By Whitney Sweat
Preparation for the Gut Check Challenge is no easy feat! Undoubtedly you have been trail running, doing strongman training, and attending Gut Check classes. While all of this is extremely important to you successfully completing the challenge, make sure you aren’t neglecting another key component of your training…nutrition! Fueling for this type of an event is not easy, and there is no one size fits all approach to the best way to maintain your energy levels for the entire race. What you do in the days, hours, minutes, and during the race will be crucial to performance, and how you feel after the race!
Remember that the primary fuel source used during this type of event is carbohydrate. Fat will also contribute, as will protein in small amounts, but bottom line, if you don’t have enough carbohydrate on board your output and intensity will suffer. During the event carbohydrate will come from 3 sources: 1) the carbohydrate you ingest prior to the challenge, 2) the carbohydrate you have stored in the body, and 3) what is consumed during the event. Let’s look at each of these sources in more detail.
1) Carbohydrate ingested prior to the event:
You will only be able to eat so much prior to the event or else you may run into gastrointestinal issues that will hamper your performance. Think about what you ingest prior to the race as “topping off” your fuel stores. Make sure that whatever you consume the day of the race are familiar foods, this is not the day to have a different breakfast or pre-workout snack! Practicing with different foods during training is a great way to understand your body and what it responds to best. You will want your pre-race meal to contain an ample amount of carbohydrate, and moderate amount of protein, and minimal fat (excess fat can delay digestion and absorption, increasing the chance of race day stomach issues). Some commonly used race day meals include:
- Oatmeal with banana or dried fruit, plus 1-2 hard-boiled eggs, ½ cup Greek yogurt, or 2 TB peanut butter
- Wheat toast or bagel with peanut butter and banana, plus 1 cup low-fat milk
- Fruit smoothie made with fresh or frozen fruit, 1 cup Greek yogurt or 1 scoop protein powder
- Whole grain cereal or granola with low-fat milk, dried fruit, and nuts
Be sure to take up early enough to allow time for digestion to occur (about 3-4 hours). Include about 2-3 cups of fluid with this meal as well. If you are prone to cramping or heat exhaustion, a sports drink or electrolyte beverage will be beneficial. Also, include a small carbohydrate-containing snack about 30 minutes prior to the race and again, and again include about 1 cup of fluid.
- Sports drink and small handful of nuts
- KIND fruit and nut bar or Clif Mojo Sweet n’ Salty Bar
- ½ peanut butter and banana sandwich
- Peanut butter filled pretzels
- ½ Naked Juice or Odwalla Protein Drink
2) Carbohydrate stored in the body
Your body can store carbohydrate in the form of glycogen in your muscles and your liver. Your body converts this glycogen to glucose as needed during exercise. During training, it is important that you are adequately recovering and refueling these carbohydrate stores. Prior to the even, you can ensure that your carbohydrate stores are full by 1) tapering exercise the week prior to use less stored glycogen, and 2) consuming carbohydrate-rich foods and beverages regularly. Include regular meals and snacks into your daily routine, eating enough at each meal to keep you feeling satisfied (not stuffed) for about 3 hours. Make sure 1/3 of your plate (about 1 ½ fists) comes from a carbohydrate source during meals (oats/cereal, bread, grains, starchy vegetables, pasta) and include carbohydrate containing fruits and vegetables on the other 1/3 of your plate. The remainder of your plate should contain a protein source.
- Grilled sirloin steak, baked sweet potato, roasted asparagus
- Baked Salmon, brown or wild rice, steamed broccoli
- Stir-fry vegetables with chicken and brown rice
- Deli meat sandwich or wrap with side salad
- Chicken burrito bowl with sautéed peppers and onions
Snacks should include a carbohydrate along with a protein source to help stabilize blood sugar levels.
- Beef jerky plus dried apricots
- Instant oatmeal pack plus milk and/or peanut butter
- Hard-boiled egg plus grapes
- Hummus and string cheese plus crackers
- Rice cake topped with peanut butter
- Cottage cheese or Greek yogurt and fruit
- No Bake Energy Bites (can also be used as a pre-workout snack)
The days before the event are crucial to optimizing your body’s carbohydrate stores. Although carbohydrate is important, you do not have to “carb load” in the more traditional sense. A balance between food groups is important. The night before make sure to have a familiar, easily digested meal that will provide you with the fuel mix necessary for an event like the Gut Check Challenge. I like a plain meal of grilled chicken, baked sweet potato, and steamed green beans or broccoli. Don’t neglect water and other fluids either the days before a race and minimize alcohol intake as it can dehydrate you. Bonus, fruits and veggies are a great source of fluid from foods!
3) Carbohydrate consumed during the event
A 3-4 hour race is long, no matter how on point you are with your nutrition prior to the race, you will need to ingest some carbohydrate, fluids, and electrolytes during the race to maintain your energy levels. One solution is to wear a hydration belt with 2 water bottle compartments, fill one with plain water and the other with a sports beverage to provide electrolytes and carbohydrate. You can also store portable snacks in the belt. What you consume during the challenge will largely depend on what you are able to tolerate, but most importantly, remember this is not the time to try a new sports drink, bar, or gel since you don’t know how your body will react! If you must rely on fluids only, make sure to use a sports drink that contains about 14-19 g of carbohydrates per 8 oz. If you can consume more solid foods, you can get carbohydrates and some electrolytes this way and use more water. You may consider adding in electrolytes to water (like Nuun electrolyte packets) if you aren’t going to have a carbohydrate containing sports drink, and if you are prone to cramping. Ideally, you want to get 30-6-0 grams of carbohydrate per hour. This may seem like a lot, but it can be accomplished using sports drink gels and blocks; that is what they are designed for! Keep in mind, if you wait until you feel like you need fuel before you eat something, it might already be too late so start fueling about 45 minutes into the event! Some commonly used foods and beverages during events include:
- Sports drinks, gels, blocks, or bars
- Pretzel sticks, crackers, or goldfish
- Salted trail mix (dried fruit, cereal, nuts)
- Peanut butter & banana roll-up (if able to tolerate solid foods)
Adding practiced and well-planned nutrition strategies to your event-day routine will enhance your performance and enjoyment of any race or event in which you compete. The Gut Check Challenge is a great opportunity to start making it a priority, so make sure you add your fuel and fluids to your mandatory gear list!
No Bake Energy Bites
- 1 cup old fashioned oats (dry)
- 2/3 cup toasted coconut flakes
- ½ cup peanut butter or almond butter
- ½ cup ground flaxseed
- ½ cup chocolate or carob chips (optional)
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 tsp vanilla
Stir all ingredients together in medium bowl until thoroughly mixed. Let chill in the refrigerator half and hour. Once chilled, roll into ball of whatever size you would like. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week.
Makes about 20-25 bites (depending on size)
Nutty Strawberry Banana Smoothie
- 1 cup Vanilla or Honey Greek yogurt
- 1 scoop protein powder (optional)
- ½ cup fresh or frozen strawberries
- 1 peeled banana
- 2 TB nut butter
- ½ cup almond or water