Gearing up for a Tough Mudder? You’ll want to pay attention to your food intake leading up to the event, and of course, on the big day. Whether you’re in the middle of training or waking up on the morning of the race, food will absolutely be your fuel, so choose wisely.
Aside from knowing what foods are natural energy boosters, it’s important to focus on how to eat them. Consider eating six to eight meals throughout the day, instead of three larger meals with snack breaks in between. If you’re increasing your activity level, you’ll need to increase your calorie intake to maintain your energy levels and your weight. You’ll also want to keep your body hydrated, and aside from drinking water consistently throughout the day, you’ll need to replenish your body’s electrolytes and energy reservoirs.
Here are 12 energy foods that will fuel you up in the best way:
1. Greek Yogurt
There’s more protein in Greek yogurt than other kinds of yogurt, and protein is key for optimal energy. While carbs might be a sensible source of energy to consume the night before a race, it’s smart to focus on upping your protein intake while going through training and eating a protein-heavy breakfast the morning of your Tough Mudder.
Bananas are known for being sweet, but don’t overlook one really sweet benefit of eating them: you’ll get a boost of potassium. Bananas are an excellent food for replenishing electrolytes, which are crucial for feeling powerful throughout training or a race.
MORE: 8 Healthy Banana Snacks
3. Sweet Potatoes
Similar to bananas, sweet potatoes are high in potassium, so they’re a strong source of natural electrolytes. The other mega benefit of consuming sweet potatoes? Your body will thank you for the sustainable complex carbohydrates, which release energy into the body slowly over time.
Keep your cool while training or racing and add some mint to your water or chew on it during conditioning. You will be shocked at how instantly refreshed you’ll feel. It might sound unconventional, but when athletes start using mint it becomes an instant game-changer.
Don’t forget about vitamin C while training! Often underestimated when it comes to fitness, vitamin C is essential for healthy collagen production (think: joint lubrication) and for the growth and repair of tissues throughout the body. Oranges also contain potassium, so you’ll replenish electrolytes, which are necessary for feeling energized.
6. Whole Grains
If you swap your sub roll for whole grain bread or your white spaghetti for whole wheat penne, your body will feel entirely different in the best way. When whole grains (remember those complex carbs?) are digested, energy is released slowly into the body and you’ll feel more sustained. Refined grains (like white flour foods) release energy quickly into the body, and that can lead to feeling lethargic shortly after.
This grain is nature’s complete source of protein, containing all eight amino acids. Quinoa also contains lysine which is essential for tissue repair and iron which promotes healthy blood. It also has way more fiber than other grains, which makes sense since this was the ancient food of the Inca warriors. Quinoa will distribute energy to the body over time, versus in a rush, so it’s a sustainable form of fuel in the days leading up to a Tough Mudder.
Eat like a bird to perform like a lion. Stick to snacking on chia, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds for an extra boost of protein and a serving of healthy heart-protective fats. The low-carb/ high-protein makeup of these seeds will keep your body’s energy levels stable, and you’ll be better able to avoid feeling jittery or experiencing a spike or drop in blood sugar.
Rich in protein and B-vitamins—which are essential for a healthy metabolism and energy function—eggs will not let you down while getting ready for a Tough Mudder. Hard boil them in advance for an easy snack, or cook them up on Sunday morning however you like. In general, it’s okay to eat a few each day (yes, even with the yolk) if you’re staying active.
Eat it raw or cook it up during your meal prep session at the start of the week. Popeye really was the perfect character to associate with spinach. This superfood is high in iron and potassium, vitamins A and C, fiber, and phytonutrients that will keep your energy levels high. Add a few handfuls into a blender with some fresh apple slices and ice for a quick greens-packed smoothie.
Grill up some vitamin B-rich salmon for a seriously delicious addition to your menu of energy-boosting foods. This hearty fish contains plenty of omega-3 fatty acids to benefit your cardiovascular health, but the protein content alone will keep your body feeling on par.
12. Coconut Water
Sip on this natural energy booster the day of the race. Coconut water contains sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus—which are five major electrolytes. You’ll take feeling refreshed to a new level.
Dana Baardsen has been using her degree in nutrition and food science to coach nutrition at gyms and wellness centers in the New York City area and cover health and fitness since 2012. Her work has been featured on Tough Mudder, Fit Pregnancy, Class Pass, Reader's Digest, and more. She edited The Cool Girl's Guide to the FODMAP Diet and chats about weight loss topics as a guest on the "Conquer Your Mountain" podcast.