by Paul Halford |

Rupert Bonington believes there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to race fuelling (Pic: Mountain Fuel)

Rupert Bonington has always had a good understanding of sports nutrition. He is the son of famed mountaineer Sir Chris Bonnington, who made the first ascent of the south face of Annapurna. As a child he watched his mum help his dad with nutrition for his expeditions. So it was only natural that when the opportunity came up to get involved in that world, he jumped at it.

Turning a passion for running into a business

After selling his ski business, Rupert was looking for something which gave him the chance to “play around in the fells,” rather than spend so much time travelling to London. A keen fell runner, he’d used different sports nutrition products, but struggled to find something he liked. “I always had really bad experiences with gels,” he says.

Rupert met Darren Foote, who was ex-Army. “In his career Darren had been asked to do really strenuous stuff on very basic military rations,” says Rupert. “He thought there had to be a simpler, better way of fuelling and that’s how the original Mountain Fuel system came about. Since then we’ve added a lot more products and taken it more towards the endurance, ultra, trail and mountain world.”

Apply common sense

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for nutrition, Rupert believes the basic foundations are rigorous testing and a realistic approach. “We advise everybody from elite level athletes to everyday runners. I couldn’t look anybody in the eye and confidently suggest a nutrition plan or ideas of what to eat or drink to help you enjoy what you do if we hadn’t tested it over and over again.”

Nutrition has to be rooted in science but it’s also got to be practical. As Rupert says, “Recently there was an article about how mashed potato is as effective as gels as sports nutrition. But the reality is that if you’re running a marathon it’s difficult to get mashed potato down you! And, if you’re running an ultra, the thought of cold mashed potato after eight hours isn’t very appealing! You need to have something that your brain and your body wants. If your stomach, body and brain start saying ‘no’ then you can’t fuel your muscles.”


Make this Christmas Special

What to look for

Rupert’s view is very simple. Whatever choices you make, whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, low carb, high fat, etc. “You should be taking on board some kind of fuel to help you enjoy it,” he says. “Whether that’s a session, a race, a training run, whatever, you need to take on something specifically for that. As an example, you need carbohydrate, even if you’re a low-carb person. You need to find something with an element of faster glycogen replenishment that still fits with your thought process.

“You do need a fast-acting carb for when you’re pushing hard (a gel or sports jelly). You also need something that’s slow release for longer efforts.”

His attitude towards nutrition and life in general is that it’s all about balance. “I believe that if you approach life and enjoy a little bit of everything – a little bit of the good stuff, a little bit of naughty stuff, a bit of the boring, mundane stuff – you’re probably going to have an enjoyable and balanced life. Nutrition is a lot like that, too.”

While runners can get obsessed with taking on enough fuel, it’s often the case that less is more. Ultra runners can approach aid stations as an eating competition! “They get to the aid station and it’s party food central!” says Rupert. “Then they wonder why they feel terrible. I once had somebody tell me that their sports nutrition hadn’t really worked for them because they were violently ill. Then they told me that they were ill just after they’d come out of an aid station, where they’d had a smoothie and a big cup of cola. They’d already answered their own question.”

So how does ‘real food’ fit with sports nutrition? Rupert makes the point that when runners talk about using ‘real food’ in races they’re often actually talking about supermarket-bought bars or ‘party food’ options. These can be full of preservatives, which can have an impact on your digestive system. “In addition, those products aren’t sports nutrition-based and aren’t designed to metabolise in a way you might need them to,” he adds. “Your stomach is a muscle and if it has to work too hard drawing blood flow from your working muscles before you know it you’re in an energy dip, with that feeling of ‘I’ve got nothing left in my legs’. With Mountain Fuel we’ve tried to give people a system which is easy to absorb, less likely to aggravate the stomach and will discourage that internal battle with the blood flow.”

Common mistakes that runners make

Rupert finds that runners often wait too long into a run to fuel themselves, by which time they’re really depleted already. He says: “We can tell runners to fuel 15 minutes into a half-marathon; It takes time to absorb and metabolise. And if you fuel properly you finish stronger, won’t get the same DOMS, you’ll recover quicker and you’ll be back out there training again sooner.”

A big thing that runners often struggle to get right is running in the heat. “On a warm day, the conflict of blood flow in the body is not only between your vital organs, muscles and your stomach but also the surface of skin, to cool it down,” Rupert explains. “Your skin is drawing blood away from your muscles so you’re naturally going to find it harder. You just have to run slower, fuel, hydrate, take opportunities to cool your body and pick it up later on to your natural pace if you can. If you try to run at your normal race pace from the off, you will inevitably crash and burn”.

And something that Rupert is always keen to emphasise is that running should be fun! Fuel is something that should allow you to enjoy your running. “You’ve got enough fat stores to run all day without fuel, but it won’t be fun,” he says. “You invest in your trainers, your kit, why wouldn’t you invest in fuel for your body to make sure you enjoy it? If you finish a race feeling strong, if you’ve fuelled it right you’ll be ready to go again the next day. Kilian Jornet couldn’t run as fast and perform as he does on party food. He’s struggled in the past with nausea but finds the Mountain Fuel Sports Jellies work for him.”

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