In this two-part series, we give you three workouts and a nutrition plan from two Air Force Special Warfare Airmen, Spartan Racers and obstacle elites to help you foster even more grit, strength and perseverance—no matter what. Use these nutrition tips to get fitter, faster.
When you’re training for a Spartan Race, you run like hell and crush HIIT workouts or burpee sets like it’s your job. And you should. If you don’t, you’ll suffer on the course—no exceptions. But while most athletes dominate physical training, many undercut the importance of nutrition. Fueling properly (and frequently) is just as key to optimizing your performance as conquering workouts themselves. Bottom line: eat wisely, and you’ll build more muscle to recover faster and push harder, longer. Eat poorly, and you’ll stay slow and weak as hell.
No athletes know this better than MSgt Layne Mayerstein and TSgt Matthew Wainwright, Airmen for Air Force and Air National Guard Special Warfare, and Spartan Race elites. In addition to embracing the challenges of OCR in their down time, these guys work tougher day jobs than most. MSgt Mayerstein has served as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician for almost 22 years (think: a U.S. Air Force bomb squad expert), and TSgt Wainwright has served for 18 years as a Tactical Air Control Party specialist (TACP) in the Air National Guard (think: a conduit for calling in air strikes on the right targets at the right time).
MSgt Mayerstein and TSgt Wainwright workout six days per week. No matter what. They hammer out a collective mix of HIIT, weightlifting, running, rowing, swimming, climbing, cycling and functional fitness programming. Why? Because they haul 100+ lb packs full of food, water, radios, extra battery packs, laser range finders, additional ammo, explosives and mine detection equipment—among much more gear—over miles of unforgivable terrain through harsh weather. Performance is essential. In fact, their lives (and the lives of their fellow Airmen and women) depend on it. No mission is the same, and fitness, perseverance and grit are the name of the game.
To sustain their insane workouts and schedules, MSgt Mayerstein and TSgt Wainwright need to eat—and when it comes to fuel, they don’t mess around. “Uncle Sam’s body runs on fuel, so I fuel it,” says MSgt Mayerstein, who bags at least 4,000 calories per day. “I enjoy food too, but fuel [for the sake of fueling] comes first.”
TSgt Wainwright, who also clocks between 3,500-4,500 calories per day, agrees. “You have to feed the machine,” he says. “If you don’t put back in what you burn, you’ll start to lose weight, strength and feel burnt out. This can cause health problems.”
Because these guys take fuel so seriously, we got them to craft their Air Force-inspired nutrition plan (with macros to perform like a champ!). Here, get their Spartan-approved fueling strategies to stay strong, sharp and healthy. Chow down like this and watch the gains roll in. AROO!
Macros 101: Build The Special Warfare Foundation
Scoring enough daily macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats) is central to optimize your performance. Here’s why. Protein supports muscle growth and post-workout recovery. Carbs add gasoline to your fire pre- and mid-workout, providing quick, burnable power as you push hard on speed or lifts. Healthy fats gel it all together: they fuel both long-term, moderate-intensity workouts (as carb stores run out) and recovery (reducing inflammation and encouraging muscles to receive protein).
The Macro Ratio, In General...
As a rule of thumb, MSgt Mayerstein sticks to a 2:1:1 ratio of carbs to protein and fat, eating about 500 grams of carbs per day, and 250 grams of protein and fat. As he gets closer to race day, he increases his daily intake of all macros. TSgt Wainwright’s diet is similar, sitting at about 45% carbs, 30% protein and 25% fat, with a caloric booster to support an upcoming big event.
… With an Emphasis On Intra-Workout Fueling, Always.
In addition to hitting macros, intra-workout fueling is of utmost importance. Maintaining energy reserves is paramount to avoid muscular deterioration and push your thresholds beyond limits. Here’s how these guys do it. Our best advice? Try it, see if it feels good, and adjust accordingly. Fundamentally: you should take in calories you burn, as you burn them. If you’re hungry mid workout or race, it’s too late. You’re primed to hit a fatigue wall, and there’s nothing more tragic to a serious OCR athlete.
TSgt Wainwright: “If I can get my workouts in first thing in the morning, I will drink a vegan protein shake with nine ounces of almond milk and eat an English muffin with a couple tablespoons of jam. I start drinking Gatorade before and during my workout as well.”
MSgt Mayerstein: “If it’s a 90-min (or less) push, I’ll destroy a high-carb meal right beforehand (like combining two cups of oatmeal, one tablespoon of nut butter, one banana and two cups of nut or oat milk). For longer workouts, I’ll eat a 50/25/25 [carbs/protein/fat] meal right before and fuel 80-100 grams of carbs per hour.”
The Intra-Fueling Recap:
When your engine runs out of steam, you’re basically screwed. Clock your macros and experiment with various nutrients as you train in varying conditions to find the right blend of liquid and solid intra-workout fuel. Put the nutrition work in (just as you do with mileage and lifts), and you’ll nail race day like never before. Don’t, and consider yourself warned: you’ll suffer.
