How your Toughest Mudder goes in the crapper!

You spend countless hours on the trails and in the gym crushing yourself so that you can go out and get your maximum mileage at Toughest Mudder only to end up losing priceless minutes staring at the back of an outhouse door. How in the world could this happen? Poor planning that’s how!!! Its ok, don’t beat yourself up too much; we are all new to this “starting the race at midnight” jazz. This issue has actually proved to be a real problem at Toughest Mudder races; heck even the great Ryan Atkins failed to properly map out his eating for the inaugural Toughest and it almost cost him the race. Ryan Woods had issues at that race as well. However, these two athletes learned from their mistakes and made changes in their race prep for the second Toughest and both crushed it finishing 1st and 2nd respectively.  Fortunately for you I set out to tackle probably the oddest subject-matter for an article that I have ever written. Hopefully after travelling on this journey with me we can keep you out on the course rather than wondering why TMHQ didn’t leave any reading material in the Port-a-Potty!


The Problem

This race starts at midnight! This means we have to go through an entire day immediately prior to racing. This isn’t normal for anyone. Our usual final race prep begins with a pre-race meal the evening before the event followed by a good night’s sleep. Then we wake up, eat our usual race breakfast, maybe do our pre-race business and we are off and running by 8am…Maybe it’s a little later but you get the idea. With Toughest you have to make it through the day before this 8 hour Ultra event and try not to screw anything up! Evan Perperis, author of Strength & Speed’s Guide to Elite Obstacle Racing, believes, “not having that eight hour fast immediately prior to the race is huge!” You literally have to plan your meal content, timing, amount, throw in a nap and basically take it easy for an entire day which is not easy to do when you are amping yourself up for a race like this. In my article, The Complete Guide to Toughest Mudder, I review nearly everything you need to do to prepare for the event but I only touch on the nutrition portion. In the paragraphs below I will give you the skinny from some of the top athletes in our sport as well as my own two cents on the subject. Understand that you need to find what works for you but this information is a great place to start.
What not to do

You don’t want to load up on the food on the Saturday of the race. In fact, it’s best to eat light. It’s a good idea to plan on eating small meals/snacks especially after lunch. The last thing you want to do is to carb load for dinner the evening of the race. Prior to the Toughest Mudder in LA, Ryan Atkins said “a bunch of us went out for an Italian dinner and I ate too much. This forced me to have to relieve myself four times during the early part of the race and cost me a lot of time.” Ryan Woods had similar issues and had to stop twice. Nancy Clark, author of the Sports Nutrition Guidebook says “I’d say the runners want to eat a heartily on Friday (if the race is on Sunday at 12am) to allow time for the food to get evacuated, and then eat low-fiber (non-irritating) foods the day of the race, with the biggest meals being breakfast and lunch.”

In addition, it’s a good idea to limit your fat and protein intake in each meal on the day of the event because these will slow the absorption of your meal. The goal is basically to make digestion easy on Saturday because the more food in your intestines the more stops you will have to make during the race. You see your body is pretty smart, it knows that you need to fuel your muscles to keep moving so it starts shunting blood to the digestive tract. The fact you are moving, however, keeps the food moving though your system. This partially digested food can lead to GI distress and cause your stool to be loose. This is what runners colorfully term “the trots.” Just remember that it takes 4-6 hours for food to exit your stomach so any food you eat after 6pmon Saturday could still be in the stomach at race start. Your body will quickly move this through the intestines so it could become an issue. Anything eaten prior to 6pm on race day will likely send you to the restroom either immediately before the event or during the early hours of the race. Atkins actually told me he feels you should plan on having to stop once during the race and there is nothing wrong with that.

2016 World’s Toughest Mudder Champion, Trevor Cichiosz, admitted “I think I over ate because I felt stuffed at the starting line of Toughest Mudder South. Next time I’ll hit the starting line a little hungry.” He actually ate the bulk of his food after 6pm on Saturday and it cost him. He said he had to hit the head four times during the race and three times during lap 2 alone!!! FYI, Trevor we thank you for making those stops this time!

