“What to eat?” is one of the most asked questions when it comes to extreme, ultra marathons such as KAEM.

Nutrition is probably the most important factor to ensure the successful completion of an extreme trail running event such as the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon. Having enough fuel to see you through while also satisfying your cravings for renewed emotional energy, are vital to finish this event and experience the high that comes with it.

One thing you’ll hear the majority of experienced KAEMers say is go for REAL food and do not only rely on gels. This is also strongly advised by our qualified medical team. While gels are great for a quick boost of energy when you are running short distances at high intensity, it just doesn’t do the trick in a multi-stage, extreme ultra marathon. What’s more, in the desert you need salt and plenty of calories, the body needs substance to go with the much needed nutrients, minerals and vitamins.

Providing you with valuable advice and a jam-packed list of options, we have asked our experienced KAEMers to give us their tips and guidance. Here you go.

We thank all our KAEMers that participated in the survey!! See you again soon!

If you have any questions after this read, please feel free to engage with us on our KAEM Facebook page or mail Simoné at simone@kaem.co.za

What are the must-have foods in your bag for an extreme and endurance event such as KAEM?

  • Protein & fats for proper fuel
  • Pot noodle
  • Hola hoops
  • Droëwors (South African dried sausage, either beef or game)
  • Biltong (South African dried meat, either beef or game)
  • Fatty biltong
  • Carbanossi
  • Salami sticks
  • Freeze dried meals (that you have tested and know you will enjoy)
  • Ready cooked multi grains in a sachet (Woolworth SA) + Tuna (in olive oil) with dried chilli Parmesan and dried olives
  • Savoury biscuits
  • 3-in-1 Recoffy sachets
  • Cuppa soup (more than you think necessary – they don’t weigh much and are incredibly comforting and helps to replenish salt)
  • Electrolytes / Rehydrate Sport
  • Dehydrated full meals for dinner
  • Salty snacks
  • Proteins
  • Salt, energy-power (“Calshake”) for drinks
  • Nuts
  • Niknaks
  • Raisins
  • A small snack to eat every hour while running (20g – 50g) – nuts, biltong, etc.
  • A few snacks to nibble on at camp
  • High Five Zero tabs
  • Enos

*Please note: Do not pack or vacuum pack droëwors or biltong in plastic bags. These can be packed in brown paper bags to keep it dry and airy. With excessive heat in the Kalahari Desert, you don’t want your droëwors and biltong to sweat.

What are the nice-to-haves in your bag?

  • Peanut butter
  • Peanuts
  • Biltong / droëwors
  • Woolworths’ mini salami sticks
  • Dried spicy meat
  • Steak and sausage for barbeque the first two nights (even just the first night)
  • John West tuna
  • Ginger biscuits
  • Dried fruit / dried apricots
  • Nuts
  • Minty chewing gum
  • Xxx mints
  • Quick packet soups (total winner even at 45 degrees)
  • Dried chilli flakes
  • Parmesan powder
  • Salt & Pepper (to add to dried meals)
  • Tin of sardines for the long day J
  • Coffee, tea, sweets
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Bottle of Tabasco
  • Popsicle (suigstokkie)
  • Crisps
  • Salticrax with red skin little cheeses for day 1
  • Game to mix with water
  • Rooibos tea
  • A couple of sweets
  • Coffee mate and sugar mix
  • Starbucks Via coffee sachets
  • Biscotti biscuits
  • Liquorice Allsorts
  • Little portions of salted butter but get those packaged in little plastic tubs with a foil lid as it melts.

And here’s a couple non-food items – nice to have’s – yes J

  • Toothbrush
  • Facecloth size cloth to wipe down your body after a race day
  • Small hand sanitizer gel

What’s recommended to avoid and why?

