Nutrition Trials for Leadville 100 Run: The Balls

I'm less than 5 weeks out from the Leadville 100, which will be my first attempt at a 100 mile event... on foot. Since it's getting close to crunch time, I thought I should write a bit more about some experiences.  I'm a bit shy to share these things publicly, but I realize that as a newbie to the 100-mile distance, there may be other newbies like me who are curious what I've been trying. Or perhaps there are more experienced ultra runners who are interested.

First, it is important for me to mention that I have followed a "Metabolically Efficient" daily nutrition pattern since January (when I started training), yet I have employed nutrition periodization principles throughout my training cycles to align my macro- and micronutrients with my body's energy needs.  I am not following a "low carb high fat" nutrition plan (which has no real standard definition), yet I do make efforts to put together foods to control my blood sugar.  My carbohydrate intake varies between 80-140 grams per day, but will depend on what training I have as to whether I go on the lower or higher end of that range.

Secondly, my goals with the Leadville 100 are twofold:
#1:  Complete the race within the time limit of 30 hours (meeting all time cutoffs along the way)
#2: Through this experience leading up to the race, and during the race, be able to better understand what my ultra athletes deal with

As a Sport Dietitian, it's important to me to be in my athletes' shoes. Knowledge and education are great, but having the experience enables me to help athletes at a different level.

So now let me get into a bit about my nutrition trials for what I've been consuming during long runs. By a long run, I mean a run that is over 2.5 hours in duration. Anything under 2.5 hours requires no calories.  Up until 2 weeks ago, I was consuming GenerationUCAN superstarch during my training runs with the exception of 2 races I did in May. I have used this product since 2010 and know it works well for me.  I've been doing fine averaging between 35-50 calories per hour.  (Note: my paces typically vary between ~10:30-15:00 min/mi on the terrain, vertical gain, and the elevation at which I run/hike). As I thought more about the duration of time it may take me to complete the Leadville 100, I accepted the fact that I likely will not want to 'only' consume GenUCAN for what may well be a 30 hour race.  Besides, it is rare for the "average" ultra runner to consume a single calorie source throughout an entire event. 

Alright, so this meant I needed to start experimenting with either what the race aid stations will supply or get my own goodies lined up.  I'm not a fan of gels or some of the other typical fare served at the ultra runner buffet (however, that does not mean I won't consume some of these items as part of a nutrition "backup plan").  I have always enjoyed trying different homemade "energy bar" recipes, so the night before my most recent long run, I raided the cabinets to see what I could put together.  I did look at a handful of recipes on the interwebs for some ideas.

I ended up with balls. Or bites. Or nibbles.  I'm not sure what name I want to give them, but here they are:


Here's what's in 'em:

  • 1/2 cup raw nuts (I used almonds and pecans)
  • 1/4 cup natural nut butter (I used a mix of almond and peanut)
  • 1/3 cup chocolate whey protein isolate (ThorneFX)
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 6 deglet noor dates
  • 1 tablespoon local honey
  • 1 tablespoon brown rice syrup
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut flakes

The food processor did all the work.

I made 12 out of the batch. My nutrition analysis shows these each to be about:

  • 125 calories
  • 8.5 grams fat
  • 9 grams carbohydrate
  • 5 grams protein

A well-rounded (pun intended!), dense energy source with a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein. A good trial for my metabolically efficient status. 

This is the run I did the next day:


About 25.5 miles with 5500 feet elevation gain.  I consumed 160 calories from GenUCAN + 2 of these nibbles during the run. [Note: I did freeze these balls overnight and kept them in a cooler in my car.] This works out to ~75 calories per hour for the duration I was out there. The great news is that these were delicious and did not cause me any stomach upset.  I think I will tinker with the recipe (and yes, I have used GenUCAN in a recipe similar to this, however right now I want to save my GenUCAN), but I will add it to my list of things to continue to incorporate in my fueling plan.