Developing a plan

When you are developing your nutritional strategy for a Toughest Mudder event you actually need to begin about 30 hours prior to the event at what is still your true pre-race dinner. In fact, I recommend that you eat pretty similar to what you might have for a normal supper. This is going to be your last larger sized meal until after your race just don’t get too crazy. You also want to make sure that you properly hydrate to ensure that you are ready to go in this area as well. I think it’s probably a good idea to stay up a little later and sleep in a bit on Saturday. This will allow you to have less waking hours on Saturday and therefore ease some of the transition into race night.

When you arise from your slumber on Saturday the real “science” of your plan goes into effect and will actually take you all the way through to post race on Sunday morning. A lot of racers don’t put this much thought into how they are going to prepare even for an event such as World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM). I actually feel that due to the hours racers start and finish the Toughest Mudder events the nutrition planning might actually be MORE difficult for these races than for WTM. I have included below an example plan of eating from 6pm on the Friday before through to the initial post race meal on Sunday. This is not only a collection something that I might do but also a compilation of strategies that I obtained from the individuals mentioned previously in this article so you get a true menu from the “elites” rather just my take on this prep.

Menu

-Dinner Friday (6pm-8pm): This is your “carb load meal. Don’t go crazy with the fats here but do include pasta, rice, potatoes, maybe a little dessert. Eat hearty here! You will need those calories and all that stored glycogen. This is also time to get a little roughage because there won’t be much of that on Saturday nor during the event. Whatever you prefer to dinner make sure you have plenty of it.

-Breakfast Saturday (8am-10am): Think like the French on this. Have a bagel or baguette. Maybe an egg sandwich or a few small pancakes or waffles. Fruit and yogurt is also good. Remember to hydrate. Coffee and warm liquids are good to because they get the GI moving and will start to clear your gut.

Lunch (12-2pm): I chose to have this meal be the same as my normal pre-race meal when my Battle Corps teammates and I traditionally have sushi. Ryan Woods chose pizza, and Atkins started eating “light” from here on. Whatever you chose make sure it’s easy to digest because this will be passing through your GI early in the race. Just play it safe. Choose foods that are familiar to you.

Dinner Time Saturday (5-8pm): This is where you should make sure to limit your intake to snacking. I had a banana and little oatmeal (my usual prerace breakfast), had some Hot Tamales candy and some Gatorade. I also have coffee on my way to the event to help “clean me out.” Trevor Cichiosz opted for some Ramen noodles which is good because they have carbs, sodium, and are warm but make sure you limit your portion size.

Pre-Race (10pm-11pm): Have a snack to keep you from getting too hungry early in the race. I had a Cliff Bar. Evan Perperis had a Gel pack and some Hammer Nutrition Heed.

During the event: Nancy Clark recommends shooting for 200-350 Calories per hour depending on your individual tolerance. Lindsay Webster said she tries for about 150-200 calories/ hour while Ryan Atkins’ goal is closer to 300 calories/ hour. Whatever works for you just try to keep it constant and try to prevent dehydration because this can lead to among other things GI distress and diarrhea. Things that are common among those I interviewed are Cliff Shot Blocks rather than Gel which seems to cause some people issues, rice balls, a little pizza here and there to slow absorption when you stomach may be getting a little upset. Electrolyte drinks like Tailwind or diluted Gatorade even Pedialyte.

Remember these few points as well from the text Sports and Exercise Nutrition (McArdle, Katch & Katch). Increased stomach volume increases emptying rate while increased caloric amounts decrease emptying so keep taking in small amounts of food and decent amount water through the race. Also exercising at an intensity above 75% of your aerobic maximum will decrease you body’s ability to absorb the calories you intake and increases Gastric distress. Considering this equates to an exercising heart rate greater than 135 beats per minute for the majority of racers this is definitely something to consider.

The Wrap Up

If you gather nothing else from this article, remember these few things as you prepare your nutrition plan for Toughest Mudder:

*Eat light on the day of the event.

*Snacks are better than larger meals because that volume in your GI is going to work its way through your system early in the race. Nancy Clark mentioned how your normal eating rhythms decrease your hunger at night so you probably won’t be starving during the race anyway.

