There’s no denying that training for a race is no small feat. Workouts can be brutal — especially if you're new to racing or even exercising in general. To make the most of your nutrition and training, you’ll need to work out several days per week and keep tabs on your caloric intake (which can be a rough adjustment for those who have been skipping sweat sessions in favor of happy hour with friends). However, consistency is key, and you won’t be able to improve as quickly or efficiently without maintaining regularity within your training schedule.
You’ll also need to step outside of your comfort zone and be adventurous and ready to challenge yourself in different exciting — but also intimidating and rigorous — ways. Plus, the best way to train for a race (or any other intense fitness program) is to incorporate several workout styles and pieces of equipment into your weekly routine. You can combine weight training, box jumps, battle ropes, HIIT training, cycling, and sprinting intervals, to name a few.
There are great benefits to switching up your workouts and training approaches. Variety helps to continually shock your muscles to avoid hitting a training plateau, which indicates that your body is already adjusted to your go-to workout and no longer archives the same results as it had generated initially upon trying something new.
Why Are Sprinting Workouts Beneficial for Training?
Sprinting intervals are one of the best kinds of workouts for improving training techniques and skills (which represent overall athletic ability and fitness level as well as your efficiency and value as an athlete or racer). With sprints, you’re spiking your heart rate with high-intensity work over a very short period of time and using your body in various ways, utilizing all of your muscle groups with both compound and isolation exercise.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to sprints, as you can do a sprinting interval with any kind of movement, but at your fastest pace and with your maximum effort. For example, you might do sprints on the treadmill — alternating sets with a jog or moderate-paced run — or you might do a tabata HIIT workout that consists of exercises where you “sprint” for 20 seconds on, rest 20 seconds, and then repeat the exercise for a few rounds.
The "sprinting" exercise itself can be bodyweight- and cardio-based, or it can involve equipment or weights to combine resistance and cardio for a major calorie-torching, sweaty, sprinting interval. Sprinting workouts with a good combination of both are ideal. To get started, try including mountain climbers, plyometric moves like squat jumps and tuck jumps, burpees, renegade rows with dumbbells, kettlebell swings, battle rope slams (with a burpee in between, of course), and alternating push-ups on a slam ball with squat-to-overhead throw movements.
Why Sprinting Can Be Taxing on Your Body
Unfortunately, despite the benefits of sprinting workouts — such as improved agility and endurance when moving through sets — those training sessions are tough. So, you need to make sure that you’re fueling well, with the right set of nutrients and in sufficient amounts so that your body can fully repair its damaged muscle tissue, rebuild and strengthen, and regain energy, as they’re definitely going to be sore and fatigued after a high-intensity sprinting workout.
Sprinting gets your heart rate high fast, so you’re bound to get sweaty. Muscles not only use nutrients as fuel to power your workout, but they also lose water and nutrients simultaneously through sweat (particularly electrolytes, which aid in promoting muscle function and hydration levels). By the end of that sweaty sprinting session, your muscles are likely depleted of their nutrients, fluids, and electrolyte stores and are in dire need of a reboot with replenishment.
What Nutrients Do Sprinters Need for Their Workouts?
Because sprints are shorter but higher in intensity, you don't need too large of a pre-workout snack compared to a runner who's setting off for an 8-mile run and needs more substance in their body.
“Your body doesn’t need as much fuel and glycogen to endure a sprinting workout,” Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, says.
If you’re feeling low on energy or hungry when you begin your workout, you'll be compromising your training performance and stamina, however, so some substance is still necessary for sprints. Plus, you’ll have an easier recovery and a smaller deficit in nutrients when there’s more glycogen stored in your body's muscles to begin with.
Choosing a pre-workout carbohydrate that’s quick and easy to digest and use as an immediate energy source — like a banana or granola bar — will do the trick.
