Train Like a Champion: A Q&A with Spartan Johnny Luna-Lima

Train Like a Champion: A Q&A with Spartan Johnny Luna-Lima
Presented by Spartan Training®

We all want to know: What makes the best-of-the-best Spartan athletes out there tick? How do they keep their edge? In our Train Like A Champ series, we dig into the details of the training, nutrition, mindset, and more that keeps our most epic athletes on top. 

Johnny Luna-Lima, (@johnnylunalima) is a recent college grad, and like most, he’s still figuring out what’s next. Down the road it’s looking like physical therapy, “It would be awesome to help younger athletes in the future and give them the guidance I wish I had,” he says. But for now, his sights are locked on the World Championships, and his energy is on pushing his fitness as far as he humanly can.

Luna-Lima shares what got him hooked on OCR, his back-to-basics approach to nutrition, plus his unique recovery protocol and why he doesn’t foam roll every day. 

Check out what a FULL week of Spartan Johnny Luna-Lima's Workouts Looks Like

Q&A With Spartan Johnny Luna-Lima

On Training

SPARTAN RACE: How did you get into OCR?

JOHNNY LUNA-LIMA: I grew up playing soccer. I started at four years old until I was about 19. I stopped playing because I was really burnt out and decided to take a break from it. During that time I saw the 2014 Spartan Race World Championships on TV. I don't know, just the ruggedness of it and the fact that they're running up and down mountains looked fun and excited me. I was immediately engaged. It was something that I saw and I was like, "I could totally do this one day." A couple of months later I was on my first starting line, Spartan Race, Las Vegas 2015.

SR: What inspires you?

JLL: I want to see what I'm capable of. I just want to be the best that I can personally become as a Spartan Race athlete, as a runner, as a mountain runner, and I see how far I can push myself. That's what fuels me. It's part curiosity and the other part is that I really enjoy the process of how I train. I love running in the mountains. I love the challenge of climbing, going uphill and then the different type of challenges of trying to just run down as smooth as possible and then trying to be as efficient a flat runner as I can possibly be. I think it's really fascinating; the ability to go day in, day out and try to perfect your craft. I think there's something really special in that and it can go a long way.

SR: What are you focused on right now?

JLL: Definitely my running, it's what I focus on the most. Running and cardiovascular training in general, but the emphasis is definitely running and running in the mountains, and moving well through the mountains so to say. That's definitely my focus this year and years prior too, but this year it’s definitely more of a focus.

< Related: Spartan's 5 Toughest Obstacles—And How To Train For Them

On Nutrition

SR: How would you describe your approach to food and nutrition?

JLL: My overall perspective on nutrition for everyday health and for athletes is to eat real foods. My rule of thumb that something from my great, great grandma: If she couldn't eat it or didn't have access to it, I probably shouldn't either. So I try to eat real foods like your sweet potatoes, veggies, and good quality meats. There are some exceptions for that, like certain supplements, like my magnesium supplements and protein supplements, but for the most part, I definitely try to keep my food as real as possible. 

One thing I'm a big believer in is that if I feel as though I'm hungry then I'll eat until I'm not hungry anymore. I think that's really important. People shouldn't be starving themselves, you know? Athletes in particular, too. We put out so many calories in a day and what we eat is literally the building blocks of our bones and our muscles and our other soft tissues. So eat real foods and eat until you're satisfied.

SR: How do you know if you’re eating the right types of food?

JLL: I'm a believer in that we, humans, are very balanced beings. We need a good share of each macro. So that means we need a bunch of carbohydrates, protein, and fats in our diet. I will definitely try to take in all of it but with thoughtful ratios. It's not like I'm going to take in like a cup of coconut oil. That will not go over well. I'm not going to eat like a whole like three, five, or eight steaks a day. I’d say macros specific to an endurance athlete. It's very important that I take in a lot of carbohydrates and a lot of protein and then always getting in my healthy fats, whether that's through coconut oil, olive oil or different nut butters

Related: 6 Delicious (And Healthy) Ways to Eat Peanut Butter

SR: What does your nutrition look like around your races or workouts?

