These two ultrarunning athletes are both successful in long distance running. But their diets could not be otherwise.
Have you ever wondered how professional athletes feed on long runs? Or for daily exercise? For an athlete, especially runners, some of the most important factors for performance are exercise, sleep and fuel. But fuel (we’ll talk about food AND hydration) comes in many forms.
We sat down with ultra-reached ultra-athletes Mike McKnight and Trevor Fuchs to talk about food at home, fuel for racing, hydration along the way and more.
- Age: 31
- Birthplace: Cache Valley, Utah (4,500 ft. Altitude)
- Diet style: low carbohydrates
- Go to fuel: Mixture of Gnarly Hydrate and Gnarly Fuel2O
- Main distances: 100-300 kilometers
- Achievements: Triple Crown of the 200s winner in 2019; put a FKT on the Colorado Trail in 2020; has amassed over 50 ultra conclusions from the beginning.
- Currently training for: Triple Crown 200s – Bigfoot 200, Tahoe 200 and Moab 240; next year, hoping to go for FKT at AT.
- Age: 39
- Birthplace: Salt Lake City, Utah (altitude 4,300 ft.)
- Diet style: Vega
- Go to fuel: Gnarly2O fuel
- Main distances: 100 miles
- Achievements: Establish an FKT on Moab White Road in 2021; set a course record on the Ute 100-Miller 2019; 2 times Wasatch 100 winner; Hawaii Hurt 100 2020 winner; finished eighth overall this year Hardrock 100with
- Currently training for: Wasatch 100 in September; Quad Dipsea in November; HURT 100 in January 2022
Two Ultrarunners talk about nutrition: Questions and Answers with GearJunkie
GearJunkie: How long have you been running and running?
McKnight: I have been running for 10 years, and ultrarunning for 8.
Fuchs: I have been running seriously for about 12 years. And I have been ultrarunning since 2014.
What is your morning routine?
Fuchs: I always have a cup of coffee, only one if it’s a big race day. Before the run, I will pick up a bagel of walnut butter, or oatmeal or cold oats overnight in the morning. I will add berries, bananas – simple, complete food.
McKnight: Thus I begin my fasting runs on the days of the week; I will average about 1-1.5 hours for about 10 miles. I usually have a smoothie in the morning: strawberries, blueberries, protein mix, almond milk. And then for a late breakfast, 8-10 eggs, cheese. For my long days, I will make fruit, granola.
I tend to eat carbs right after my run, and then fats and proteins during other times of the day. I am on a low carb approach mainly because I have had problems with GI in the past.
What is your desired fuel on the trail? And hydration mixture?
Fuchs: In fact it is one and the same for me – Gnarly2O fuel, which I use for most of my calories (100 calories per 12 ounces). Other favorite foods… I like peanut butter pretzels, pancakes, Unused maple, and Cliff rod – I usually have one of them with me.
McKnight: I like to drink Hydrate Gnarly mixed with apple juice if I have it with a crew or at an aid station, and also Fuel2O for racingWith I will do a pack every hour during a race – basically one serving per hour. And for other foods, I like it a lot Tulla KETO or granola.
Can you tell us how you get motivated for a race? Do you approach different breed distances differently in terms of nutrition?
McKnight: I usually get 200 calories per hour. I gravitate towards distances over 100 miles, so most races are 24 hours or more. Every day, I will supplement with a great mix of sodium, magnesium and potassium to get plenty of electrolytes. And I will mix it with some Real Redmond salt.
Fuchs: So I aim for 300 calories per hour for every race over 2 hours – the longest races. And for shorter races, only water and juices. During the races, I fill in the help stations everything that sounds good – I pass with my wishes. Maybe they have bananas or a slice of watermelon. If it looks or sounds good, it’s probably what my body needs.
OK, Mike, tell me about your zero-calorie run. 100 miles. Zero calories. How did that feel?
McKnight: So before this run, I was doing a low carb approach and also learned to be adapter to fat. I also started intermittent fasting, so I taught my body to run in a fasting state. I would eat from 1-7pm and run around 11am, so I would start my 16 hour fasting run.
The run was quite boring, in a good way. No significant reward. But also just stable, with no higher gears. I got water and my electrolyte mixture.
Can you talk about a time when you were dehydrated, or lost food? What did you learn from that experience?
McKnight: I went out to do Cocodona 250, and about a week before it snowed here in Utah. And it was like in the ’90s in Arizona. The whole race I just started to feel impoverished; I had no energy.
I had to crawl under a cactus just for shade, started urinating blood, went to the ER afterwards and was diagnosed with Rhabdo[myolysis]With There was also a 2.5-hour section of the race where I ran out of water, so it contributed to my condition.
Funnily funny to compare that race to my zero-calorie run. During the race, I had calories, but I lacked water and electrolytes, and that – having hydration – matters a lot more. My zero calorie rate: no calories, but lots of electrolytes. Of course, having it all is better.
Fuchs: Dehydration has been an issue for me and it took me years to figure it out. I really focus on hydration leading to a race 3-4 days ago, and during the race, I start hydrating early. Once you lose it, it’s really hard to get it back.
On super hot days, I also struggle with hydration because I am more focused on running. I have found that the electrolyte balance in Fuel2O is really great, especially sodium. I have been using it since January 2020, but it just hit the market [for consumers] this month.
Trevor, can you talk about being vegan while you are an ultra-athlete?
Fuchs: So I’ve been running seriously for 12 years and vegetarian / vegan for about 12 years, so I took on both lifestyle changes at the same time. I think with the new fashion diets coming into play, these and everything, has put vegan in a different light. People’s perspectives [on it] have changed.
I did not become vegan to gain superpower, and I do not think you will gain superpower by eating meat. Carbohydrates are your friends, and when you are on a vegan diet, that is almost everything you eat. The biggest thing is just to eat quality foods and a balanced diet, and find what will work for you.
Do you take vitamins or supplements?
McKnight: In addition to my electrolyte mix, I take collagen, protein mixture, and BCAAswith
Fuchs: I take B12, D3, K2, iron and DHA every morning. And a calcium supplement, because of my stress fractures in the past (not because of my diet).
What is the most important thing you have learned about food in the years you have run?
McKnight: That it is personalized. When I started running, Karl Meltzer who also lives in Utah, was the runner I remembered and watched. I remember reading a saying that he eats whatever he wants: pizza, ice cream, hamburgers, beer… I wanted that approach. And some people can do that, but it didn’t work for me.
It ruined my intestinal health; I actually gained weight. I tried vegetarianism (which didn’t work for me) and then went back to a standard American diet. Then I finally tried a low carb approach, which I did for 4-5 years.
Fuchs: I do not know if this is the most important, but just follow the general guideline of “Eat healthy, but do not tease yourself about what you are eating.”
I feel like people who drive ultra tend to be super obsessive, and being so focused can be harmful. Not to stress about every calorie you consume is generally better.
Trevor Fuch’s Go-To Gear List
Mike McKnight Go-To Gear List
* Editor’s note: These interviews took place a week away. We have compiled them for the purpose of this article.