Kilian Jornet’s nutrition strategy during his record breaking run on Mount Kilimanjaro
By: Devon Coetzee
On the 1st of October 2013, ultra-trail runner and mountaineer, Kilian Jornet set the record for the fastest ascent and descent of Mount Kilimanjaro. The run comprised of 53km of technical single track running with over 4200m vertical ascent. It took Kilian 5 hours and 23 minutes to reach the summit and a further 1 hour and 41 minutes to return back to Umbwe Gate at the entrance to the park. He broke the previous record of 8 hours and 27 minutes by completing the run in an astonishing 7 hours and 14 minutes.
With all the overwhelming and complicated advice we get about race nutrition these days, it is simply amazing when you consider the nutrition strategy that Kilian adopted for his record breaking run. Most runners preparing for a 7 hour run would be packing in low GI snacks with protein to satisfy hunger along with some form of electrolyte mixture and plenty of water.
The evening before Kilian set out to summit Kilimanjaro, he ate creamed carrot soup and “huge plates of pasta which I have a hard time finishing” he writes in his book. The next morning, he has pancakes and tea for breakfast. After setting off at “top speed”, Kilian consumes energy gels after the first and second hours of running. The first time that he drinks any form of fluid is 2 hours and 15 minutes into the uphill climb! This strategy would leave most recreational runners is a state of shock and horror! The next time Kilian consumes anything is at the summit where he eats cookies and drinks water. During his rapid descent, Killian stops at a camp to eat pancakes filled with jam.
Most running coaches and exercise physiologists would tell you to drink to thirst (small amounts at frequent intervals) and eat frequently. The foods should consist of both high GI and low GI sugars, you should avoid refined foods and make sure that you replace your electrolytes. Kilian seems to ignore all but one of these tips. All his calories come in the form of refined, processed sugars and all that he drinks is water in large amounts after long periods of no fluid intake at all.
Recent studies have shown that traditional carbo-loading is a thing of the past. Um… then why did Kilian shovel a massive amount of pasta down his throat the night before?
This highlights the fact that nutrition is highly personal, where one strategy might work for some, but not all. Clearly the idea of carbo-loading and eating plenty sugar during a long run isn’t dead due to the fact that Kilian was able to break the record on Mount Kilimanjaro. Yes, his feat was due to more than what he ate, but I can tell you that it played a massive role in his achievement. The bottom line is if you feel comfortable running on a low carb-high fat diet or a jelly bean and coke diet, then stick to it. If it produces good performances then it obviously works for you.
By Devon Coetzee