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

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

We’re back! With vaccines rolling out and Spartan Races in full swing, it’s time to ditch the woes of 2020 and revamp your training strategy like never before. But when you’ve taken… well, a brutally long break from a consistent OCR schedule, kickstarting your fitness and nutrition plan can be a drag. (Think: kissing crappy pandemic habits goodbye, like nightly beers or skipping workouts.) 

Our advice? Keep it simple. That’s why we partnered with coaches from Renaissance Periodization, a nutrition company which supports endurance athletes as they train hard, recover well and create healthy habits that stick. In tandem with RP, we bring you Macros 101—a diet-cleanup deep dive into the carbohydrates, proteins and fats you need to return to racing like a champ. With this quick-hit guide, you’ll reset your nutrition to optimize your performance ASAP. 

Here’s How It Works:

Each week, we’ll cover one macro and give you a clear, simple takeaway to implement immediately. For those seven days, you'll focus on building mindful awareness around tweaking your eating patterns. As the month progresses, bad habits will melt away, and you’ll foster a stable, sustainable foundation around your fuel intake. The goal is not to reinvent the wheel, but rather bring it back to the basics. But before we dive into the plan, let’s brush up on the basic elements of fueling: 

Why Calorie Balance is Key — Weight MGMT

First, it's crucial to know how calories and weight work. Whether you’re aiming to shed those extra five pandemic-lbs, or you’re right on target, calorie balance is key to weight management and performance optimization for your individual body.  

Calorie balance is simple math. In order to lose weight, you have to consume fewer calories than you burn; to gain weight, more calories; to maintain weight, equal calories. In other words, “consume less kcal than you burn, you'll lose tissue of some kind... like ‘weight’ [which could be body fat, muscle, or water],” says Dr. Alex Harrison, CSCS, USATF-3, USAW-1, USAT-1 and RP coach. “Consume more than you burn? You'll gain tissue.” 

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

To get back on track with your goal weight, Harrison recommends ditching your wearables’ data and monitoring your weight manually over time, starting now. “Track your weight on your home scale for four weeks, and plot a trend line in MS Excel or get an average weight-loss rate from an app like Happy Scale or the RP Diet Coach app.” 

This practice will help you establish a baseline to gain, lose or maintain, and from there, you can use this program (in combination with your workouts) to scale your daily meals to achieve that goal. 

Fueling For Your Fitness Plan, A Brief Overview

In this series, we won’t focus much on the mechanics of fitness, as much as eating for the mechanics of fitness. But know this: in addition to building muscular strength to power over obstacles, intelligent nutritional strategies will enhance your endurance threshold, too. As you run (and bag a lot of miles) to foster aerobic endurance, it’s key to eat a pre-workout meal that contains low-to-moderate fat, higher carbs, and moderate protein to sustain mileage and recover well, according to Harrison. 

Intra-workout fueling is also crucial, and we go in depth on that here. But, in short, if you’re training for longer than an hour, you’ll want to ensure you’re taking in hydration with sodium (to replenish electrolytes) and carbs (to supercharge your body). Period. 

“If you're not fueling training, you're losing out on both training performance and recovery, as well as adaptation to the training stimulus,” says Harrison. “At least hit the minimums recommended in this intra-workout fueling table to be safe.”

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

Week #1 Goal: Eat Protein with Every Snack & Meal

macro meal plan protein

Now, for the macros. First up? Protein. This macronutrient is absolutely essential to boost glycogen stores, reduce muscle soreness, and promote post-workout muscle repair. Without enough of it in your diet, you screw yourself out of making big gains. 

Protein consumption is key for all athletes, especially stamina-focused folks. “Retention of muscle is a real concern for endurance athletes,” says Harrison. “Elite marathoners and road racers can get away with 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight, since muscle mass isn’t super helpful over long distances.” That said, for Spartans flirting with long distances and building muscle to overcome obstacles, it’s important to eat at least 0.6-0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight, per day, he says. 

In a post-pandemic reset, Spartans will benefit most from small diet tweaks, like consciously consuming a portion of protein at each meal and spreading out protein intake throughout the day. “It’s easy to fall victim to the ‘new year, new me’ mindset and think that we need to change everything,” says Nick Shaw, RP co-founder and nutrition coach to OCR elites, CrossFit champions, UFC fighters, Navy SEALs, Olympians and more. “That’s not what leads to the best results for the vast majority of us. What we should be doing is focusing on smaller changes that can help us ease into this new shift in lifestyle and behavior patterns.” 

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

Week One To-Do:

So, for week one, all you have to do is eat more protein throughout the day. “The purpose of this is twofold,” says Shaw. “Consuming more protein helps us keep, and likely increase, the amount of lean tissue (a.k.a. muscle) that we have.” This means your efforts at the gym, shredding single track or busting out burpees will stick. “The second great thing about protein is that it’s very satiating,” he says. “It helps keep you fuller longer so you’ll see better nutritional results with body-fat loss over time, in general.”  

To improve your intake, eat protein frequently on a regular schedule in both snacks and main courses. “Protein works best to aid in muscle retention and recovery when it’s spaced out,” says Harrison. “Putting a small portion of one’s daily protein allotment in every meal allows for that, plain and simple.” This new habit will help you nurture your body (and prevent injury) as you push harder, longer, faster. 

Quick Protein Hacks to Eat More, More Often

For Meals and Snacks

Shaw’s favorite protein go-tos include chicken breast, ground turkey, leaner cuts of beef, fish, seafood, lower-fat dairy sources like yogurt and milk, eggs, and non-animal sources like soy, seitan and tempeh. 

But it's not always as simple as eating a bunch of protein-rich foods and calling it a day. “Peanut butter is not a good protein source, quinoa is not a good protein source [as a standalone food],” says. “If you’re going to eat protein, eat foods that have close to equal amounts of protein to other macros, or higher.” That means you should prioritize food pairings. Opt for snacks that are high in protein and fats, or protein and carbs, to get the most nutritional, metabolic bang for your buck. 

Related: Burgers Just Got Better. (WAY Better.) Try Our Spartan-Approved Skillet Recipe

For Post Workout Recovery

Harrison recommends whey (quick digesting) and casein (slow digesting) supplements that come from animal milks. “Whey becomes readily available to your working muscles during, and immediately after, your workout,” he says. “This is important for signaling pathways involved in muscle building and growth, which is a process that subsequently uses fat stores as its primary fuel.” If you don’t have a whey allergy, it’s an ideal post-workout protein for quick muscle repair. 

Pre Bedtime

At night, casein consumption is the name of the game. Because casein is slow digesting, it provides amino acids to the bloodstream all night long helping your muscles recover while you sleep. Skip it before a workout, though. “Casein would be pretty rough on the stomach during training because it just sits there and takes up space for a while,” says Harrison. 

If you’re unable to do dairy, opt for a whey/casein replacement protein that’s as easy on your GI tract as possible. You can find plenty of plant-based options at your local grocery store—just be sure you choose one with a full amino acid profile so you can ensure max absorption. 


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Amp up your fitness and wellness routine NOW. Click here to find a Spartan race close to you!