Vegan Ultra Endurance Events

Last year I blogged about the phenomenal awesomeness that is Scott Jurek. He has been the poster child for vegan athletes for over a decade now with his unbelievable record at the Western States 100 mile trail race. His memoir Eat and Run is a great read, full of adventures, crazy characters, Tarahumara running sorcerers, and even recipes. Each chapter comes with a recipe that is in some way related to they content of the chapter. Last year I blogged about an Asian style tempeh curry which was quite good. But it didn’t really capture the spirit of the Jurek lifestyle. I mean, any blogger could make such a recipe, and it would not really reflect the lifestyle of an ultrarunner. Plus, it didn’t have a really cool story behind it.

A more appropriate topic:

What do these guys eat to keep themselves going for 5 hour training runs and 20 hour races?

How do they ensure that they get enough:

The answer is: THEY EAT REAL FOOD.
They have found ways to make real food portable.

Due to my own implosion in a long mountain bike race last year, I have shifted away from the engineered food I have always used. At first I thought you had to use the drinks, bars and gels because they were the only things you could digest during a race or hard workout. Everybody else was doing it, even the pros. Of course, the pros do it according to their sponsorship contracts, but I ignored that. Plus, I’ve always liked the high tech approach to nutrition and supplementation. The problem is it doesn’t really work. I kept using the products out of habit and because I hadn’t really found an alternative. But in the last couple of years I’ve heard rumblings from the underground of endurance athletes eating all kinds of strange things that sounded more like real food, even that crazy “fat adapted” guy that sucks down single serving cream cheese packets instead of the usual gels. No joke. But ewww, gross!

Months after Vegan Mofo, I was inspired by the very first recipe in the book to completely change the way I fuel my training and even my racing.

Now I eat real food.

Not packaged gels.

The recipe was inspired by a Japanese runner Jurek met who showed him the traditional picnic and on-the-go food of Japan, onigiri, or savory rice balls wrapped in nori seaweed. A revelation, I love them. Here is Jurek’s description:

“I first saw these seaweed-wrapped rice packets when I asked a Japanese runner to show me what was in his race pack. I’m grateful I did, because white rice is a great food for cooling your body, especially in hot climates like Death Valley. It’s packed with carbohydrates, it’s not too sweet, and it’s soft and easy to digest. A great source for electrolytes and salt (via the seaweed), rice balls have always been a portable pick-me-up in Japan.”

I don’t know about the cooling part, but they are easy to eat, easy to digest, and the savory flavors are more palatable than the sticky sweet gels. I was worried about hydration, but it turns out that water flows right past the food in your stomach and does not interfere. And since the food is solid, and thanks to its water content, it digests more slowly and evenly, providing steady energy instead of the ‘flash and crash’ of sugar.

To revisit the questions, how do ultra endurance athletes get enough:


By eating real food, they avoid GI distress and they can keep eating more food for longer, without gut problems. Foods like white rice and peeled potatoes digest gradually, so fewer calories last longer. The one drawback is carrying them. One hundred calories of rice or potatoes takes up two to three times as much space as a 100 calorie gel.


Real food is more nutrient dense. More micronutrients are available in a form easily recognized by the body.


An issue for later, but real foods are already balanced with some protein instead of being carb only, like a drink or gel, or artificially fortified.

So not only have I been inspired by Jurek, I learned great new ways to fuel my truing and racing. The onigiri have already been described, but tomorrow check out an update on his Western States Trail “Cheese” Spread, for more portable food.

About vegpedlr

Plant powered off-road triathlete
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