Aid stations at Spartan Races are notoriously, well, Spartan. You never know where they’ll be, exactly, or what they’ll offer besides water. Below, Virginia-based dietician and obstacle course veteran Mary Perry outlines a fueling strategy to keep you strong out on the course.
“You definitely want to have a high carb meal to fill your liver with glycogen,” Perry says. But carbohydrates shouldn’t be the only thing on your dinner plate. “Protein helps with muscle recovery and slows down carb digestion to keep your energy more stable,” Perry says. Chicken and veggie stir fry served over brown rice, or pasta with a chicken breast or turkey meatballs, tomato sauce, and some veggies would make great pre-race dinners. “Chose things that sit well with you and that you like,” Perry says. If you’re eating Paleo and the thought of pasta makes you queasy, try substituting sweet potatoes for the pasta. “Most importantly, don’t try any unusual foods the night before,” Perry says. “And don’t eat too much fiber either as it can cause gastrointestinal distress.”
Also, start hydrating now. “If you start the race dehydrated, it’s like filling up a bucket with holes in it—you’ll always be behind the curve,” Perry says. An easy way to tell if you’re well hydrated: check your urine. It should be pale yellow. If it’s darker, drink more.
Try to eat a breakfast with carbs and some protein two to three hours before your race start, Perry says. Some examples of a good pre-race meal include oatmeal with lowfat milk, walnuts, and fresh fruit; a whole grain bagel with almond or peanut butter and a banana; and toast with Greek yogurt and almonds. Start hydrating right away by drinking a cup or two of water when you wake up, and sipping on water or a sports drink until your race begins. “Practice the timing of your meal and figure out what foods work for you during training,” Perry says.
If your race starts in the afternoon, eat breakfast when you get up, then eat a snack two hours before your wave goes off. “You don’t want to eat a big heavy meal right before your race,” Perry says. Examples of good pre-race snacks include a sports bar and Gatorade; a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; Greek yogurt with a piece of fruit; or graham crackers with peanut butter and milk.
DURING THE RACE:
Chances are you’ll be racing for more than an hour, even at a Spartan Sprint. To keep yourself going for more than 60 minutes, you’ll need to refuel. “Focus on simple carbs like sports drinks, bananas, and gels,” Perry says. You should take in between 30 to 60 grams of carbs (120 to 240 calories) per hour by eating or drinking every 30 to 40 minutes. Don’t want to rely on aid stations? Wear a hydration pack or fuel belt, or pin gels to your clothes so you’ll have food with you when you need it. “You don’t want to put in all of that training then get stuck because you’re hungry or dehydrated,” Perry says.
As for on-the-course hydration, “monitor your thirst and drink when you’re thirsty,” Perry says. That’s the easiest way to stay hydrated.
Your body is primed to repair muscle tissue and fill up glycogen stores in the 15 to 30 minutes after you cross the finish line. “The more time you wait, the more glycogen replenishment and muscle repair is compromised,” Perry says. She recommends taking in 15 to 25 grams of protein (60 to 100 calories) and at least 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrates (160 to 200 calories) during that time. Some post-race fuel options include a glass of chocolate milk, a peanut butter sandwich with Gatorade, or a baggie of cereal with milk or yogurt.