  • Gels and too much sugary stuff – it can make you nauseas.
  • “Avoid uncritically accepting whatever anyone else says. Eating on such events is a very personal thing. Listen to everyone, test out the bits that sound good, and go with only that which you have proved works for you.”
  • “Avoid the lure of a light a backpack and skimp on food. Make sure you pack enough food for every day. Calorie intake must be planned in advance and according to the day’s distance, e.g.: you will need less calories on day 1 compared to day 4. Make sure you pack some comfort food for the rest day such as crisps or a lollipop. Plan most meals around enough proteins because that is essential for recovery.”
  • “Avoid any foods that can melt or have melty components in it, i.e. even yogurt sweets or some ‘on-the-go’ mixed snacks.”
  • “Do not take unnecessary food, or because it works for someone else, you think you may need it.
  • “Do not take jelly babies and obviously no chocolate – it just melts away.”
  • “Very spicy food, although a few chilli flakes in the dehydrated food is very nice.”
  • “Too much of the same food or too much sweet stuff. Whatever you bring at the start of the week you won’t want to eat by the end of the week.”
  • “Taking too little food. It is terrible not to have enough food when you’re hungry and having to run tomorrow.”
  • “I made the mistake of not taking enough food and I am certain I would have enjoyed the race much more and suffered less from issues if I had packed a bit more and more “real” food (not gels or other simple carb mixes). I would suggest at least 2400 calories or more per day. Also include a multi-vitamin tablet or sachet for each morning and evening to ensure you are looking after yourself optimally considering what you are putting your body through.”

With only hot or cold water as a resource you get at camp, best options for breakfast and dinner?

Breakfast:

  • Ready brek (Instant Oats)
  • FutureLife
  • FutureLife with extra protein
  • Dehydrated Muesli
  • Low fibre / high protein cereal (e.g.: FutureLife high protein)
  • Packet soup, mini cheese, salami, a multi-seed wrap (warmed in the fire) + coffee and rusks
  • Oats with cacao and milkpowder (and water)
  • 50g instant oats mixed with 50g granola – caramel flavoured oats and vanilla granola just the best!
  • “I am not a breakfast eater and a breakfast bar works for me. Then I’ll snack during the day.”
  • Porridge mixed with ginger
  • Mix of 50g FutureLife with 2 tablespoons raw oats, a tablespoon of dried fruit & nut mix, a teaspoon sugar and a teaspoon powdered milk. Make a premix for every morning in a separate ziplock – have it with hot water.

Dinner:

  • Pot Noodle
  • Provita and tuna
  • Two minute noodles (nice and filling)
  • Dehydrated meals or “ready-made concoctions” (just very expensive)
  • Freeze dried meal
  • “I have steak for the first two nights, for the rest I make my own dried food – what I like I dry in the oven and in camp I add hot water and let it stand for 30 minutes. This I have with bread I bake in camp.”
  • 800 – 1000 calorie dehydrated meal “I divide my one meal into two ziplock bags and mix them up so I’ll have two smaller meals of different flavours every evening instead of one big meal which is sometimes difficult for smaller people to finish.”
  • “I make my own pasta dinners and cows cous breakfasts to avoid paying for over-priced dehydrated food.”

After Dinner:

  • Cappuccino or hot chocolate sachet
  • Tuna and noodles or biscuits (except for first 2 night having steak on the fire)
  • Night-time recovery shake by SIS

What to have for lunch? And when?

Front / Middle-of-the-pack runners:

  • “No lunch so far, but next time I will pack a light lunch for Day 1 and 2 when I arrive at camp – it’s too hard to wait all afternoon at camp without being able to eat.”
  • “I had muesli mix for lunch (that was actually planned for breakfast), and around lunch time whether in camp or not. Around 16:00 I had a meal replacement drink. That worked for me during the day.”
  • “I had FutureLife at every refreshment station (this was almost all I would have during the day as I struggled to eat anything else).”
  • Salami bites from Woolworth SA – no later than 14:00 (on route or at camp)
  • “I do not have lunch as such – every time I leave a Check Point, I have a small amount of food, either half a salami stick or a few dried apricots or a Farbar.”
  • “No lunch I but snack through the day – when arriving at camp, I take an Eno sachet, rehydrate and recovery shake – all in a ziplock with cold water (then you don’t have to clean your bottle). On long days, at 16:00 I will have a treat for the day and what was left of the day’s race food (biltong, raisons, dried banana covered with honey)
  • “As a ‘racing snake’ you need a mixture of carbs and sugar to give you energy to perform. After the race you need protein and high calorie food to recover.”
  • “Dried lime infused mango, nuts, tuna sachet, mini salted pretzels, mini malt loaves.”

