An Exploration of the Factors that Influence Ultra-Endurance Athletes’ Food Choices During Competition


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The reasons for suboptimal nutritional intake within ultra-endurance competitions are not fully understood. Therefore, the current programme of research discusses the findings from a series of studies that explored the factors that influence the competitive food choices of ultra-endurance athletes. Study 1 indicated that nutrition knowledge was not a strong predictor of food choice in these athletes. Study 2 used a mixed methods approach to explore the wider influences of food selection during ultra-endurance competition. In study 2, 101 ultra-endurance athletes completed a bespoke food choice questionnaire (U-FCQ) using a 7-point Likert style rating scale (1 = extremely unimportant to 7 = extremely important). A further 14 ultra-runners took part in semi-structured interviews. High levels of importance were attached to the avoidance of gastrointestinal symptoms (GIS) during the U-FCQ (6.6 ± 0.8) and the interviews (‘bloating’ ‘nausea’). Similarly, the need for energy (6.5 ± 0.8) and to overcome logistical challenges (6.1-6.3) was evident in both data sets. In the interviews, participants referred to specific nutrients (‘carbohydrate’ ‘sodium’) and food properties (‘portability’ ‘chewy’) that were either favourable or detrimental to nutritional intake. As an example, chewy foods were difficult to ingest and compromised intake. Many athletes rated being ‘nutritious’ (6.3 ± 0.7) as highly important to their food choices, but few runners commented on this during the interviews. Strong influences absent from the U-FCQ included the avoidance of other physiological symptoms (‘cramps’ ‘hunger’) and the athlete’s personal values. This included sensory preferences for specific tastes and the ‘familiarity’ of individual items. Conflict between studies likely reflects situation specific differences in food choice that are common in the literature, along with the scope of the data collection tools. The interviews enabled the researchers to explore the complexity of the food choice process, which was not possible using the U-FCQ. Particularly, how athletes balanced conflicting demands for fuel and cues to stop eating, especially in the latter stages of the race. This suggests that athletes would benefit from a race nutrition plan that is flexible and allows them to manage competing, dynamic nutritional drivers.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019
EventInternational Sport and Exercise Nutrition Conference - Newcastle University , Newcastle, United Kingdom
Duration: 18 Dec 201820 Dec 2018


ConferenceInternational Sport and Exercise Nutrition Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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