The Special Warfare Daily Meal Plan
To set you up for success, here are TSgt Wainwright and MSgt Mayerstein’s go-to fuel for each meal of the day. We wanted to know exactly how they ate, down to the wire. Plus, we added their best pre-workout snacks so you can hit it hard without overdoing calories to gut rot. Here’s the gist, including bonus tips to guide you through smarter eating.
TSgt Wainwright: “This is normally my second meal of the day [after a post-workout snack in the morning]. I eat three eggs, one medium avocado, spinach, three Kodiak waffles with a cup of strawberries or raspberries, and three tablespoons of pure syrup. It’s a good source of fats and proteins to fill me up after a workout session.”
MSgt Mayerstein: “Within 30 minutes of waking up, I eat two cups of oatmeal, one tablespoon of nut butter, one banana and two cups of nut or oat milk. It’s quick, easy and tastes good. It’s also high in carbs for immediate energy and has some fat to prevent the feeling of starvation I get at about 60 minutes of push. Immediately after a workout, I eat six eggs, one cup of tofu, a half cup of cottage cheese, dry wheat toast and one cup of homemade green juice.”
TSgt Wainwright: “I eat one cup of rice (normally brown rice) or sweet potato, half an avocado, one cup of vegetables (broccoli, squash or zucchini) and four ounces of chicken. I also occasionally go for a cinnamon raisin bagel with one tablespoon of peanut butter and a banana and drink one more protein shake between lunch and supper.”
MSgt Mayerstein: “Bowls with one cup of rice, one cup of purple or sweet potato, nine ounces of meat, fish or an equivalent vegan protein source, two cups of mixed greens (like microgreens, spinach, kale, etc.), one half cup of cottage cheese and two servings of fruit. It’s easy, good and depending upon how you stack it in your bowl, it morphs into different mixes as you eat it.”
TSgt Wainwright: “Right now, because I am trying to gain weight [post shoulder surgery] dinner is a homemade pizza, which includes four ounces of ground beef, a half cup of pineapple, 47 grams of thin pizza crust, four ounces of pizza sauce and one ounce of cheese. Normally, my dinners are the same as lunch but switching out the [red] meats for other things like salmon or turkey.”
MSgt Mayerstein: “Same as lunch. We normally make dinner and enough for lunch the next day. I know what you’re thinking: that’s expensive. We do CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). Essentially, we pay into a farm for a weekly push of seasonal veggies, fruits and greens. We do the same for meat/fish. When you buy a quarter or half of a cow or lamb, you’ll pay $2-3 per pound for everything, including prime cuts.”
BEFORE WORKOUTS: The Airman’s Go-To Choice for Max Performance
TSgt Wainwright: “For me, I use this as a midday snack, too: two bananas, two cups of almond milk, two tablespoons of no-stir peanut butter, two tablespoons of local honey and two cups of ice.” Blend and drink. Easy.
MSgt Mayerstein: “My favorite snack is a smoothie made of two frozen bananas, one cup of frozen Greek yogurt, a cup and a half of nut milk, two tablespoons of pistachio butter and two teaspoons of cinnamon. It’s also a great pre bed snack!”
Bonus Tips from Elite Airmen/Spartans
Listen, nutrition is as personal as the racing shoes you choose. Each individual body has different needs. But, there are a few rules to follow that’ll get you further than winging it on your own. Here’s what works for these guys and we’re damn sure they’ll work for you, too.
1. Aim for Variety and Color
Opt for colorful plates, always. If you can choose veggies and fruits that bring vibrancy to your plate, that means you’re getting a solid dose of vitamins and minerals. “Honestly, the most important thing is balance and variety,” says MSgt Mayerstein. “Eat from your eyes, first: mostly fresh, unprocessed, whole foods (from the outside edge of the grocery store).”
2. Take Notes, Ditch the Scale
Get curious about how you feel, literally. And trust your gut. If your insides explode after you ingest something, it’s probably not working with your GI tract. Taking notes can help you decide what foods make you feel good, and what makes you feel like crap. “If you’re reading this, you have access to plenty of resources to help build an appropriate balance for yourself,” says MSgt Mayerstein. “Just make sure you log and do the math. Journal how you feel, and adjust based upon performance. Don’t worry about the scale, those numbers can paint a false picture. How you perform and feel should be your metric.”
3. Avoid Garbage Food, Duh
Remember: garbage in, garbage out. To TSgt Wainwright, there’s nothing wrong with a cheat meal every now and then (and we agree!), but at all costs, steer clear of fast food. “[At minimum], don’t make it a daily habit,” he says. And for fellow military service men and women, he recommends opting for the good green stuff. “Chow halls [on base] have a very wide selection of healthy options these days so it’s not hard to eat the right things,” says Wainwright. “Your commissary is like any other grocery store with tons of options. If you have trouble finding healthier brands you like, check Amazon or other food delivery services. When selecting your food, go for fresh produce and avoid processed foods.”