Training for a Spartan race? Think about this: “Nutrition can be the single most important weapon to successful training and a successful race,” according to SGX coach Matt Bouback.
Bouback, founder of Power Combat Fitness in Belvidere and Byron, Illinois, and an expert in fitness nutrition, recommends would-be Spartans start cleaning up their nutrition at least one month prior to race day. However, don’t think stepping away from the Cinnabon is all that’s needed to do-over your diet. You have to eat intelligently and with an eye to improving performance with food.
For example, Bouback says, “there is no better source of fuel then carbohydrate intake, but overconsumption of carbs can also lead to water retention and weight gain, which can impact performance.”
Equally, while there’s much buzz around the benefits of increasing fats to encourage the body to burn them as a primary fuel source, oftentimes that just isn’t practical, says Bouback. “Putting the body into ketosis (a metabolic state in which fat provides some of the body’s energy supply rather than glucose) can take up to a month or longer and can have a temporary debilitating effect on performance as the body adapts.”
And then there’s protein. Bouback says that eating too much protein can lead to weight gain as the body stores it as fat that it can later break down into glycogen (a process called gluconeogenesis).
So how do you eat like a Spartan and make your diet a top tool in your racing arsenal?
1. Be balanced
Though Bouback notes diets will vary based on individual goals and volume of training, in general he suggests a macro ratio of 50 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 20 percent fats. The key word with all foods is “quality.”
Quality carbs: Quinoa (which should always be soaked), rolled oats, sweat potatoes and fruits such as oranges and blueberries. “I always recommend exceeding daily recommendations in vegetables such as broccoli because of their low glycemic index and fiber content,” Bouback says.
Quality protein: Beans, soy, eggs, cheese, milk, seafood, and white-meat poultry. “Buy organic as much as possible,” he advises, particularly if you’re including meat in your diet.
Quality fats: Unsaturated fats sources include avocado, and nuts such as peanuts, hazelnuts, cashews and almonds, as well as olive, flaxseed and canola oil.
2. Don’t skip meals
According to Boubeck, the single biggest mistake he sees people make in the lead-up to their race is not matching their volume of training with their nutritional needs. Bailing on breakfast or having limp lettuce for lunch is not going to help you cut it on the race course.
“Your metabolism is like a fire and in order to keep it burning you must constantly feed it just as you would with wood on a real fire,” he says. “Someone working towards a goal of a Spartan Race will need to understand that eating more of the right foods more often will help support their workouts, recovery, and performance.”
3. Ditch the chips
Boubeck uses the moniker “chips” as a catchall for any nutritional garbage food. “Chips and many of those processed foods are useless to the body. Dead weight. Start by cleaning out the pantry and getting rid of anything and everything that does not help support your goals. By no means do I say don’t have something every so often that you enjoy, but I do mean stop buying crap. If it exists in your pantry the chances of it going into your mouth is pretty high.”
4. Plan for your goals
Knowing why you’re running a Spartan Race and revising your daily dishes are equally important to managing your nutritional intake, says Boubeck. “Some people are getting off the couch for the first time. Taking them from this comfort zone to a race course is overwhelming. Those people are also committing themselves to a healthier lifestyle, which means they’re accomplishing two goals.”
For that reason, he suggests starting out with a solid plan four weeks prior to the big day. “Make sure your nutrition matches your performance in training and during a race. This will go a long way in supporting behaviors that will help you through the finish line.”
The right food is the most powerful health drug of all. Download a free Spartan Meal Plan.