Training for a Spartan Race: Nutrition
It seems only fitting that I am writing this article in Greece! Home of the Spartans! I was asked a lot about how I trained for my Spartan race, namely how I ate to fuel my workouts and grow my muscles. Now before I dive in to I want you to know something – everyone is an athlete in the game of life, and all athletes know how important proper nutrition is to their performance. It’s not just those athletes that are competing that need to pay attention to nutrition, we ALL do for a multitude of reasons. In order to keep up with the demands of life – work, family, children, commitments – the body needs to be nourished to maintain energy. If the fuel tank gets low in your car, you give it gas. Your body is the same way.
While training for my Spartan Beast in Tahoe, I learned a lot about how to properly (and improperly) fuel my body before and after workouts. I was asking more of my body than I ever had before (longer runs, working new muscles, training for elevation), so I needed to dial in my nutrition more than ever before in order to sustain the demands I was placing on my body. The nutrition that athletes use, is the same that anyone can use when training and working out. The body still needs to be fueled for performance.
Timing is key, it plays a bigger role than most people might think. Before even discussing the “what” let’s talk about the “when”. There is about a 60-minute window before and after a workout that makes all the difference. So, whether you are training, racing, hiking, or going for a HIIT workout, remember to block your pre and post workout meals to ensure maximum performance and optimum recovery. 30-60 minutes before any activity, I try to get my pre-workout snack in (there is an exception to this that I will discuss in a second), usually comprised of fat, fiber, and quick carbohydrates. Then 60-90 minutes after I make sure to get in my post workout snack/meal that includes protein, vegetables, and a complex carbohydrate. The muscles need the protein after a workout to help build and repair, and the carbohydrates help to replenish the glycogen (energy) stores that have been depleted. There are a lot of fitness professionals out there that will tell you to eat almost immediately after working out or within 30 to 60 minutes. After an intense workout, my body is still in a stress response, using its sympathetic nervous system. If I eat too soon after working out, my body isn’t actually able to use to food as fuel. So waiting a little longer and allowing the parasympathetic (rest and digest) system to come back on, I am much better able to digest and therefore use the food I am giving my body.
Now that we know the when, let’s go over the what. So normally, if I am training in the morning, I actually train in a fasted state. It’s something that works really well for me, and I feel that my body responds well to using stored energy (fat) for fuel in that state. However, if my training schedule for that day is intense, such as a 13 mile run or a back to back workout then I know I need to fuel my body! My go-to pre-training/race/ workout snack is going to sound like an odd combination, but it works! I take ¼-1/2 of an avocado and mash it with ½ a banana, chia seeds, and cocoa powder. The banana provides my muscles with quick energy since it is broken down right into glucose and fructose, while the avocado and chia seeds provide more sustainable energy for endurance. The cocoa powder is mainly there for taste (it’s like a little chocolate pudding!) but also contains some great anti-oxidant properties.
Post workout, I always reach for a BCAA (branch chain amino acids) powder and L-glutamine to help with muscle repair and recovery. Skipping this step would hamper my performance and progress because I would be dealing with days of muscle soreness and fatigue. These supplements help my body recover faster and function better. In addition, I will have a serving of protein (chicken or fish usually) with ¼ cup sweet potato or butternut squash along with a vegetable sauté. Even when my workouts happen at 5am, this is STILL my post workout meal. Most people say that sounds like dinner, but I do not believe that there is such a thing as “breakfast food” there is just FOOD! As an athlete, you eat what your body NEEDS. In a pinch, I will also choose a protein smoothie made with protein powder (I love chocolate!) with spinach, maca powder (great energy boost), and a little almond butter. Seriously tastes like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup!! (I will do another post soon going over what to look for and watch out for in protein powders!)
That’s my game plan when training and racing! Train the way you play! Whether you are going to the Spartan Beast in Tahoe, going on a summer hike or swim, or chasing the kids around the yard, be sure to give your body the nutrition that it needs to performance at it’s best. You ARE an athlete! Eat like one!