Who Eats More, an NFL Player or an Ultramarathoner?
The bodies of an NFL safety and an ultra-runner are incredibly different. One is designed for violent explosions of force every few minutes, and the other is built to just keep going (and going and going). The fueling strategies required to power these two disparate body types through completion are as different as the athletes themselves. You might think that a bulky athlete like a football player would be eating much more than the runner, but, as we found out, that's not always the case. We caught up with Ian Sharman, an ultra-marathoner who regularly runs 50- and 100-mile races, and Antrel Rolle, a safety for the New York Giants, to discuss how they fuel up for performance.
Sharman's longer races (50-100 miles) tend to start very early in the morning, so he eschews a big breakfast and opts for a quick, easy snack on the starting line. "I'll have something like a CLIF bar and a gel before the start line, because I don't want too much in my stomach," Sharman says. "It's just quick and easy, and if I'm traveling that's a simple thing I can take with me."
He starts to pack in carbs a few days before the race. "I tend to eat a little bit more in the two or three days before the race, with more carbs than normal," he says. "I'm not eating larger portions, just more carbohydrates to carb-load."
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During the Race
Sharman's nutritional strategies depend heavily on the length of the race he's running. If he's powering through a fairly short race, like a standard marathon (well, short for him, anyway), he doesn't need to ingest quite as much while running. "The difference between a marathon and the longer stuff is that the body has the energy it needs to run the marathon," he says. "I'll start eating maybe an hour and half into a marathon—I'll have a couple of CLIF energy gels and that's about all I'll do."
As the length of the race increases, however, nutrition becomes more important. "With the longer races, I start eating earlier and eating more per hour, because I need to be thinking not just about how I'm feeling now but how I'll be feeling in 10 hours time," he says. "[You're] trying to eat to keep your energy up for the whole thing."
During those longer races (50+ miles), he eats approximately 400 calories per hour, mostly from gels (like the one he chomps down on at the beginning of the race), as well as snacks from aid stations along the way. "At the 8 stations there's usually a buffet," Sharman says. The buffets include things like nuts, potato chips, M&M's, candy bars and granola. Sharman says he just grabs whatever he feels like eating: "I try to find as much variety as possible. My stomach is generally good with almost everything I eat during a race, so I don't have to be too particular."
Right After The Race
Somewhat surprisingly, Sharman isn't ravenously hungry after finishing his extreme distance runs. Still, he forces some food down as soon as he can to kick-start the recovery process. "I have no desire to eat anything [after a race], but I have to force myself to start eating solely for recovery, because the body clearly needs it," he says.
Sharman forces down a mixture of carbs and protein to make sure his body will recover properly. "Sometimes they'll have something like a grilled cheese sandwich or pizza at the finish line," he says. "At the same time that I'm eating [the grilled cheese or pizza], I'll try to take in some protein, so something like a CLIF builders bar [works well]."
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The Next Meal
Generally, Sharman doesn't consume a huge, filling plate of food until the day after a race. When he sits down for his next meal, though, all dietary rules are tossed out the window. "[I'll eat] anything and everything, really," he says. "I allow myself to feast. Also, because of the fact I've eaten so much sugar the day before, sweet things that normally would be a treat aren't quite as appealing. [I opt for] a nice big Italian meal or a really tasty higher calorie meal I can spoil myself with."
Rolle, who was in the off-season when we caught up with him, keeps it simple for his first meal of the day. "I wake up around 6:45 and head to work [at Metlife Stadium]," he says. "I try to grab an omelet with turkey, spinach and egg whites. I might make myself a fruit smoothie, and then water. I try to consume a lot of water."
The Giants safety keeps it simple and easy before he steps on the field for practice around 10:00 a.m. He tops off his energy right before getting down to business. "I'll have a Promax protein bar," he says. "I don't like to eat a huge meal before I go out."
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After practice, Rolle heads back to the Giants' cafeteria and chows down on a lunch that helps him recover and prepare for the next day's work. "I'm not a picky eater, so I just try to make sure that I have carbs, protein and greens," he says. "I try to eat greens with each and every meal." Some options in the Giants' dining hall include chicken and fish for lean protein and quinoa, brown rice or couscous for carbohydrates. "We have a big salad bar and a lot of fresh fruit, too," says Tara Ostrowe, RD, the Giants' nutritionist. Of course, Rolle can always whip up a smoothie.
Rolle bulks up easily, so he keeps his dinners small to ensure he stays quick on his feet. "I try to eat a light dinner, because I'm trying to stay around 210," he says. "I'm the kind of guy who if I lift weights I could get to 220 overnight. [For dinner] I have some lean meat, maybe salmon, chicken, or even ostrich and then greens. That's how my day goes."
Whose Nutrition Matters More On Game Day?
Jeremy Mullins, RD, thinks that nutrition in an ultra-marathon has a greater effect on performance than in a football game. "I would say the endurance athlete would see a [greater effect on performance] if he's not fueling properly," Mullins says. "Once they hit that wall, it'll be hard to get enough fuel in to get back up and perform up to par. Talking about a football player, and it's a high school student, if they miss breakfast and they're running late, for whatever reason, they miss a meal. Their performance might have a noticeable decline, but they could be pulled out of the game and drink some Gatorade and be okay for that event."