March 8, 2008 - One could say that human locomotion evolved on two counts associated with food. Running would have had certain obvious survival advantages in chasing down animals that could be brought home for dinner. On the other hand, only the most fleet of foot who survived becoming dinner themselves could continue to propagate our successful species of runners. Thus, the fight-or-flight adaptive response has formed the creature that we are, like it or not.

Certain interesting physiological accommodations occur when we run, whether it be for survival or for fun. When we run, digestion is put on hold so that the body can direct the majority of its blood to the increased activity of the muscles and organs of respiration. Afterall, digestion can wait if you are escaping some lion's design to have you as a snack. All resources are rightly directed to where they are most needed. Anyone who has ever suffered from a side stich after running too soon following a meal knows that the tummy goes on strike and will protest until after exercise is complete.

For shorter runs, if we plan to eat three hours before exercise we should experience no gastro-interference most of the time. But for the runner exceeding two hours of dedicated exercise, the body quickly reminds us that we need more fuel to keep the fires buring hot. The troubling question is "How do we eat while we continue to run when the digestive tract is shut down until we stop?"

After forty years of various personal experiments with this quandry, the best answer so far has surfaced from the research collected by Hammer Nutrition. Without getting lost in the detail of Hammer's very specific approach to sports nutrition I will convey what works for me very well, and will probably work for any runner with some individual adjustment.

The human body has a fuel tank with a limit. It doesn't matter how much body fat a person has, the same general limitations hold for both the fat and the thin among us. Each of us can store an amount of glycogen in the muscles and liver that lasts for give or take about two hours of vigorous exercise. Thereafter, without supplementation of some sort, the body must resort to obtaining its fuel from the metabolism of stored body fats and proteins - if it is to continue with exercise. In running a marathon race, two hours, more or less, carries us to about the twenty mile point in the event. At that point the body's glycogen stores are depleted and energy for the hungry mitochondria of the muscle cells must be laboriously converted from fats and protein, and so we experience a metabolic hiccup appropriately referred to as "THE WALL".

If you are reading this you've probably been to the wall and came away weaping. If you continued you've been to the dark country on the other side of the wall and somehow accommodated. As your body cries out starved for some kind of carbohydrate you may have sought relief from drink or food to get you to the end of the event without crashing.

There are better ways to go beyond the wall than doing whatever it takes at that point to stave off disaster. Having watched Lance Armstrong in his meticulous planning during several Tours de France I have learned that planning is key to successfully meeting the natural physiological demands on the body encountered during lengthy exercise.

First, in that a runner expends about 100 calories of glycogen fuel per mile of effort, as well as vital fluids and essential electrolytes, if your aim is to go long, plan to begin replacing nutrients early in the event instead of waiting until you have to climb the wall. My body has told me for years that I cannot eat any solid food during or soon before exercise or it just sits there like a brick, or worse - it gives me gastro-discomfort and holds me back. Early in an event - by mile three, usually - I begin consuming carbohydrates with the water I must drink to replace fluids lost. I'm very selective about the carbs I take in as fuel, however, as all carbs are not created equal.

Simple carbohydrates like table sugar and fruit sugar are like high octane fuel and are readily assimilated. Introduce simple sugars as found in the common over-the-counter sports drinks and you get a quick boost that lasts a hort time before you come crashing back down, often below the energy level you started at. Each race is different and many races still use the Gatorade-type drinks at aid stations. These I avoid if at all possible, unless I've already crashed and am in survival mode, because they quickly leave you high and dry. A race director that uses these sugary drinks is probably trying to cut costs or doesn't understand the body's exercise needs.

I drink a watery mixture of complex carohydrates, the most common being maltodextrin, which must be converted to simpler sugars by the body before being available to the mitchondria. Complex carbs give a more even boost without the let down and provide for continued fueling requirements. Most supplements have some electrolytes for replacement of expended potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and sodium - the factors that make muscle contraction, especially the heart muscle, work so smoothly.

After running for a period of time, the body begins to repair tissue for continued operation, even while you continue exercising. For repairs it requires amino acids, the building block of proteins. If you don't consume some of these repair materials as you continue to run, the body will begin to break down its own muscle fibers to acquire the amino acids it requires for rebuilding more essential tissues. In addition to drinking the watery mixture with complex carbs and electrolytes I drink a mix from Hammer Nutrition called Perpetuem which also contains the proteins necessary to keep on going without scavenging other body parts to fix damaged tissue.

Perpetuem is the perfect balance of nutrients to accommodate the demands of long-term exercise, minimizing the overall impact of exercise and enabling continued optimal performance. The body assimilates it well without digestive challenge, so long as I do not take too much. How much is too much. In that the body can really only absorb about half the calories it absorbs, I use this as a measure of how much I consume with my fluids. If I hypothetically expend 100 calories per mile, I seek to consume 50 calories per mile during the event to keep on track. It is not full replacement, but it does bring me to the limit of what my body will accept. Too much and I may have tummy troubles; too little and the wall awaits at some point.

The same is true about electrolytes and proteins. Hammer provides algorithms for determining your individual optimal level of replacement, based upon your body weight. Customizing the amounts depend upon your own experience and experimentation. A hundred-mile event can be completed in reasonable fashion without eating any food whatsoever - surviving on Hammer's Perpetuem, as well as supplemental complex carb gels and enhancing factors if you choose.

Among additional Hammer products that I choose to use during a race are three E-caps per hour for electrolyte balance and two Anti-Fatigue caps per hour after two hours for their ammonia-scavenging capability. Pre-race and daily before training I use Race-Caps Supreme for its ultimate anti-oxidative impact through the use of CoQ10 enzymes. I don't race without these. And at the conclusion of an event I drink Recoverite to aid my body in a quick recovery. It works.

Yeh, I'm into Hammer for a healthy amount of cash, but at my age I need every advantage I can get to keep from feeling worn out while running and racing. It is more than worth it. Add to this my regular supplementation program utilizing Hammer's Tissue Rejuvenator for joint health, Boron for a hormonal boost, the essential Omega fatty acids, fiber, echinacea, and various herbs, and you have the balance of my supplementation program. Eating and drinking is done in moderation without too great a concern for whatever health rules may prevail at the time.

The result: I feel good, work hard, and sleep well most of the time, and run better than most runners of my years and miles. My doctor tells me I have the blood chemistry and internal milleau of a 25-year-old and the resiliency and attitude of a devious child. There's room for improvement, of course, and I do keep my eyes open for learning and growth opportunities, but I don't worry about having all the answers. In the end, it's all just an experiment of one anyway; I thoroughly enjoy making up my own rules as I go.