Self-Supported Multi-Stage Food Choices: Learning the Hard Way!

Oh man, did I screw up here on my first self-supported multi-stage. I think the mess ups can teach as much as the successes, so I'm going to share my experience that first time. I hope you can learn from the error of my ways!!

My feeling going into this was who cares what it tastes like, it’s only a week. In retrospect I kind of can’t believe I approached it this way. I did SO much research and trial with so many things, but I didn’t really worry about how the food tasted. How many calories for what weight? Yes but how it tasted? Meh, who cares I figured. The reality was that as I started feeling not so well, my stomach would turn as I even thought about some of the food I’d taken along.

I did not try any of the freeze-dried foods before taking them along and found the Expedition Foods breakfasts to be incredibly, horribly, nastily sweet. I could not stomach them at all and they were my main calorie source on a a few days. It was an issue. Same with their dinners–some were actually very good but I’d taken 3 of one dinner type which turned my stomach. Not trying it in advance and not taking a variety of foods were bad errors. What seems perfectly fine on a training run at home may seem absolutely horrid on Day 3 in the heat, so you want options.  

I would take a lot fewer freeze dried foods next time, and take more high calorie salty foods (like potato chips, which I normally never eat but I think might have been able to keep down when my stomach acted up and it might have helped with my low salt), meats (salami, etc) cheese (block of parmesan for instance), that sort of thing.  This was common with the experienced competitors. I would not rely on freeze dried foods as my primary source of calories next time. I’d also take more Ramen soup–the broth, the salt…just sounded SO good when my body was dehydrated and low on salt. I had only one pack with me and could have eaten 3 packs.

Try the foods before you take them, experiment as best you can with different foods, and take a variety in case your favorite munchie is not so favorite under the stressful conditions.  I also found my Clif Bars and Pro Bars to be useless. I love both of them at home, and always eat them on long runs, but with such intense exertion, combined with heat and dehydration, I found they sat in my mouth like cotton–it was so hard to get them down. And then as my electrolyte balance worsened, I dry heaved them out the second they touched my lips so…I would need alternate, easier to eat/digest foods for midday next time. 

Update: This was my experience after my first self-supported race. I have since really fine-tuned what I eat and when, and will do another blog post on exactly what I took last race and why. A couple of things to keep in mind here though: everyone is different. What works for me may not work for you. I had tent mates scarfing down the breakfast foods I couldn't stomach on my best day.  Test it all out under the most extreme conditions you can and go what works for you!