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.
In the past, Spartan Pro Cindy Lynch practiced an anything-goes approach to nutrition not uncommon to many distance runners. When she was in school, she credited a fast metabolism and lots of activity for allowing her to get away with eating a diet chock full of simple sugars and gluten.
The Vegetarian Experiment That Bombed
“I gained 15 to 20 pounds,” she said, joking that she blamed the dry cleaner for the shrinking pants.
Getting Serious About Nutrition
Several years ago, Lynch consulted with a nutritionist in her home base of San Diego.
“I was introduced to a much healthier program," Lynch said. "I cut out gluten and significant sugars and started fueling myself with more proteins, healthy fats, nuts, and vegetables, and less simple carbohydrates and sugars.”
The results were significant. Her metabolism evened out, with less insulin spikes, more energy, and fewer crashes.
“I found that by going gluten-free, I had to think about the content of everything I put into my mouth," she said. "This forced me to make better choices nutritionally — more vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins.”
Lynch has two especially valuable takes on how she now approaches nutrition.
Recovery Is Key
For one thing, Lynch retains a watchful eye on what she chooses to eat, with exceptional respect for fueling — and recovering from — her training. She doesn’t allow a hectic schedule (including running a business she co-founded with her sister, called Running Skirts) to become an excuse for skipping recovery snacks.
As you scan her routine, note how she has ritualized certain drinks, snacks, and meals to check ALL the boxes. And while the thrust of her diet is Paleo-type fare, Lynch takes advantage of the convenience of supplements and packaged fuels to fulfill her fueling and recovery obligations, both in training and in racing.
“When I ran in a San Diego 100-mile trail race, I ate 19 energy gels ... and lived to tell about it,” Lynch said with a laugh.
This prioritization of nutrition enables her to tackle her current passion for long Spartan races.
“I'm into the Ultra Beast 50K-plus racing distance, where I'm out on the course for six to seven hours," she said. "Proper hydration and nutrition is imperative. It’s one of the most important parts of racing. Maybe the MOST important.”
Don't Let Perfection Be the Enemy
The second take is that she doesn’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Lynch allows for moderation and for enjoying a treat in the evening — a work-hard/enjoy-life mantra that echoes her blend of life and ultra sport.
The following example showcases how Lynch puts it all together in an average day.
How Lynch Fuels Her Life
Early Morning, Pre-Workout
- Essential amino acids
- Coffee with cream
“It's a cup of coffee with lots of cream, followed by water and electrolytes,” Lynch said.
She then hits the road for a morning run.
- Daily Supplements
- Gluten-free peanut butter on toast or a bagel
- Avocado toast
How many snacks she has after her coffee and between lunch, Lynch said, depends on her hunger.
- Option 1: Salad with protein
- Option 2: Sushi roll
- Option 3: Leftovers from previous night’s dinner
“Lately it's been a kale and spinach salad with roasted beets and pistachio nuts,” she said.
- Option 1: Protein bar
- Option 2: Trail mix
- Option 3: Veggies and hummus
- Option 4: Chocolate
- Option 5: Fruit
“It depends on what I have on tap for the workout,” Lynch said.
For the more demanding workouts, she prefers not to feel heavy and will choose one of the lighter options.
“Then, I’ll just have a larger post-workout meal,” she said.
Long Workout Extras
During a long trail workout, Lynch is ready with fuel. She leverages a common ultra-running technique: For long trail runs, she brings a variety of snacks so she can respond to particular cravings. This includes nutrition bars, energy gels, and sweet-salty snacks, like one she makes with cashews and sour Scandinavian candies. (She gets them from Trader Joe's.)
- Protein: chicken, fish, or grass-fed beef
- Salad and/or veggies
The above is typical, but Lynch reiterated that she likes to pay attention to what her body might be telling her.
“I tend to cater to any cravings I have," she said. "Some nights it's Thai, Indian food, or tacos.”
“Popcorn is a staple evening snack in our house,” Lynch said. “Also, a few days a week I treat myself to several bites of chocolate peanut butter Häagen-Dazs or salted caramel Talenti gelato.”
It's All About the Balance
Lynch said that for her, a day brimming with activity — work, kids, multiple training sessions, and the travel that connects it all — should be met with balance and savoring it all.
“At the end of the day, I'm a firm believer in moderation,” she said. “Work hard, play hard, enjoy that post-race pizza or burger and glass of wine, or whatever post-race beverage you choose, because you've earned it!”