The science of longevity is a sizzling topic these days. Longevity researchers are digging deep into subjects like sleep, nutrition, exercise, and genetics to define how we can live longer (lifespan) and live better for longer (healthspan).
Years ago, I interviewed a top sports scientist, Dr. Randy Eichner, MD, in an area of his expertise: athletic performance in hot, humid conditions. We were discussing how the nutritional practices of champion-level Ironman triathletes weren’t directly supported by the research of the time. He told me that sports science is often catching up to what the champions are doing (or avoiding doing).
Considering how much training, racing, and experimenting long-distance triathletes performed day-in and day-out, Dr. Eichner’s theory seemed sound.
Perhaps longevity scientists will one day take some hints from a mom in her 40s, Faye Morgan, who is also a Spartan Pro team member and a former combat engineer officer in the United States Marine Corps. Today, Morgan continues to push the envelope after many years of athletics and a career in the Marine Corps.
An inspection of Morgan’s nutrition suggests that — while she allows some breathing room for the occasional piece of pizza or birthday cake — she has valuable insight into how nutrition can power top athletic performance and recovery.
“My diet is a blend of Paleo-Zone, but I’m not opposed to an occasional slice of pizza or even a good cheese," she explains. "I’m not big on counting macros or journaling what I eat — that has never worked for me. My best bet through the years is to allow my body to dictate my nutritional needs and fuel myself for my work output.”
A Turning Point in 2011
It was around 2011 when Morgan “jumped on the CrossFit train” and — like many other runners who tested out the CrossFit Endurance program — traded in a high-carb diet for the Paleo-Zone approach she continues to use today.
Morgan says listening to her body has dialed in her diet to a selection of simple, favorite meals that work with the Paleo-Zone construct.
“My go-to meals are grilled chicken, steak, or fish, plus a hearty half-plate of veggies or salad with lots of healthy oils, like olive and avocado," she says. “I’d never felt better after the switch. Instead of pasta before a big race, it was sweet potato, quinoa, other root veggies, or even white rice. I just felt less sluggish and more recovered with this shift in fueling.”
Meeting Paleo-Zone Protein Needs
One theme embedded in both Paleo and Zone is the need for sufficient, quality protein. In following the Zone diet, for example, the initial step is to establish your daily protein requirement by calculating variables like your lean body mass and activity level. Amounts of other macros — fats and carbs — proportionally hinge on how much protein you have in each meal or snack.
While Morgan doesn’t weigh or measure her food, and is instead more intuitive about her macros, you can find a prioritization of protein reflected in her family’s freezer.
“We are big meat-eaters in this house,” Morgan says. “We usually have a freezer full of either elk from my husband’s bowhunting season or a grass-fed cow that we’ve purchased locally.”
Ensuring Optimal Healthy Fat Intake
Morgan says her family also loves seafood and the omega-3 fatty acids that come with it.
“My sisters lived on the Kenai River, so we usually have an abundance of wild-caught Alaskan salmon, which the kids love, too,” she says.
Morgan also keeps a good stock of almond butter on hand at all times.
“Our kids love it when we make a family-size portion of a protein shake with berries, almond butter, and 'mom’s secret ingredients' – celery, spinach, and kale.”
Morgan's Nutritional Advice for New Spartan Racers
Morgan’s key piece of advice for age-group obstacle course racing athletes is in sync with Dr. Eichner’s suggestion about how to stay ahead of the game: Be your own scientist.
“Find out what works for you — allow hunger to dictate [your nutrition] and never deprive yourself of what your body is telling you it needs for fuel,” she says.
The Spartan Pro adds that you should also consistently pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work.
“If a certain meal hit the mark and you felt great on race day, remember that for next time," she advises. "Our bodies crave consistency, and there simply isn’t time on race day, or race week, to experiment and have to be running into the bathroom as the gun goes off, or worse, on the course.”
You can learn from her mistakes, Morgan says.
“In my twenties, I was clueless when it came to fueling mid-run," she admits. "Now, I’ve wised up to a constant flow of calories and electrolytes in events over 75 minutes. The bottom line is that we must fuel the fire to keep our bodies moving strong.”
Speaking of fueling the fire, the following is a sample day of how Morgan fuels her training, recovery, and overall performance.
How a Spartan Pro and Former Marine Corps Combat Engineer Officer Fuels for Performance
Early-Morning Pre-Workout: Water and Other Basics
- Water with branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs) or a Nuun tablet
- Black Rifle Coffee with a splash of cream and stevia
“Water is the first thing,” Morgan says.
Research has shown that spiking your water with BCAAs can mitigate post-workout muscle soreness (In other words, it can enhance muscle recovery.)
It’s worth noting that this is truly an early-morning, pre-workout snack: Morgan tries to get all of her training completed by 10 a.m., which means she might be knocking out her running workout at 4 a.m.
Breakfast: Nutrient-Dense Dream Shake
A protein shake with:
- Almond milk
- Almond butter
- Chia seeds
Morgan’s shake is loaded with protein, healthy fats, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
- Sliced apples
- A protein bar
Lunch: In the Paleo-Zone
- Grilled chicken salad
- Hormone-free turkey with avocado
All the above fit into the Paleo-Zone crossroads. They're real foods with a smart mix of protein, nutrient-rich carbohydrates, and healthy, monounsaturated fats.
- Terra veggie chips
Dinner: The Big Salad
- Hard boiled eggs
- Feta cheese
- Chia seeds
Morgan will also have a side of quinoa, sweet potatoes, or roasted beets, while the salad dressing is typically olive oil- or avocado oil-based.
“I always have lots of good fats!” she says.
Sleepytime tea is a favorite, but if she's still hungry, Morgan mixes up protein powder and almond milk for a healthy "pudding."