Slower runners / hikers:

  • No lunch as such however grazing throughout the day on whole dried bananas and sesame snacks.
  • Salt, energy-powder for drinks – nuts and salami throughout the day.
  • Two minute noodles. “Add flavour to it, i.e. brown onion soup / oxtail which makes it taste better. Can also mix with instant potato to bulk up and add flavour.
  • On longer days couscous mixed with tuna and a little olive oil
  • Two minute noodles and salami
  • “I am a slow runner and made the mistake not to take every day something like soup or noodles for lunch-really missed it and was hungry when I finished and had nothing to eat till supper.”

“If you are a slow runner, you have to have a substantial lunch at some point during the day, otherwise the day could become very long.”

Are recovery drinks or supplements a must? Recommendations and when to take what?

YES for recovery drink:  7 respondents

When arriving at camp:

  • Whey protein.
  • High glucose / high GI drink followed by high protein meal – thereafter a drink such as 32GI endure and an extra electrolyte drink.
  • Good to have with a cold drink flavour

NO for recovery drink:  7 respondents

Supplements during the day instead of recovery drink:

  • Electrolytes / Rehydrate or Dioralyte – some runners would have one per day after reaching camp.
  • Hola hoops
  • Calshake
  • Magnesium tablets at night
  • “Take daily multivitamins that you usually take at home.”

Salt tablets or similar – how many of those, how regular?

YES for salt tablets:  6 respondents 

  • One tablet every Check Point
  • At a salt tablet or electrolyte between every Check Point plus another 2 for the end of the day or during the night.
  • “I would advise to consult a professional doctor about sodium intake – this is very personal and dependent on your specific requirements. If taken too much, it can lead to an upset stomach. The average person cannot absorb more than 600mg sodium per hour. You can for example take 200mg to 400mg per hour from the start and only when you feel cramping. The goal is not to cramp at all. Rather have a recovery drink after a day’s race that will replace lost sodium. Another factor to be aware of is not to choose salt tablets or drinks with added Taurine or caffeine. This will give you a two hour kick then drop you dead. Energy tablets are only good for 10kms of the day if you use them. I would advise not to.”
  • “When I felt a bit down, a salt tablet or two could pick me up.”
  • “I take two capsules CrampEase in the morning and if the distance exceeds 40km, one capsule every 10km or so.”
  • “I didn’t have salt tablets but regretted it as I think it would have helped a lot – I am not exactly sure how much and how often, but I am of the opinion that it can help a lot.”

Never used salt tablets:  8 respondents 

  • Rather have salty snacks
  • Nuun tablet in alternate water bottles
  • Dripdrop (electrolyte)
  • Rennies at every Check Point, after Check Point 3 I take two – also take rehydrate as needed

What if you’re a vegetarian? What to include and how much to ensure you get enough calories and nutrition?

  • Lots of nuts and nut butters to boost calories
  • Almond nuts for calories
  • Add dried Parmesan or dried olives to your freeze dried meals.
  • Protein powder, protein shakes, dehydrated beans.
  • Macadamia nuts for its fat and nutrition
  • Vegan protein shake
  • Seeds and nuts provide enough calories and essential amino acids and oils – it’s a must in a vegetarian KAEM diet – it should be included liberally in all meals.
  • “It is advisable to make sure you have enough energy in your food as I’ve seen a fair amount of vegetarians bomb due to a lack of energy.”

Some people include steak in the pack for the 1st and even 2nd night – does it give extra boost? And taken into account the weight is it really worth it?

