Fueling for marathons
Wednesday night, Øystein Pettersen (NOR) finished 21st in the elite wave of the 60-kilometer roller ski race Blink Classic, which was the first event in the 2019 Blink Summer Ski Festival.
The 36-year-old former marathon pro was a minute out of the podium and less than 30 seconds from the top 15 in a field of international World Cup skiers.
This is Øystein Pettersen’s strategy for fueling during long races.
“The right fuel during the event and correct timing is crucial for performance,” Pettersen explains.
Although Pettersen has formally retired from his full-time Ski Classics career, he still works fulltime with training and skirelated projects, and will still be racing various events at different levels.
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After almost two decades as a fulltime, professional ski racer, Pettersen has significant experience with training, racing, nutrition and recovery.
“A lot of people ask me what I eat and drink during long races. I am not a nutritionist and no formal expert, but I have enough experience with training and racing to know what works for me, and I will share those strategies,” says Pettersen, who is a part of Team Madshus.
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Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel for activity, including marathons. According to research, the recommended amount is 60 to 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour of activity. However, Pettersen also tries to fuel in shorter events if possible.
“If the race lasts less than an hour, you may not need to fuel during the event, but my experience is that if its available and convenient, the additional carbohydrates won’t hurt you,” he says.
How much is 60 to 90 grams of carbohydrates? And how do you take it?
“There are differences from one brand to the next in how much carbohydrates they contain per 100 milliliter drink and per gel, so look at the concentration of the brands you like,” Pettersen suggests.
Because Pettersen doesn’t like drinking too much during the event, he prefers brands that offer a high amount of carbohydrates per unit.
“I find it hard to drink a lot during races, so I look for products that are dense on the carbs. However, I make sure I hydrate well prior to the event, so I don’t have to drink more than the minimum during the race. But of course, when it’s hot, I drink more than when it’s cold out,” he says.
Pettersen explains that the carbs is the fuel for redlining, and accordingly, a requirement for top performance.
“What I am concerned about, it providing enough energy, in other words: carbs, to push full throttle. For me, that means Maurten sports drink, because this particular brand contains more carbs per 500 milliliter than most of the other brands I’ve tried. Maurten has 79 grams of carbs in 320mix for 500 milliliter. With this mix, I can get away with less volume and still get enough carbs to perform at max effort,” Pettersen says.
Gels provide extra oomph
In addition to his bottles, Pettersen takes four gets to a race like Blink Classic. The first of them, he takes at the start, while he takes the other three during the event.
“These gels offer additional carbs, and I also like the extra kick from the caffeine. However, I go for brands that don’t require me to follow with water. For me, Isogel works really well.”
This is what Pettersen took during the 2019 Blink Classic, a race that lasted 2.5 hours:
- 79 grams of carbs x 2 bottles of 750 ml prepared drink, which I carry in my water bottle belt
- 1 gel Maurten 25 grams of carbs
- 2 x 22 of carbs: Isogel
- 1 gel with electrolytes and 20 of carbs at the start
- Total: 247 grams of carbs
- Estimated intake per hour: 90 gram of carbs
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When do you start fueling?
“I start as early as possible. I take the first gel at the start, and after that I make sure I get something every 15 to 20 minutes. This provides a steady supply of carbs,” says Pettersen, adding that you have to practice fueling, just like you practice technique, work on endurance and intensity, and establish recovery routines for training and racing.
“When I get to the start line, I have practiced fueling and processing carbs in a race setting, and I know that these strategies and products work for me. But everyone is different, and maybe there are other approaches and products that work better for you, so I recommend everyone experiment with different strategies. But keep in mind that if you don’t supply any carbs in a race you will run out of fuel, and that is no recipe for success if the goal is to perform,” he says.
Pettersen also points out that fueling and attention to nutrition doesn’t end at the finish line.
“After a race, I make sure I rehydrate and refuel with both carbs and protein, in order to help my body recover as fast as possible.”