- Rice Pudding –No chewing – can effectively be “drunk”. A mix of simple and complex carbs, fats and liquid – and tasty. Carry small pots (some runners sport small plastic spoons on a string around their necks to assist rapid consumption) or empty a large cans into a protein shaker, which have wide spouts for easy access.
- Sandwiches – Reliable and easy on the belly. Popular fillings are honey, jam, marmite, tuna and hummus. Variations such as tortilla wraps are also recommended – as are croissants stuffed with avocado!
- Fruit – especially Bananas – best not squashed (although few will care beyond Honister). Small fruit pots are popular, as are dried fruit and dates.
- Flapjacks and Cakes– especially malt loaf, Cherry Bakewells and chocolate covered rice cakes.
- Potatoes – very popular, despite their high glycemic rating. Baked, boiled or roast, served with butter, salt and often mint.
- Crisps and Nuts – especially salted peanuts and cashews. Chocolate M&Ms are also prevalent. Seabrooks may be the saltiest crisps, whilst Hula Hoops also recommended.
- Cheese – flavoursome fats to help slow carb burning. Variety packs add interest.
- Bars – Both cereal bars and chocolate bars (Milky Ways may trump Mars bars as a “less claggy” alternative).
- Sweets – Jelly Babies, fizzy chews such as squirms and cola bottles, plus more substantial undertakings such as mint cake and turkish delight
- Anything else – Baby food sachets, Peperamis, marzipan, custard and onion bhajis have all successfully been included in BG cuisine.
On the day itself: Do enjoy a good lunch and pasta / carbo meal the night before. Don’t have a massive pizza two hours before the start (this ruined one BG attempt), and do ensure your supporters are also aware of their own nutritional requirements – and haven’t disappeared to the chippy while waiting at Keswick.
BG Cuisine – Addendum – My Experience
Like the round itself, getting food down was far more of a challenge than I had anticipated. Looking back at the original “BG Cuisine” article, one could be forgiven for thinking that the runner would have some sort of choice, and even a strategy. This is probably holds true for legs one and two, but by three I was being quite violently sick around Harrison Stickle and from then on getting anything down was a real battle. Hardly anything I had packed held much appeal and it turned out that two foods I hadn’t even bothered to try in training may have saved the day: Dave Holmes’ fabulous toffees and Mark Harvey’s boiled spuds!
Getting fluid down was proved to be equally difficult, and by Wasdale I was utterly convinced that only cans of coke would do the trick – and my poor supporters were instructed to lug a six pack around leg four! And whilst this proved my most difficult leg, the cola did its job, and by leg five I had found my legs once again.Thus, on reflection perhaps best advice really is to be prepared for the unexpected. Flexibility is essential because it is impossible to anticipate what you will be able to get down. So ensure that the box is well stocked, and be ready to take on untested foods from supporters: anything to keep to the golden rule of “just keep eating”. I had a smorgasbord of bagged goodies prepared for leg five – but in the end relied, quite happily, on fruit salad and marzipan.
Many thanks to Paul Fauset and all the BG veterans from Dark Peak and beyond who contributed.