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!
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.
-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!