Houston Tough Mudder…Training and Fueling

Training is Perplexing but Nutrition Advice is Sound  Shot of compScreen Shot 2013-09-23 at 9.04.17 PM

I have conquered a variety of athletic competitions over the years (granted my last one was The San Francisco Marathon in 1993), but the Tough Mudder Competition coming up in Baytown, Texas on October 5th has me perplexed.

All athletes know that training for competition requires hard work and knowledge about how best to train for your particular event.  When I ran track at The University of Texas at Austin, it required hard work and finesse to gain the right balance of speed and endurance training. My best friend and teammate, Susan Murphy, and I used to argue with our U.T. Coach Jack Daniels over how much speed work was needed for our middle distance races (we wanted more speed, he pushed distance).  Regardless of the type of workout, you knew your training regimen required running.  In my late 20’s and early 30’s I ran marathons and a couple of triathlons.  I was not a biker or swimmer, but I was smart enough to know that I had to do some biking and swimming workouts along with my runs to train for a triathlon.

The Tough Mudder is a whole different animal.  The obstacle course event covers 10 -14 miles, so long runs are a must, but how do you train for electrical shock, crawling through pipes filled with mud and jumping into vats of ice water?  Their website recommends the popular “cross-fit” style training, but I am going old school. I began training the second week in May which was just two weeks after my awesome orthopedic surgeon Dr. Stefan Kreuzer operated on my knee. Most of my workouts have occurred on an obstacle course located within a park where, over the course of 10 to 12 miles, I attack a chin up bar (more of a jump up to the bar for me), monkey bars, bar dips, and various other apparatus dispersed along the trail.  I also hit the track for sprints, mixed in with stair blasts on the bleachers and burpees (my one concession to cross-fit).  For a grand finale, after I have changed shirts and downed a couple of bottles of water, I gut out 8 x 100 meter sprints up a slight hill (usually Don’t Fear the Reaper is playing on my I-phone by then, and I picture Christopher Walken on SNL  saying, “I need more cowbell .”).  I’ll let you know how it paid off, assuming I survive October 5th.

My Google searches for “what to wear” discuss the pros and cons for competing in certain apparel in cold weather.  Are you kidding?  Baytown, Texas in October will probably be humid and smoldering in the 80’s or 90’s.  I may want to bring a float and hang out in those vats of ice!

Nutrition Advice

As a Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutrition professional, I have given out 25 years of nutrition advice to athletes ranging from weekend warriors to world-class athletes.  One thing is certain; I will be able to give out much better advice about this kind of event after I have been through one.  In some previous blogs related to sports nutrition I’ve covered topics such as “Fluid replacement and preventing heat illness”,  “The gluten-free diet and reducing body fat” and “Pumping up the Immune System,” which is below this blog. Now I’ll give you some general nutrition advice when it comes to endurance training and event day.

The General Training Diet

(Divide you weight in pounds by 2.2 to get kg)

Regardless of what anybody tells you, training for an endurance event lasting more than an hour, requires a high carbohydrate diet. You have a limited amount of carbohydrates stored in muscles and in the liver, and as hours tick by, you delete those supplies.  You want to make sure your muscles stay charged with glycogen, so you can train and compete effectively without running out of gas.

A diet rich in carbohydrates (> or =  to 60%), moderate in protein (15 – 20%) and reasonable fat (25 – 30 %) is the recommended endurance training diet.  Carbohydrate requirements should be individualized and expressed in grams per kilograms of body weight (g/kg BW) instead of total calories. Most endurance athletes require approximately 7 to 10 g/kg per day of carbohydrate.  For competitors who engage in exhaustive workouts on a daily basis, the goal should be 7 to 10 g/kg BW per 24-hour period or up to 500 to 600 g of CHO per day. Since the capacity to store CHO is limited, there is no additional benefit in consuming greater than 600 – 700 g of CHO daily.  Good sources of carbohydrates include grains and cereals (especially whole grains), fruits, vegetables, legumes (dried beans and peas), starchy vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and fruit juices with no sugar added.

The current recommendation for protein intake for athletes is 1.2 to 1.4 g/kg BW for endurance athletes and 1.4 to 1.7 g/kg BW for strength athletes.  Based on these recommendations adult Tough Mudders who engage in cross-training would likely have maximize protein needs of 1.7 g/kg BW.  The higher end of the range would apply early during difficult training when building muscle mass.

Eating After Exercise or Competition

The goal for post-workout fueling is recovery. Fueling will help you replenish glycogen stores used during the workout, optimize protein synthesis to repair damaged muscle tissue, stimulate the development of new tissue, and replace fluids and electrolytes that were lost while sweating.

Within 30 minutes of exercise, an endurance athlete should have a snack of 300-400 calories containing carbohydrate (75-100 grams) and protein (6 grams). The 4:1 for long, high-intensity workouts. Post-exercise foods can include: chocolate milk (low-fat), a high-density nutrition bar (e.g., KIND bars are gluten-free), or a smoothie with yogurt and fruit or a commercial drink like Gatorade G3 Recovery Drink with fruit.  After exercise, drink two – three cups of fluid for every pound of body weight lost.