*It’s also a good idea to choose foods that are limited in fat and no roughage to ensure that they are easy to digest both Saturday during the day as well as during the race.

*In the end, shit happens!

If you take all of the “poop talk” seriously then maybe it won’t be a problem for you. The alternative is to hope that TMHQ had staffers check to see that the “Shitters aren’t full” and they the toilet paper is stocked after the events earlier in the day… but I definitely don’t want to leave those to chance! Happy trails!

MREs: Ultimate Endurance Fuel?

 

MREbox

For those unfamiliar with the term, MREs, or Meals Ready To Eat, are the prepackaged field rations the Army provides to its soldiers.  The meals often contain in excess of 1,200 calories per package and can conveniently fit inside your backpack.  Occasionally, I see people heading to events like World’s Toughest Mudder talking about how their plan is to consume MREs during their event.  They use logic along the lines of – if it is good enough to sustain soldiers in combat than it is good enough to for my ultra-race.  Sounds pretty logical right?

mre-20-2009-spaghetti-02

Well…there are a couple of problems with this.  MREs have a lot of other requirements not required for regular endurance products.  The first is the ability to be shelf stable for 10 years.  Anything that can sit on a shelf for 10 years and still be consumed immediately makes me wary.   Second, MREs taste like crap (in my opinion).  Maybe because I have been forced to eat them for weeks on end, but I generally do not recommend their taste.  In fact, I have given them to friends/family as a joke to show the kind of garbage I have to eat while in school house training.  Third, typically most MREs I have seen sold cost around $10 per package.  While this is a bargain for the number of calories you are getting, it is not a bargain for the quality or type of food you are getting.

Fourth, and probably most important, their nutritional profile is terrible.  If you want a meal by meal breakdown, check out this site.  Here are some generalities based on hastily calculated averages:

  • Many have around 3g of Trans Fat, which is more Trans Fat than you should probably ever consume.  The recommended Trans Fat intake is 0g because it is manmade and your body has trouble breaking it down.
  • The saturated fat per meal is around 25g, which is closer to several days’ worth of saturated fat for healthy eaters.
  • They do have a decent number of carbohydrates with close to 190g, which is great for endurance exercise but a lot of that is sugar, something that many endurance companies do not use large quantities of in their products.
  • They do have a lot of protein, around 40g, which will help prevent you from catabolizing your muscles during exercise, which is something I think most endurance athletes do not consume enough of during events.  However, I would argue that the meal is going to fill you up too fast as opposed to densely packed nutrients that allow for that constant stream of fuel similar to what endurance companies provide in their gel or powdered mix products.

Instead of eating a lot of small portions of food providing stable blood sugar and constant energy, MREs will fill you up quickly causing periods of high energy followed by a crash.

MRE unboxed

Finally, if you have any other doubt, always look to those with larger budgets and are very serious about winning.  For this example, that involves looking at the ultra-running community and Special Operation Forces.  Looking at the experts in something usually provides you with the right answer because they have extensively studied the problem.  Although I am sure some do, I still have yet to see an ultra-runner slamming down MREs while racing.  Furthermore, none of the ones I follow on social media ever post pictures or comment about the benefits of MREs.  To add further support, when SOF units are given the choice between buying MREs or REI bought dehydrated camping food, they almost always go with the latter.  When given a choice between free MREs or store bought camping food, most still go with the latter.  SOF typically has a larger budget and more freedom and they typically only use MREs for candidates going through entrance training and not for unit run training events.

MRE

MREs are great for what they were designed for, which is providing a low cost, shelf-stable solution for feeding soldiers for an extended period of time by providing them with loads of calories to handle the physical and mental stress of combat.  Despite what you may think, the Army often goes with the lowest cost product that is also acceptable.  This does not mean they are choosing “the best” item, but simply the cheapest acceptable item.  If you are looking to go shopping once for the next decade and have fuel for all your ultra-distance OCRs, then by all means buy MREs.  If you are looking to perform at your best while ingesting healthy food that supports you reaching your maximum potential, I would stay away from MREs.  If they are not good enough for SOF or serious ultra-athletes, they are probably not good enough for your racing goals.