Mountain running is rapidly becoming this year’s trendiest running sport. The premise is as simple as the name: you run up and down a mountain, often multiple times. Big brands like North Face and Under Armour are getting into the game and have series’ running around North America. Ultra runners and obstacle course racers alike are signing up because mountain running is essentially the combination of the two: Distances can range from 5 kilometers to 100 kilometers, making it ultra run-friendly, while on-trail obstacles like massive rocks and crazy roots add challenges similar to those in obstacle course races.
So how do you fuel for this sport? You’re in an interesting spot: mountain running is, by definition, an endurance sport. But because of the explosive nature of running up—and often doing step-ups and rock climbing!—to make it up the mountain, plus the intense pounding on the way back down, you’re also in a sport that could be considered more strength-based. So when it comes to fuel, what you’re eating during the run is important… But it's what you’re eating when you’re not training that is the key to success.
When you’re burning loads of calories in training, especially if you’re racing the longer distances and putting in high-mileage weeks, it’s tempting to eat whatever the heck you want. Bring on the pizza, the bagels, the pastries—you’re burning enough calories to likely avoid weight gain regardless of what your plate looks like. But those indulgent foods aren’t going to make you faster or stronger.
Try to think of food as fueling your run: You want to fill up on premium fuel, not the cheap/low-quality stuff. A diet that’s rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in addition to a good balance of macronutrients is key. You can still enjoy that slice of pizza, but add more high-quality foods to your day as well. Something like SP2 is a great start: it offers a full range of B vitamins, more iron than spinach and more antioxidants than five servings of other fruits and veggies. Plus, you won’t even taste it in your smoothie.
It’s tempting to duck into the nearest coffee shop at the end of a hard training session and treat yourself to a latte and a pastry, refilling those glycogen stores. But really, what your body needs post-workout isn’t a dump of fat and carbs that comes from whole milk in the latte and a blend of butter and sugar in your bearclaw.
You need to rehydrate, not re-caffeinate, and you also need a mix of protein and carbohydrate to start refilling the tank and repairing cells. That means skipping the coffee and going for something more hydrating instead—water is the obvious choice, but a green tea will work great as well. You can also swap the pastry or pizza for a post-workout smoothie that contains a mix of protein from SP2, Greek yogurt, hemp or whatever source you prefer; plus carbs in the form of fruit and maybe a drizzle of maple syrup to sweeten the deal. If you’re dead-set that you want a cookie, enjoy one, but have the smoothie as well!
With the strength training that you’re doing either purposefully at the gym or as a byproduct of climbing a technical trail, you’re going to be more sore than if you were running on a flat, smooth surface every day. D.O.M.S.—Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness—is likely unavoidable for most of us after our hardest workouts or races, but you can mitigate some of that soreness. Start by maintaining your hydration status throughout the day (not just in training) as well as your electrolyte balance so that you’re less likely to be besieged by leg cramps at night.
Do this by sipping on water flavored with a squeeze of lime juice and a tiny pinch of sea salt throughout your work day and making sure your diet is rich in foods containing potassium and magnesium as well. Eating 20-gram servings of protein throughout the day has also been shown to decrease soreness, so make sure you’re not just getting your protein in the form of a steak at dinnertime. SP2’s spirulina has five grams of protein per 27-calorie serving, making it an awesome addition when mixed into a morning fruit juice, served alongside of a couple of eggs.
Speaking of protein, if you’re constantly beating up your body with hard runs and hikes both up and down hill, you’re going to need protein more than ever in order to repair and rebuild muscle tissue post-workout. The Standard American Diet (SAD) tends to be light on protein during the day, with a carb-based breakfast and lunch, then a massive dose of protein for dinner, usually in the form of a big burger or steak. But the massive 100-grams-of-protein dose doesn’t work as well as 3 or 4 20-gram servings delivered throughout the day. If you eat all of your protein at dinner, most of it will just be stored as fat, not used to repair cells.
So spread out your servings! Use a free app like MyFitnessPal to track your macronutrients for a few days to see how you’re doing and to get an idea of how you should be balancing your meals. Additionally, make sure your protein sources contain full amino acid profiles—think of them as the protein building blocks that you need to recover and rebuild. Something like SP2 provides all of the essential amino acids you need, including the hard-to-find leucine.
At first glance, you might be thinking this means go low carb. But really, what it means is to be thoughtful about when you’re eating what throughout the day. The tendency more people in the US have is to eat a small (or no!) breakfast, an on-the-go lunch, and then, a massive meal for dinner, possibly followed by dessert. You can shift the timing of your heaviest carb intake to work with your training schedule: Aim to eat your biggest serving of carbs about two to three hours prior to your workout, and use the 90-minute window of recovery after your workout for another bigger serving. The rest of the day, try to focus on vegetables and fruits versus breads or pastas as your source of carbs with each meal.
Master this diet and you'll find yourself reaching higher peaks and recovering more quickly. And remember, fresh spirulina is the world's best natural supplement -- chock-full of vitamins and minerals that are challenging to find in the foods we eat and even tougher to get the amount of them we need. Work them into your diet, and your body will thank you -- before, during, and after you scale those mountains. Get started today.
Molly Hurford is a runner, cyclist and health & fitness journalist, running her site TheOutdoorEdit.com as well as The Consummate Athlete Podcast, which she co-hosts with her equally active husband. When they aren't on the trails, she teaches yoga and works to get more women and girls out riding bikes and having fun outside! Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter @mollyjhurford