The Best Spartan Race Foods to Eat Before, After, and During the Event, According to Dietitians
What you put in your body inevitably affects what you can do with your body. Get the details on the best Spartan race foods to eat before your next endurance event, courtesy of three registered dietitians.
Endurance events challenge even the toughest of the tough. These obstacle races are not only physically challenging, but also mentally challenging as well. That's why knowing the best foods to include in your diet is crucial to peak performance. As a registered dietitian, my job is to show you the powerful role nutrition plays in feeding your inner beast, like with these Spartan race foods.
Both my husband and I are Spartan competitors, so I can attest to the toll these obstacle events take on your body—making it that much more essential to fuel with the most nutritious Spartan race foods. So, I enlisted my husband as the guinea pig for my "eating for endurance" experiment. Rest assured, I checked with three sports dietitians to ensure I was on the right path when putting together the best Spartan race foods. Below are their responses and a look into a Spartan competitor's diet.
Spartan Race Foods 101
"Fueling for an obstacle race is very similar to other endurance events. Upper-body strength is more important during obstacle races, so you'll need to consume enough carbohydrates pre- and mid-race to fuel these large muscle groups," says Torey Armul, M.S., R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., a sports dietitian and owner of Nutrition a la Natalie, echoes Armul's statement: "Both are very similar. Spartan races have obstacles, so the training may include more upper-body strength training than traditional races. Therefore, I would suggest a little extra protein for strength training days, such as an extra piece of chicken or chocolate milk after a training session." (Discover why chocolate milk has been called “the best post-workout drink.”)
There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for the best Spartan race foods, though. That's because the nutrition needs of athletes vary depending on their body fat percentage and training goals, according to Alissa Rumsey, M.S., R.D., also a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"Due to differences in testosterone and estrogen levels, women typically have 6 to 11 percent higher body fat compared to men and will generally need less overall calories versus a male athlete," she explains. "Women also have higher iron needs, since they lose this mineral every month during menstruation."
Armul suggests that female athletes focus on consuming iron-rich foods throughout their training, such as beans, lean meats, fish, fortified grains, and leafy greens, as part of a balanced diet. (Related: 9 Iron-Rich Foods That Aren’t Steak)
For a 20+ mile race with over 50 obstacles, both Armul and Rizzo agree that when it comes to Spartan race foods, simple, easily digested carbohydrates with a blend of protein is a great source of fuel. During the event, they suggest replenishing every hour with an electrolyte-carbohydrate beverage and/or gels, gummies, or other simple sugars. Post-race, it's essential to get the right balance of protein and carbohydrates into your body. (Want to boost your speed? Check out these foods that can make you faster.)
In addition to which Spartan race foods you consume, when you eat them, especially post-race, is also important. You should aim to get protein within 30 to 60 minutes of the race, whether it's a "convenient protein bar, smoothie with protein powder, or complete meal with 20 grams or more of protein," says Armul.
Below, the top Spartan race foods that fueled my husband’s peak performance.
1 Slice Whole-Grain Bread + 2 Tablespoons Peanut Butter + 1 Banana + 1 Cup Milk
About 60 to 90 minutes before the starting horn, it’s time to share a toast. No, not the bubbly type of toast (sorry). Whether to eat white or whole-grain bread is your choice. When it comes to fueling for sports and Spartan race foods in particular, some people prefer bread with less fiber. However, if whole-grain bread works with your gut and doesn't cause gastrointestinal distress, continue to eat the whole-grain bread before heading to the starting line. (Related: Is It Possible to Have Too Much Fiber In Your Diet?)
During the Event
Gatorade + Snack Bar Bites
We've tried it all! Gels, candy, pouches; bottom line, all caused digestive discomfort. We found the best source of nutrition that really helps give him a quick glucose burst are the Pressed by KIND snack bars (Buy it, $15 for 12, amazon.com), filled with a blend of 100 percent fruits and vegetables. Each bar delivers 17g of natural sugar and is easily digested on the go. By chopping these Spartan race foods up into pieces, he averages about one bar per hour in addition to the Gatorade (Buy It, $18 for 12, amazon.com) he consumes every 20 minutes to replenish his electrolytes.
Protein Shake + Roasted and Salted Shelled Pistachios
This is typically the hardest time for athletes to eat something nutritious. My husband is usually so fixated on cooling off his body and checking his stats that it's a battle to eat something healthy during the right time for his recovery needs. Out of all the Spartan race foods, a simple portable protein shake usually comes to the rescue, especially when we're far from home and don't have the tools to prep. Whey protein—the protein used in many shakes—also is extremely bioavailable in the body, helping to repair muscles and supply necessary nutrients quickly during recovery. (Hold up, how is whey protein different than pea protein?)
Delivering over 30g of quality protein, a protein shake pairs wonderfully with a handful of roasted and salted pistachios. A one-ounce serving of roasted and salted pistachios provides 310 mg of potassium and 160 mg of sodium, essential electrolytes that help support fluid balance. Bonus: Pistachios naturally contain antioxidants that give them their green and purple color.
Disclosure: I work with Wonderful Pistachios and KIND Snacks to help consumers make healthy choices.