Everybody wants to know how the highest-level athletes fuel their bodies for elite competition. What are their go-to foods? Which diets do they rely on for max performance? How do they strategically break up their day? In Eat Like a Champion, a recurring franchise, we give you the inside scoop on our professional athletes' dietary habits: what they're eating, why they're eating it, and when they're eating it. Follow their lead and fuel like a champion.
Kaci Monroe knows a thing or two about multitasking. She’s a Spartan Pro racer, owns a physical therapy clinic in Big Fork, Mont. — where she is a practicing physical therapist — AND she’s a wife and a mom, with two small kids keeping her constantly on her toes throughout the day.
A Difficult Path to Sound Nutrition
With a Doctorate of Physical Therapy and a bachelor's degree in exercise science, Monroe has a grip on sound nutrition, but her path to healthy eating included a profound challenge.
“I have been an athlete most of my life and I think my mom always did a good job with providing good healthy nutrition throughout my youth, teaching me good habits,” Monroe says. “However, I had an eating disorder that caused me to struggle with food during high school and college.”
Despite the healthy eating habits instilled in her during childhood and her education in the health sciences, Monroe says she still had difficulty overcoming disordered eating habits.
A well-referenced nutrition textbook is no match for the power that an eating disorder can have.
“It’s hard to explain it, but it’s like wearing too tight of clothing that is scratchy and you feel it with every move,” she explains. “You are intensely aware of all of your imperfections, whether they are rational or not.”
Crucial to Recovery: Reaching Out
For Monroe, talking about her disorder was crucial to her recovery.
“To break away from the eating disorder, I believe the most important thing to get traction — for me — was to open up to my parents and friends,” Monroe says. “It was the scariest thing to do, but also the most helpful. It took a long time to admit it to my family but once I did, it opened up communication about my disorder and took the power away from it. It’s a choice I have to make every day to choose to be healthy and to overcome the negative mindset.”
The daily choice allows her to pursue her love of OCR every day.
“You can’t sustain big efforts with no fuel in the fire," she says. "You must eat to fuel that fire.”
No Hard Restrictions, Just Fueling the Fire
Core to Monroe’s approach is to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, but she’s okay with also eating hamburgers and cookies.
Considering the energy and recovery demands of elite OCR training and racing — all packed into a life brimming with work and family responsibilities — the liberal approach works in her favor.
“It took years of work on myself to get to a healthy relationship with food again," she says. "And one of my major rules is to not restrict any one food group. You have to put fuel in the tank to be able to perform at your best. I think about that daily.”
The No. 1 Reason to Run
The "why" for Monroe’s love of athletics is, in part, making sure she’s not just taking care of others at home or at the PT clinic, but also herself.
“The number one reason I run is self care,” she says. “It helps with my stress relief and mental health.”
But as parents know, you have to be flexible with your schedule.
“You definitely have to learn to adapt with kids," she explains. "Sometimes it just doesn’t happen to get a specific workout in, and I have to adjust. I put an elliptical trainer in my living room for this reason. Sometimes I get a workout in after the kids go to bed or during their nap time. Sometimes I take a rest day or take a walk. It’s okay to miss a day, and it’s okay to just sit and cuddle your kids, too.”
Don’t Let Eating Become Another Stress
As you can see in a sample of her daily nutrition routine, Monroe’s approach resonates with her philosophy: Eat healthy, but keep things simple and unrestricted. Be able to go with the flow no matter what the day presents. And don’t let eating become another stress.
Early Morning, Pre-Workout
- Water to start
- Coffee with cream
- Part of a granola bar or a homemade protein muffin or waffle
Monroe tries to eat part of the bar or the muffin if she has 30 minutes to an hour before the workout, but it can depend.
“A lot of times I’ll just drink the coffee before the workout, and if it’s a long run, I’ll take a few gels with me,” she says.
Having a six-month-old baby makes it tough to follow any sort of strict schedule, except for one thing.
“The coffee is a must,” Monroe says.
Breakfast: Simple Power
- Oatmeal with collagen powder, or
- Protein muffins
Monroe mixes the collagen powder into a number of her foods, from the muffins to the oatmeal to her evening tea. She uses a flavorless variety so that it mixes easily.
“I have found that when I take collagen regularly I have less knee pain,” she says. “I like to take it in my smoothie or in a tea at night.”
- Banana with peanut butter, or
- Raspberries and a protein bar
Lunch: Grab and Go
- Protein smoothie, or
- Bowl of cereal, or
... or some combination of the above.
“I have two kiddos, so lunch is usually grab and go,” she says.
Afternoon Snack: Fruit and Crackers
- Apple or other fruit
“Or basically whatever I have stuffed in the diaper bag,” she says.
Dinner: Balanced, Healthy, and Simple
- Vegetable salad with grilled meat, or
- A meat dish
- Broccoli or brussel sprouts
Evening Snack: A Tasty Treat
- A bit of chocolate, or
- Some popcorn
- Warm herbal tea
Kaci Monroe’s Homemade Waffle Recipe
1 ½ cups of flour
¼ cup of protein powder
¼ cup of collagen powder
1 tablespoon of baking powder
½ teaspoon of salt
1 ⅔ cups of milk
⅓ cup of oil
Sift the dry ingredients together. Mix the wet ingredients together and add them to the dry ingredients. The batter will be a little lumpy. Then cook it up.
“I like to add peanut butter and fresh fruit to top it off,” Monroe says.