Fueling like an athlete might appear complicated. After all, you’ve likely been told you need protein powder, expensive supplements, and fancy, packaged bars. But what if fueling is simpler than that? We interviewed several top Tough Mudder athletes about their favorite foods for training and racing. You might be surprised to find that these foods are already in your kitchen.
Bananas provide more than just the carbohydrates needed to replenish yourself after hard workouts–they’re also a readily available form of vitamins and minerals, like B6, manganese, vitamin C and, as most of us are familiar with, potassium. Not surprisingly, several elite athletes endorsed the yellow fruit. 2016 World’s Toughest Mudder Champion Stefanie Bishop likes them when her stomach is feeling off. “They’re easy to carry and easy to digest,” she says. “ I’ll have them plain, frozen, sautéed in coconut oil, heated in my oatmeal, and topped with salt, honey, or some nut butter.”
2. Peanut (or Almond) Butter
Peanut butter is a fan favorite for some, and kryptonite for others. Packed with protein and healthy fats, this high-calorie item is great as a toast-topped, oatmeal drizzle, or by the spoonful. Kristopher Mendoza, who placed third and completed 100 miles at this year’s World’s Toughest Mudder, is particularly fond of the spread. “Peanut butter is high in healthy monounsaturated fats and nutrients such as Vitamin E, Potassium, and Magnesium,” he says. “To be honest, I used to avoid high-fat foods, but the reality is that if you are working hard, you need to restore your calories in order to fuel your body.” For those allergic or not fond of peanut butter, try a variety of other nut butters, like almond, cashew or walnut.
Fried, scrambled, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, poached…there are a myriad ways to serve this protein-packed food. Jake Hegge, ultra runner and winner of the Superior 100-Mile race in 2015, likes eggs because of their convenience. “I eat four eggs a day,” he says. “Plenty of fat and protein.” Additionally, eggs contain good amounts of vitamin B12, which is important for the healthy function of the immune and nervous systems.
This grain-based dish may seem boring, but there’s no shortage on how it can be topped. Along with an easy preparation, oatmeal is high in fiber and, of course, is a good source of carbohydrates pre and post-workout. Try cooking your oats, preferably steel cut to retain further nutrient benefits, in milk or alternative milk like almond or coconut for a creamy consistency. Top with fresh fruit like strawberries, blueberries, or even apples dusted with cinnamon, to add antioxidants.
Several elite athletes named chicken as their fuel of choice, and it’s not hard to see why. Four ounces of chicken contains more than 30 grams of protein, along with B3, B6, and B12, selenium, and choline, which is important for energy and metabolism, not to mention brain function. Mendoza is a fan because of its simple preparation. “It’s so easy to cook ahead of time and then heat up for lunch throughout the week,” he says. Trevor Cichosz, winner of this year’s World’s Toughest Mudder, likes mixing it with rice, garlic, and ginger for a stir-fry base.
These brightly-colored berries are as packed with antioxidants and vitamins as you’d expect. Sara Knight, 2nd-place finisher at the 2015 World’s Toughest Mudder, fuels her morning training with oatmeal and blueberries. “I add a scoop of vanilla protein powder and bananas and blueberries to the [oatmeal]. Bananas give me instant energy and blueberries are anti-inflammatory,” she explains. Try adding blueberries into green smoothies, or enjoying them on their own.
This is a favorite of Beet Elite athlete Hunter McIntyre, and it’s not hard to see why. Delicious both raw and cooked–though especially great as a raw treated dipped in hummus–carrots are packed with vitamin A, and, perhaps surprisingly, have cardiovascular benefits thanks to their antioxidants and phytonutrients. Try quick steaming carrots to retain the highest amount of nutrients.
Kale is the newest “it” food, and for good reason. High in vitamin A, K, C, B6, manganese, and even calcium, kale is one of the most nutrient dense vegetables. Ultrarunner and 4th place finisher at 2015 World’s Toughest Mudder Nickademus Hollon likes kale because it can be served a variety of ways. “It’s easy to mix in to stir-fries, add in to smoothies, and is great on its own,” he says. Hollon particularly enjoys it grilled with olive oil and sea salt.
9. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are the perfect comfort food, but with the added bonus of being packed with carotenoids and other nutrients that aid in cell repair. Bishop likes to bring them on long training sessions. “I'll carry a small roasted sweet potato with coconut oil and salt or bring along some homemade baked sweet potato chips with fresh rosemary,” she says.
10. Grass-fed steak