Competition Day

A cardinal rule is not to try anything new the day of your big competition. This includes wearing the same type of underwear, socks, shoes, hairdo you had while training and consuming the same kinds of FOOD and DRINK.  I read on somebody’s Tough Mudder advice blog that you can bring gels to use, but you should not train with them in case they are not available.  WRONG.  I know too many people who tried new drinks or food on marathon days and lived to regret it.  I personally tried gels, and the goo stuck on my teeth while the carbs made me extra thirsty between pit stops, even when I took them with plenty of water. Get your routine down during training; your toughest training day should be on the same day of the week, at the same time of day, in the same clothes, and with the same fluids and diet.  Having said that, unless you train wet and muddy, you may not really know how your clothes will feel, but you should know how your digestive system handles commercial drinks and food during long, hard training.

What is comfortable to you when you run a 10K, can feel oh so miserable over 12 miles or so.  I will say that over the summer in Houston, I did not begin a 2-½ hour run/obstacle course workout at 9:00 AM, because I do not have a death wish.  I have been experimenting with clothes to get the right fit, but realistically this is not really possible since I am not training in ice water or mud.  I did buy The SpeedCross 3 shoes and wore them working out in the mud and rain.  They were great.  One word of caution, do not wear them on wet cement, you’ll go horizontal fast, and it really hurts! Experiment with this pre-competition schedule based on your start time.

Pre-Exercise Carbohydrates

The purpose of the pre-event meal is to prevent low blood sugar (a cause of light headedness), to prevent hunger, and to “top-off” energy stores in your liver and muscles.  Additionally, a small amount of pre-exercise protein (as little as 6 g) may aid in muscle protein synthesis during training.  As little as 1 ounce of animal protein and 1 ½ T of peanut butter provide 7 g of protein.  Experiment with foods during training.  Do not wait until the day of a big competition to make a significant change in the way you eat.  The closer you are to exercise time, the less food you will want to consume.

Examples of Pre-Competition Meals

3 to 4 hours before exercise (300-600 calories or 2-3 grams/kg of body weight of consuming mostly carbohydrates):  Drink 2-4 cups of fluid with meal.

Breakfast:  (1) juice, fresh fruit, cereal with low-fat milk  (2) low fat milk, hot cereal like oatmeal and whole grain toast with jelly, (3) juice, 2 small pancakes or waffles with syrup.  Lunch or evening meal: (1) Juice or low-fat milk, a lean meat sandwich (easy on the mayo & cheese), fresh fruit, and pretzels or baked chips (2) juice or water with pasta and a marinara sauce, and a small garden salad (easy on the dressing) and bread with no or very limited butter.

2 to 3 hours before exercise (200 -300 calories or 1 -2 grams/kg of body weight consuming mostly carbohydrates): Drink 2-3 cups of fluid with the meal.

Breakfast:  (1) Cereal with low fat milk and juice (2) toast or bagel with fresh fruit and juice. Lunch or evening meal:  (1) A lean meat sandwich and juice (2) ½ order of pasta with juice or low fat milk.

One hour or less before exercise:

(1) Fruit juice or vegetable juice and/or fresh juice (if just eating fruit, be sure to consume 1 cup of water with it) (2) 1 cup of a high CHO beverage like GatorLoad or Exceed High Carbohydrate Source with a cup of water.  The athlete should feel comfortable, not full.

Too Nervous To Eat?

Some athletes get too nervous to eat the day of competition.  For these competitors, a liquid high CHO meal may be best.  You may use a commercial beverage like Ensure or Slimfast or make your own blender drink (i.e. low fat Yogurt, skim milk, Carnation Instant Breakfast, skim milk).

Fluids and Carbohydrate Sources Available

I sent an e-mailing asking the Tough Mudder staff if fluid replacement drinks, gels, or fruit would be available along the course.  The only thing they would tell me for sure is that water and fruit would be there.  A fluid replacement drink like Gatorade or Powerade would be wonderful, because as the glycogen stores get low you can draw energy off the glucose floating in your bloodstream made available from those drinks. If it is hot and humid, and you’re on the course for hours, the sodium in the drinks could be helpful too.

It looks like water may have to do.  You could bring gels and pack them in a zipper compartment if you have been training with them.  See below for advice on the fruit and gels.

Carbohydrates during Competition from Gels and Fruit:


  • Most carb gel packs contain 100 calories, or 25 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Try to consume one to three packets for every hour of exercise.
  • Gels come in a variety of flavors, including vanilla and strawberry. Find one you enjoy and take them with four to eight ounces of water.
  • Make sure you consume plenty of water to stay hydrated.


  • Most fruits provide about 15 grams of carbohydrate per serving. A serving of dried fruit equals about 1/4 cup, or the equivalent of four dried plums.
  • Aim for one to two servings before a workout and two to three fruit servings every hour.

Consume 4-8 fluid ounces of water or a sports beverage (5-8 percent carbohydrate with electrolytes if available) every 15-20 minutes when exercising greater than 60 minutes. Do not drink more than one quart/hour during exercise.

Post-Tough Mudder News

The event is less than 2-weeks away. I will be sure and report my findings on training, clothing, and fueling.  No matter my outcome, two things are certain, I am in great shape, and I am helping raise money for Wounded Warriors and that is a great reason to participate!


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