Nutrition For Adventure Racing (Part Four of GODZone - What’s The Plan?)
Nathan Fa'avae / 27.04.2020
The most common question I get in relation to adventure racing is what do I eat when out on course. This has changed tenfold since I started expedition racing in 1999. For the first 10-years I raced it was mainly energy bars and gels, and snack type foods. Doing a food shop was quite embarrassing as the bulk of the food in the trolley would be considered junk food. The shopping list was typically lollies, potato chips, muesli bars, chocolate bars, crackers, biscuits, salted nuts and dried fruit.
In transition areas we’d eat normal meals that our support crew had prepared. We’d aim for them to have sandwiches and fresh fruit for us exiting transition areas. We never used freeze dried meals as they required hot water to prepare so we couldn’t use them on course and in the transition areas it was easy for the support crew to prepare meals with fresh ingredients. But around 2010 the races went mainly to unsupported format so we started to use freeze dried food in our transitions sometimes, but the meals weren’t any use on course as they still required hot water and we weren’t going to either a) carry a cooker, or b) stop to heat water.
The big change came for me in 2012 when I was preparing for the Adventure Racing World Championships in France when a Nelson mountain biker and orienteer I knew, Grant MacDonald, a leader in freeze drying technology in New Zealand, said to me he believed with improved nutrition our team could go faster for longer. Naturally I was curious. The result was our team racing with Grant’s freeze dried food and winning the race, and we have won 5 of the past 6 World Championships since.
Soon after the race in France, Absolute Wilderness became a commercial product. There are some key things that make the product unique, on a global level. The company has developed a new technology that means the meals taste like ‘real food’, largely because the technology allows real meals to be dried. Traditionally freeze dried meals are made by mixing dry ingredients together, which is why they don’t rehydrate well in cold water. The advanced processing Absolute Wilderness has provides for meals in the range that are cold water only, such as salads and fresh fruit yogurts. Absolute Wilderness prepare the meals first then the complete meals are put through the drying process. The meals are then vacuum packed to seal in the freshness.
Our team are the primary testing ground for the meals, most of the range was tested by us in adventure races prior to being commercially available, and we nearly always race with prototype meals to test, for taste and energy. I can honestly say that meal times on course with our team are cheerful and the more we race, the more freeze dried meals (and smoothies) we use. Freeze dried sushi has been a highlight in recent races.
We still take the usual junk food but much less of it than we used to. The Absolute Wilderness meals provide the energy we require for a fraction of the weight of alternative options. In hot climates, we take a lot of Saltstick products. We like Pics Peanut Butter Slugs, Pure gels and Em’s Power Cookies, load them into our packs and we’re pretty much set.
Ed; Other outdoor foods are available :-)
Read the next article on 'Teamwork in Adventure Racing' here.
Nathan Fa'avae is the captain of Team Avaya (formerly Team Seagate) and 6x Adventure Racing World Champion. He is also a Race Director of the Spring Challenge and Absolute Widerness Adventure races in New Zealand, and a co-owner of Absolute Wilderness Freeze Dried Foods. You can find out more about him at https://nathanfaavae.nz/