Nutrition and training prep go hand in hand as far as performance at World’s Toughest Mudder. With training complete it is time to talk about race nutrition. Finding the right nutrition plan is about customizing it to your needs. Don’t just rely on the top racers, doing what they do and hope for success. Every athlete is different. Most have already tuned up their nutrition plans for this year’s race but if you are a bit behind or taking on WTM for the first time we are here to help you. Here goes my Who, What, When, Where, and How’s to for WTM race nutrition:
The “who” is you silly! Amelia Boone might love pickle juice and Pop Tarts, and Junyong Pak his canned peaches; however, these might not work for you. Dean Karnazes ate everything under the sun (26,498 calories) when he ran his 350 mile solo relay in 58 hours. That averages out to 456 calories an hour!!! Research shows that the average competitive endurance athlete can absorb about 350 calories/ hour while exercising.
Research shows that the average endurance athlete can absorb about 350-400 calories/ hour while exercising. If you are following the guidelines of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, this will equate to 50-60 gr of carbs, 15-20 gr of protein and 10 or so gr of fat each lap at the WTM. I recommend at least some of this food be taken in during the lap and then loading up in the pit, but more on this later.
The items you choose to eat are largely a matter of practice and preference. The thing to remember on this is the foods that you choose should be, a lot of times, the OPPOSITE of the foods that you should be eating as a part of your everyday healthy diet.
The competition foods need to be calorically dense, highly refined/ processed carbs that are low in fat. These types of foods absorb into your system more easily/ quickly and provide less bulk in your gut. Engineered foods like sport drinks, shakes and bars are great choices for this but they aren’t the only thing.
Comfort foods are a must in order to lift spirits when you are dragging… or say traipsing through a sandstorm in the middle of the night. Remember your protein intake as well.
Research shows that glycogen uptake is maximized then the carb:protein ratio in each meal is 4:1. Protein is also essential because you will be in a ketogenic state for much of this race and your body will be using protein for energy . To combat the breakdown of our muscles we need to make sure they are getting those Amino acids as well.
I will include a food list of recommended items at the end of this review.
You must eat and constantly drink throughout the event to keep fueled. If you wait until you are hungry or thirsty you are already working at a deficit. It takes a minimum of about 18-24 hours to replenish your muscle glycogen stores after strenuous exercise much less while you are still moving.
Some key points to remember prior to the event: Start carb loading about 5 days before the event. Take in about 30-50% more carbs that you have been eating. I even utilize a carb depletion phases during training to allow my body to adjust to fueling in this state. I do this again starting about 13 days out and then at 5 days I start loading.
On the day prior to the event make sure that you eat a lot of carbs while limiting your excess fat at every meal. Please be careful on the portions the night prior to the race even if you are attending the annual WTM Community Dinner. You don’t want to spend the extra four hours we have pre-race on Saturday in the bathroom/ port-a-potty.
You also want to up your electrolyte content on the day prior to the race since the Sodium/Potassium pump system has a correction period of about 18 hours. The morning of the event should include a high carb and low-fat meal. Fat not only slows the absorption of the meal, but it also can cause gastric distress during exercise leading to “the trots.”
Fat, however, is not the only culprit of digestive issues during exercise. Keep in mind that single source sugar can also cause problems so try not to eat too much fructose or sucrose at one time before nor during the race. This is the reason that products like Gatorade and Tailwind utilize two forms of sugar in their products.
During the race, I suggest having an electrolyte drink either in your hydration pack or at least as your main source of fluids in the pit. Liquids absorb quickly so this will help you immensely. Tailwind seems to be the most highly recommended by ultra-endurance athletes for this purpose.
During the pit stops, have a plan for what you need to eat to ensure you get enough calories. You will get less hungry as you become more tired. This is a natural effect as your body is trying to conserve digestion energy to keep you moving figuring that you will eventually stop to fuel. This has the opposite effect on WTMers though because we can’t stop moving for any length of time. You simply have to keep eating! Again, this is where calorically dense foods and engineered foods help you get in those calories.
As far as hydration goes, your body needs about 8 oz of water every 15 minutes (1 liter per hour) during exercise. The easiest way to ensure you get this is to have a hydration pack but as long as you drink when you can then you will be fine. I drank about 35 oz per lap (11 laps in 25 hours) last year and my level was spot on for me. A great gauge on this is how often you urinate. If you are doing so once a lap then cut back on the fluids. If it’s like once every six hours then you want to pick up the pace!
FYI, please do not plan on ingesting the lake water from Lake Las Vegas and using it to stay hydrated. As for what to take in after the WTM… Your recovery starts immediately, so plan on eating real food. Afterwards, expect that “food baby” to wipe you out the rest of the way, so plan on going to bed early and continuing with your recovery on Monday!
The how is fairly simple, you eat and drink! However, some of you crazies may want to try a loaded I.V. drip in the Pit. If this is the case, I know a couple nurses from a PIT crew that can probably help.
This brings my long winded diatribe to a close. You will find my long list of preferable food choices for your shopping list below. Omitted from this list but might be necessary are any of Kevin Chow’s alcoholic beverages and pretty much whatever Mathieu Lo would like to add.
Limited Food List:
Drinks– Tailwind, Gatorade, Endurox R4, water. For energy- Red Bull, Monster, etc. For salt, Pedialyte, pickle juice, Hammer caps + water, chicken soup
Engineered foods- Clif Bars, Met-Rx Big 100, Power Bars, Power Gels, Hammer Gels, Gu, Accel Gel, Protein shakes- Myoplex, Met-Rx, Ensure, etc.
Foods/Snacks- jelly beans, Clif Shot Blocks, Sharkys?, candy, jerky, bacon, sub sandwiches/ wraps, pizza, rolls, honey, Pop Tarts, trail mix, fruit, Snickers, Payday, potato chips, etc
- Caffeine- a special note on this. It acts on chemicals in the brain. If you take too much at one time it will use these chemicals up and have a limited effect for a period of time after. I recommend testing yourself and only taking the amount needed for effect and only when you really need it. Taking too much too early may have you dragging long before sunrise. Remember that when you’d normally be having your morning cup of Joe we will still have 8 hours of racing left!!!
- Be aware of your Sodium intake- You will need to take into the account amount of total sodium you have taken in. For example, Tailwind is designed to be your sole source of nutrition during a race so it is fairly high in sodium. Combining a product such as this with other high sodium foods such as pizza could result in negative consequences. One such issue is osmotic diarrhea. This is condition where a high concentration of sodium in your bowel actually draws water into your intestines resulting in diarrhea… A very bad thing when you are wearing a wetsuit.