JLL: What I do before training is what I'm going to do before a race. My breakfast before training or before a race is either a bowl of oatmeal or what I call a banana mash: You just take the banana, mash it up, put honey and granola over it and have some nut butter on the side. Or, I am originally from Brazil, and we have this little tortilla looking thing. It's what we call tapioca and it’s made out of yucca root. You take its flour, put it in a little pan and creates this little tortilla, then put nut butter and honey over that and I'll eat that before training or a race. It's probably one of my favorites.

Then, post-race or post-training is typically a protein powder with like 20 grams protein powder with three to four tablespoons of honey or maple syrup and, maybe a banana or some fruit for flavor. That's my go-to post-race. I've been doing that for quite some time now.


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Broke my heart not to race @spartanrace Big Bear today but duty calls (👨🏽‍🎓📝). Nevertheless got to test myself at the Mt. Diablo Half Marathon. Was gunning for @addiedoesstuff course record but fell short a couple of minutes, underestimated the course and he's fast af ... One day😂 The course was 13 miles with 4200 feet of elevation gain with one long climb and a gnarly descent. Gotta admit the downhill running was definitely on the more technical side of things so that was awesome and refreshing! Fueled with @spring_energy (1 POWER RUSH before, 1 HILL AID and 1 CANABERRY) Felt great with no cramps despite the climbing wheels starting to fall off at the last climb at mile 10. Check out @pacificcoasttrailruns they know how to party 🍻#DevilMountain #NatureUp #EmbraceTheDownhill

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On Recovery

SR: What does your recovery protocol look like?

JLL: For recovery, I get in the pool and just float around two or three times a week. I do mobility a couple of times throughout the day. I go through a whole bunch of different ranges of motion just to get the blood flowing without a lot of effort. So I'll mobilize my ankles, my midline, cervical spine, thoracic, spine, lumbar spine and then my pelvic area as well as my hips, knees and all that. I think that's really important to do consistently. 

I do enjoy getting just massages and other soft tissue work. I'll do it once or twice a week, whether I'm going to go see someone to get it done or I'm doing it on myself. I know some athletes foam rolling every single day, but I don’t. I take a similar approach to foam rolling as my training. Everything you do outside of your main sport is going to influence your training in a way so when you’re massaging yourself, it still stresses the muscle so I think there’s a happy balance on how much of that to do.

Related: Train Like Spartan Champ Alyssa Hawley for a Week

Another one is meditation. I meditate every morning. I think it's a huge part of my recovery and training because it helps me be at peace. When I'm in a hard training session and I feel like I'm going to explode, it’s helped me find silence and focus. But then when it’s time to relax and recover, it’s helped me be present and in the moment.

SR: What have you learned about yourself as an athlete?

JLL: To be a high-level athlete, you’ve got to be open to learning about yourself. There's nothing set in stone. What worked for me last year might not work this year. Or what worked for me this year might not work next year. But what I've really found was a game-changer for me is just getting in bed early. I’ve got to be asleep by 10:00 PM and then just wake up when your body's ready. I'm usually asleep before 9:30 PM but then I'm up around 5:30 AM every day. I found that's been really big for me. Just being consistent. One thing Hobie Call told me before, he's like, "You’ve got to keep it simple. You’ve got to eat to win, recover to win and train to win." So that's definitely what I try to go by. So I'd say the sleep was the biggest game-changer for me in this past year, along with getting in real quality food.

Related: Train Like a Champ: Q&A with Rebecca Hammond

SR: How would you say Spartan Race has carried over into your other parts of your life?

JLL: While Spartan is what I’m focused on every single day, it has still definitely helped me find balance in my life because, in order to perform and train well, my life needs to be balanced. I have my time set aside to train, but then I also have time for my social life, which I need.

When I was younger, my life was completely focused around trying to become a professional soccer player and I ran myself into the ground until I literally broke a bone in my body and couldn't play anymore. Now I train a lot more than I did when I played soccer, but I have a lot more balance as well. I’m a lot more at peace with myself and just really being happy with what I'm doing.