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.
Growing up in Whitefish, Mont., Ian Hosek developed a broad athletic base: skiing (both cross-country and downhill), mountain biking, soccer, and tennis. It wasn't until 2014 that he went all in on obstacle course racing. The results steadily flowed, including a top-10 finish in the 2019 Spartan World Championship.
In college, Hosek studied materials engineering, developing the engineer’s mindset he would later apply toward training theory and coaching. He ultimately launched Hosek Performance Engineering, or "Hosek PE," which is a coaching service that creates data-driven, individualized training programs for athletes with an emphasis on specific, targeted workouts and recovery.
A Scientific Approach to Nutrition
Using himself as a guinea pig, Hosek has taken a scientific approach to diet. He reports two significant changes that have had powerful impacts on his energy and his capacity to recover.
“Over the years, I have made changes to my diet that have made large impacts with how much energy I have, as well as how much high-volume training I can sustain,” Hosek says.
The first major change was both in quality and quality of fat intake; Hosek consciously added more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats to his diet.
The second impactful change was in the realm of another macronutrient, protein, with the specific intent of optimizing recovery from hard training.
“This mostly involved supplementing more whey and aminos into my diet so that I was getting the amount needed to have proper muscle recovery,” he says.
The endurance coach matches the amount of supplementation to his activity for the day, along with the volume of that activity.
“If I have strength sessions programmed, I will try to get a little on the higher side [of protein intake]," he says. "With just running sessions I will go normal. I don't fine-tune my intake, but I do make an effort to get extra protein in after big lifting days, or if I am overly sore. In general, I try to get between 1.4 to 1.6 grams per kilogram per day, if possible.”
Nutritional Advice for Athletes
Hosek’s key piece of nutritional advice for athletes is not an uncommon one, but considering how many competitors you see at long races struggling to keep down food and liquids during a race, it’s worth hearing again: Don’t just train your heart and muscles; train your stomach.
“Practice race fueling strategies on your training runs,” Hosek says. “Training your gut to handle what you want it to while running takes time and practice. If you leave trying to figure it out until race day, then you may run into unwanted gastro-intestinal distress situations.”
An Average Day of Ian Hosek’s Nutrition
Here is the essential diet that Hosek follows on a typical training day.
Early Morning, Pre-Workout
— A pre-workout supplement with caffeine, taurine, beta-alanine, choline, and more.
— With a shot of quick-digesting complex carbohydrates
Hosek’s one-two punch: firing up the metabolic system and pitching some easy-to-digest fuel into the body.
— Two eggs
— ½ avocado
— Two pieces of toast
Back in the 1980s, when the super-low-fat Pritikin Diet (just 10% of your daily calories coming from fat) was popular with endurance athletes, a breakfast like this would have been looked upon with horror (except for the toast).
Now, diets with more balanced levels of macronutrients (with a remaining emphasis on carbs) are much more common.
— Large lunch wrap with home-grown greens
The greens in Hosek’s wrap are as locally-sourced as they come: His garden.
“I have been doing this for three years now and it is very nice," Hosek says. "My wife and I eat a ton of kale, so it makes it very convenient to go out and pick it when we need some. My favorite vegetable to grow is carrots. They are so sweet and juicy when they come from home gardens!”
— Greek yogurt
“Or a nice bowl of sugary cereal,” Hosek says.
Hosek eats a wide variety of foods when it comes to dinner, but the basic structure is the classic balanced meal:
“Normally I’ll have a protein, grain, and vegetables.”
Imagine simple fare — like chicken or fish — wild rice, and broccoli.
Pre-bedtime shake with:
“I use glutamine for immune support, as well as overall gut health,” Hosek says. “It doesn't do much for muscle repair by itself, but does help absorption of whatever you take it with.”
Hosek adds that glutamine can enhance absorption of certain minerals and nutrients that can be tough to absorb, an area of nutrition research that is hot and, considering the sheer complexity of the microbiome, will continue to be hot for a long time. Consider that your gut is home to “over 100 trillion microbial cells, which influence human physiology, metabolism, nutrition, and immune function.”
The bottom line is that gut health is crucial to performance, health, and longevity.
“Gut health is very important,” Hosek says. “Having a functioning and healthy microbiome can go a long way across the board for injury prevention and overall quality of life.”