Because you’ve lost more nutrients and fluids through sweat and will be especially low in stores, high-intensity exercise demands an increase in replenishment needs. Sprinters often repeat interval sets back-to-back, so post-training recovery for sprinting workouts is most important.
“This repetitive training will cause the body to dip into its glycogen stores for fuel, which will need to be replaced,” Best says.
Apart from eating a source of complex carbohydrates (carbs that contain fiber to fill you up), which provides an immediate boost of energy and offers sustainability so you’re satiated for longer — as well as some healthy fat to further increase satiety — protein is the real star when it comes to what you should be eating after sprinting workouts.
“Sprinting is taxing on the body because it undergoes a large amount of stress in repeated short bursts, and this can cause the muscle fibers to incur minute damages,” Best says. “It also leads to damage in the fast-twitch muscle fibers."
Yet, as long as there’s a rich protein supply to help repair these damages, muscle fibers will then grow larger and stronger.
“This is why protein should be consumed in slightly higher amounts than other macronutrients,” she explains, as it’s the most beneficial macronutrient for the job.
A Daily Meal Plan for Sprinters
Despite a higher protein intake, sprinters must still maintain a balanced diet containing all three macronutrients — fiber, fat, and protein — as well as vitamins and minerals.
“Sprinters still need enough carbs and fat to maintain their energy during training and competition, so it’s a lot like any normal balanced diet except it has a slight focus on lean protein,” she explains.
The biggest difference between sprinters and other athletes is that sprinters don’t need to load up on carbs before training like long-distance runners usually do. But beyond that, consider a distance runner's general healthy foods and nutrient requirements to be more universal.
Best does recommend limiting fibrous, high-fat sources, as these foods take longer to digest and may cause gas and bloating. You should be fine waiting an hour or two after eating and before sprinting, as long as you only ate something small and not a meal. (In that case, you’d want to wait 2-3 hours to fully digest.) Here is Best’s ideal, 1,677-calorie meal plan for a day of eating after doing a morning sprinting workout.
— 1 slice of whole grain toast (100 calories)
— 2 scrambled eggs (134 calories)
— 1 medium banana (105 calories)
Total: 339 calories
Workout (About an Hour After Breakfast)
Try a combination of dried fruit and mixed nuts from the store, or make your own nuts and dried fruit mix for a healthier, DIY-style spin.
— 1 ounce of mixed nuts (171 calories)
— 1 ounce of dried fruit medley (56 calories)
Total: 227 calories
For lunch, make a mixed greens salad with lean protein — like chicken breast or turkey — or swap it for fatty fish like salmon and top the salad with shredded cheese, creamy avocado, and ancient grains like quinoa for texture.
— 2 cups of mixed greens (17 calories)
— 3 ounces of grilled chicken (130 calories)
— 1 ounce of shredded cheese (45 calories)
— ½ of an avocado (155 calories)
— ½ cup of cooked quinoa (110 calories)
Total: 457 calories
A protein smoothie that combines protein powder, fresh or frozen fruit, spinach, and fiber-dense oats.
— 1 scoop of protein powder (150 calories)
— 1 cup of frozen fruit, like a berry medley (70 calories)
— ½ cup of spinach (7 calories)
— ¼ cup of oats (75 calories)
Total: 302 calories
Dinner should be a burrito bowl with brown rice as a base, grilled steak as a protein topper (but feel free to swap out for chicken breast, tofu, or salmon, if desired), beans, and colorful vegetables for fiber and antioxidants. (The latter of which aids in muscle repair and nutrient absorption, too.) And if you're looking for additional vegetables to add to the mix, try bell peppers, carrots, and tomatoes.
— ½ cup of cooked brown rice (114 calories)
— 3 ounces of grilled steak (Best suggests Tyson Grilled/Ready Steak Strips for 140 calories)
— ¼ cup of black beans (40 calories)
— ¼ cup of corn (40 calories)
— ¼ cup of salsa (18 calories)
Total: 352 calories