MACROS 101 Spartan Challenge: Week #4 — Fruits, Veggies & Micros Decoded

MACROS 101 Spartan Challenge: Week #4 — Fruits, Veggies & Micros Decoded
Presented by Spartan Training®

We're primed to hack it on the race course after a helluva long year. Are you? Sure, true to your unstoppable grit, determination, and perseverance, you've done your best to stay OCR-ready while sheltering at home. But with Spartan races back in full swing, it's time to clean up your nutrition program and ditch poor pandemic habits once and for all. In partnership with Renaissance Periodization, we created this four-part MACROS 101 series to optimize your nutrition so you can get faster, stronger, and prevent injury. Download the free nutrition plan and keep an eye out for healthy recipes rolling out all month. We've got you covered for your most EPIC return to racing ever. AROO!

Remember when your mom hounded you to eat your fruits and veggies? You may have hated it, but she was on to something. Most fruits and vegetables contain quality carbs and a plethora of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). So we didn’t think our Macros 101 series with Renaissance Periodization would be complete without a nod to this nutrient group.

Here’s the good news: you can’t really mess up micronutrient intake. We’ve been talking all month long about how many grams of proteins, fats and carbs you need, and when you should eat them—which does impact performance. But when it comes to micros, you can relax. Unless you have a predetermined, clinical vitamin or mineral deficiency, micros are less important than macros when it comes to sports performance. That’s not to say they don’t matter to overall metabolic health, but as long as you’re eating plenty of fruits and veggies, you should be fine. 

Related: MACROS 101 Spartan Challenge: Week #1 — Protein Primer + Calorie Balance

“Basically, micronutrients only matter in the ultra-long term and will have no bearing on performance whatsoever, unless your health is impacted due to some underlying chronic health issue,” says Michelle Howe, MA, CSCS, RD and RP coach. “The truth is, if you live in the USA, or have the means to read online stories about nutrition for sports performance, it’s very unlikely that you could have a deficiency that would be impacting performance that wouldn’t also be clinically relevant.” 

In other words, health issues aside, unless you’re pursuing a restrictive, intense diet you don’t need to focus as much on managing micronutrients. If you generally eat healthy, and focus on a balance of meals that span a wide variety of whole foods, micro planning or quantitative assessments of micronutrient intake isn’t necessary. “The tradeoffs of planning, calculating or otherwise thinking about micronutrients as an athlete are probably very far in favor of not doing such planning and thinking,” says Howe. “Use that time toward other efforts like family, relaxation, joy and work.” 

Related: MACROS 101 Spartan Challenge: Week #2 — Why (+ When) Athletes Need Healthy Fats

Week #4 Goal: Eat Veggies with Every Meal, Optimize Your Fruit

macro meal plan micronutrients

Week Four To-Do:

Now that we’re clear on micros, here’s your homework for Macros 101 week #4. In addition to increased protein consumption, healthy fats, and intra-fueling strategies from weeks 1, 2 and 3, all you have to do to round out this return-to-racing reset is to eat vegetables with every single meal. (Fruit comes in handy as a solid source of fiber, and curbs a stubborn sweet tooth, but it's not necessary to eat fruit at every meal.) Here are Howe’s top tips for optimizing your fruit and veg intake. 

1. Watch Your Fiber Intake Pre Workout

Fiber helps control cholesterol and blood sugar levels, keeps you regular and is useful in weight management. But consuming it before a workout, especially through fruit, can cause unwanted GI distress. “Fiber tends to slow absorption of anything it’s consumed with, which is a great thing for keeping blood sugar very steady throughout the day. That’s a good thing!” says Howe. “Generally maximizing total daily intake of fiber through fruits and veggies is a great idea. Just don’t let it interfere with training quality by overdoing it pre workout. Definitely avoid fiber during training.”

Because speed of absorption of pre, during and post-workout carbs is crucial to performance, avoid fibrous fruits and veggies an hour before your workout. If you’re doubling down to two workouts in a day, keep your in-between exercise meal as low in fiber as possible. 

Related: MACROS 101 Spartan Challenge: Week #3 — Carb Intake + Intra-Workout Fueling

2. Every Meal Should Include Veggies

Of course, as mentioned above, don’t eat a bunch of fibrous veggies right before exercise. But every meal—or at least, most—should include an ample amount of vegetables. Aim for a colorful plate and large portion sizes. “If you can’t include veggies in every meal, then make sure some meals have a LOT of veggies to make up for it,” says Howe. “There's pretty much no upper limit here. It's hard to derail any specific diet goals by overemphasizing veggies unless the fiber is interrupting training quality due to GI distress.” Howe recommends pre cutting all of your raw veggies so they are ready to go for a quick snack or meal. Also, “consider eating lots of frozen veggies, which are just as nutritious as raw, and can easily be microwaved and then tossed onto any pre-prepped meals,” says Howe. Bottom line: there’s no excuse to skip the veg. 

Related: The Most Epic Side Dish Ever: Oven-Baked Crispy Green Beans

“This is why we agree with your parents and encourage you to eat your veggies at each and every single meal,” says Nick Shaw, RP co-founder and nutrition coach to OCR elites, CrossFit champions, UFC fighters, Navy SEALs, Olympians and more. “If you need some breakfast ideas for veggies, think of adding veggies to your morning omelet or throwing spinach in your a.m. smoothie.” To jumpstart your veggie train, opt for some of Shaw’s favorite go-tos like broccoli, spinach, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, asparagus, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, zucchini and portobello mushrooms. 

3. Fruit Isn’t a Must, But It’s Certainly Nutritious

If you have to choose, always pick veggies, according to Howe, because you get more bang for your nutritional buck. When choosing fruits, opt for high-fiber varieties like berries, apples, pears and the citrus family. You can mix in lower-fiber varieties like bananas, melons, mangos and pineapple, but know these options will be less filling over all. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you’re trying to hit two-a-days. “For meals that fall between two workouts though, those latter examples are great because they’re a little more rapidly absorbed and easier on most folks’ guts,” Howe says.  


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