YES for steak: 6 respondents

  • “Tastes great and is an awesome emotional booster. Truly worth the weight to carry.”
  • “Nothing quite makes you feel like a rêrige booitjie than flashing round a fat steak on the first night or two. It certainly feeds your ego and your inspiration, if not your body.”
  • “The weight is worth the emotional nourishment!”
  • “YES, have a small steak at least for the first night – it is more than worth the weight.”
  • “It’s not about the energy or calories – it’s about the taste and nicety J”
  • “Whether steak gives you a boost is debatable. Steak will have same calories as your normal dehydrated meal. For me it’s more the novelty of braaing a steak in the Kalahari over open coals. I take for two nights and the extra weight is not much. I felt good the next day after eating so energy maybe yes. Advisable to take a small 300g steak for the first night, it’s just lekker.”

NO, not really worth it:  1 respondent

What to do when your stomach gets upset?

KAEMers that experienced stomach problems:  1 respondent

  • “Imodium for an upset stomach.”
  • “In many instances an upset stomach is the result of taking too many gels and the body struggles to metabolise it fast enough. If you do include gels in your KAEM diet, be careful not to overdo it.”
  • “I would recommend taking a few cyclizine tablets (e.g.: medazine or Adco cyclizine) to help with nausea. Ginger sweets and ginger cookies may also help a bit. Also, try to figure out why your stomach is upset: heat exhaustion, low or high blood glucose levels, not eating and drinking enough?? This is very difficult to do once you are already in the situation but try to sort out “niggles” before they become serious issues.”

KAEMers that did not experience stomach problems:  9 respondents

  • “If you do your homework on your food choices and test them out to see how your stomach reacts over time, AND you keep your hands clean, you should be able to avoid stomach problems. However have Imodium and Buscopan as a backup just in case.”
  • “I take as a precaution Smecta every morning with my breakfast. And to be on the safe side carry some Stemitil/ Valoid and Loperamide with me but has not needed it yet!  Thank goodness.”
  • Some witty pondering aka our very own poet, George Euvrard: “Speak nicely to it? A mielie cob? Haven’t a clue; never had a problem.”
  • “Take a few probiotics in your medical kit.”
  • “I always have coal tablets with me and in case my stomach feels upset, I take one.”
  • Whether or not you have experienced problems in the past, it is wise to carry some form of medication for nausea and/or a runny tummy.”
  • “I usually try the preventative approach: take a probiotic capsule in the morning and a sachet of Eno antacid after lunch. It also helps preventing cramping.”

Some people say that bread, or dough to bake bread, is good for binding the stomach and giving calories? Does this work for KAEM?

  • “I think this is wonderful psychologically, and that is so important in these conditions. Not sure about the calorie side of things. Whatever, practice it often before and don’t make it your novelty.”
  • “Instead of bread, take wraps and put them on the fire.”
  • “You can make your own dried dough mix and make your dough with water at camp. It is just a long process. For two years I have taken my bread with everything I want in a ziplock for every day and it worked well.”

How can one ensure that what you test prior to KAEM will work as we cannot all train in the same type of weather conditions and heat?

In general for the majority of KAEMers it was/is not possible to test foods prior to the event in similar conditions as that which you will encounter at KAEM.  They followed advice such as what is provided here. For the majority of participants the advice on food works – many said they would increase their snacks next time and what is important is to make sure you like the taste of what you take with. In the heat, the taste of certain foods may change, but as a rule, if it tastes ok under normal circumstances, it should work.

  • “Although I tested all my food prior to KAEM and all worked for me, in the heat I was struggling to eat during the day. So I swopped my planned breakfasts and lunches – had FutureLife during the day with varying amounts of water.”
  • “Stick to what works for you during long distance running.”
  • “Too much sweet stuff does not work in the heat. Many people also make the mistake of having half their daily calories in a breakfast cereal mix that they cannot stomach by day 2 or 3.”
  • “Test food on long training runs and multiday training runs – do not take food that you don’t really like. You have to carry it with you for a long distance.”
  • “For me the food was not such a big thing, but it is important to test your bag and how you run with it. Chafing issues can be bad and you need to know how to manage this.”
  • “Take at least two training weekends to test the food: Eat your planned KAEM dinner the night before, have the planned breakfast the next morning, and then do you 20/30km long run to see if the food agrees with your body.”