Rucking is something that every soldier will have to do at some point. There are units that will be doing more or less of it, but at some point you’re going to have to get from point A to point B with some heavy stuff on your back. During my career with the Canadian Forces, I competed in the 2012 Petawawa Iron Man where I took 3rd place with a time of 5:48:22[1]. The Iron Man consists of a 32km forced march with 40 pounds, followed by a 4km canoe portage, an 8km paddle on the Ottawa River and finished with a 6km forced march. To train for this event I spent a lot of time under a rucksack through trial and error.  Below is my best advice compiled from my experience with gear, nutrition and race strategies you can use to succeed when rucking.

Must Have Equipment

When prepping for a race there are a few things that you will need to have in your back pocket…

  • Garmin GPS Watch: When training, being able to track your mileage and pace is essential; this is one piece of equipment that is worth it’s weight in gold. When I ran the Petawawa Ironman I knew that I had to run the first 2km at an 8.5-9km/hour pace to warm up my shins. It was in this portion of the race that everyone passed me. After 2km I bumped my pace up to a 9.5km/hour pace and spent the rest of the race passing everybody else. My Garmin watched allowed me to track my pace and stay on target.
  • Body glide: When performing repetitive cyclical movements, it is all too common for chaffing to occur. The simplest solution to this is to go to your local running room and purchase Bodyglide. It is simple to use and will save you a lot of pain while training and competing.
  • Endurolight Fizz: I would take these fizzy tablets whenever I would feel a rib cramp coming on. Break the tab in half and pop it in your mouth so that you can dose yourself right away. For me, the cramps would go away within 10sec after popping the tablet.
Image courtesy: commons.wikimedia.org

Intra-race Nutrition

In the old days marathon runners used to carbo-load by depleting their body of carbohydrates in the week leading up to a race then re-fueling a day or two before a race so that their muscle glycogen levels would increase dramatically. This led to athletes having severe gastric distress before, during and after races and is no longer a common practice. What athletes need when completing a ruck race is a proper nutrition protocol to keep them fueled throughout the race from start to finish.

When your event takes up to and over 6 hours of grueling work, your body will be needing fuel. In simple terms, your body will use water to break down carbohydrates which will then be used for energy.

Carbohydrate feeding during exercise has been shown to prevent hypoglycemia, maintain high rates of carbohydrate oxidation and improve endurance capacity.[2]  The recommendations for carbohydrate intake during exercise differs between scholars and has evolved rapidly in the past 10 years.  Below is a chart with recent recommendations on carbohydrate intake from Jeukendrop (2014)[3].

Two things that may be unclear from the above chart are what nutritional training and single/multiple transportable carbohydrates are. Nutritional training is beginning to incorporate intra-race nutrition during your training to see how it affects you. Begin with a lower dose of ~15-20g of carbohydrates per hour and slowly build to to see what works best for YOU. Multiple Transportable Carbohydrates: The limiting factor for carbohydrate intake’s influence on performance is how many grams of carbohydrates can pass the intestinal wall. If you only ingest glucose then the limit for grams of carbohydrates digested per hour is 60g/hour. However, sports scientists have recently discovered that there are multiple pathways to digest carbohydrates. The body can consume up to 30g of fructose per hour alongside the 60g of glucose. An ideal mix of glucose and fructose is 2:1.[4]

My go to’s for nutrition during a race:

  • Organic Dates: These are easy to transport and are a great source of fructose
  • Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans: These are a great source of glucose as well as an extra caffeine kick from the coffee beans.
  • Sports Drinks: when looking to rehydrate and consume carbs at the same time sports drinks can be a great option. If you can find a glucose based gatorade powder, this is a great option, although difficult to find.
  • Hammer Nutrition Perpetuam Solids: These are an easy way to get some solid food into you while keeping the food quality high while also all. These solids also have micronutrients like sodium, potassium and others that will contribute to endurance performance. (http://www.hammernutrition.com/products/perpetuem-solids/ )

Foods to avoid during the race:

  • Carbohydrate Gels: Although these provide a high quantity of carbohydrates oftentimes they are not high quality carbohydrates. I believe you are much better off with any of the above options.
  • High Fat Foods: Fat intake during exercise is not recommended. Fat takes a long time to digest and would provide no immediate benefit to you during the race.

Foot Care

This topic is covered extensively in my book The Ultimate Guide to Special Operations Selection which will be released summer 2017.

Key Points to Remember

  • Garmin GPS watch is a must
  • Bodyglide from Running Room for chaffing
  • Practice using carbohydrates during training (check chart for quantities)
  • Keep fat intake during training/races to zero or minimal

Feature image courtesy: flickr.com

[1] http://www.thedailyobserver.ca/2012/09/08/mettle-tested-in-iron-man

[2] Asker Jeukendrop.(2014) A Step Towards Personalized Sports Nutrition: Carbohydrate Intake During Exercise. Journal of Sports Medicine, 44.

[3] Asker Jeukendrop (2014) A Step Towards Personalized Sports Nutrition: Carbohydrate Intake During Exercise. Journal of Sports Medicine, 44, pg 25-33.

[4] Asker Jeukendrop (2013) Multiple Transportable Carbohydrates and Their Benefits.  Sports Science Exchange, 28(108) pg 1-5.