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.
When your partner is supportive of your training routine, that’s great. When your partner is part of your training routine, even better. That’s the case for married couple Mark Batres (@mgbracing) and Natalie Miano (@ocrmommy), who live in Montclair, California with their two children. Mark creates training plans for himself and his wife and the two enjoy cooking together and running Mark’s coaching business at mgb-racing.com. They describe their diet as “modern European” which includes lots of fresh produce, grains, and protein—but also allows for indulgences like wine, beer, and cheese. The key, they say, is learning to listen to their bodies, which they explain in detail in the interview below. Read about that, plus how they program their training plans and recover in between workouts, here.
Check out what a FULL week of Spartan Mark Batres & Natalie Miano's Workouts Looks Like
A Q&A With Spartans Mark Batres and Natalie Miano
SPARTAN RACE: When did you get hooked on racing?
MARK BATRES: The first time I did an OCR race was in Utah in 2014. And it was not a hooking experience. I got really beat up and I was like, ‘wow, this is a little bit more difficult than I thought’. But a couple of friends that I did that race with ended up doing another race and placed in the top 10. If I would have kept training with them, I think I could've podiumed. So that got me really excited and then I started training harder for Spartan racing.
NATALIE MIANO: It's such a dynamic sport that offers something that I'm more suited for than just running. I really fell in love with running, but I never felt as competitive as I wanted to be in it. Obstacle course racing brought something new to the table for me to train for and actually be competitive at and train at a high level for. To chase professionals that are a few steps in front of me is pretty incredible. My athleticism is just better suited for more dynamic movements and upper body strength and carries and doing a variety of exercises in the middle of an endurance run. I'm good at everything, but I'm not really great at anything. So in that sense, that's what got me hooked. It's like there's always something to get better at.
SR: What do you consider when you're designing your programming?
MB: We look at the date and we go backward. We try to plan around what the course offers. So if it's a specific course type or it's a specific terrain, we try to make sure that we mimic that in training and we do our best to replicate that. In training for Jacksonville and Alabama, we weren't doing too much hill climbing. We were doing a lot more speed-oriented workouts that were flatter on dirt trails and grass fields.
NM: We've focused more on the Super to Beast distance all season long because that's what the series and championship races are. Mark makes the training plans, he's the coach, though I do have a big part in it too. For the most part for me, a lot of the season was geared towards getting faster as a runner and Mark's training plan came together more with the emphasis on longevity and being healthy for the entire year. So we kind of both come to the table with different overall goals but our training is still a solid 80% running because our races are a lot of running.
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SR: How would you describe your approach to food and nutrition?
NM: We really emphasize eating well-balanced. We like to eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods. We're big on listening to our bodies. We eat well enough and we crave healthy food enough to be able to listen to our bodies and take in what we feel we need at the time. And that goes for foods we crave and then also goes for portion sizes. We don't cut. We don't count macros.
MB: Yeah. So we get done with a run and usually, we have amino acids and vitamins. And then we'll have a smoothie. After the smoothie, we start eating solid food and it's usually a salad with protein and maybe a grain here and there, but it's pretty light for the most part. And then for dinner that's our big meal. That's where we go kind of hog wild. We have snacks throughout the day too.
NM: We eat a lot of vegetables. We have a salad with dinner almost every night. That's something that we enjoy and makes us feel good. In the last couple of years, we've been increasing our protein intake. And that goes for our supplements as well as increasing our food protein intake as well.
SR: What does it mean to ‘listen to your body’?
NM: It takes routinely eating well most of the time to understand how your body reacts to certain things. So let's say for instance you get really used to eating fast food every single day. Somebody who eats McDonald's every day might not notice that they're running on low octane. But Mark and I, we're so dialed in with our heart rate, our efforts in our workouts, even how our legs are feeling, how much energy we have, how much pop we have. So we're feeling all day long how much energy we have and you start to notice when you eat pretty clean, what foods and meal times give you a reaction of low energy and what foods and times give you high energy. Like if you skip a meal, does it give you low energy or does it replenish your energy? Are you able to work out in the afternoons? Stuff like that. So we just kind of watch how our body recovers and we make adjustments based on that.
When it comes to eating a nutrition plan with macros or calorie counting, it becomes very difficult when you have a high level of exercise. Because you can do all the numbers but there's a 25% margin of error on both sides, on the calorie counting side and on the calorie needs side. So you can have upwards of 30 to 40% margin of error trying to calculate how many calories you're burning and how many calories you're replenishing. It's better to just feel what you need and slow down, then see how your body reacts to it.
This year has been a huge success on energy level. And I think a lot of that has to do with really listening to our bodies. I used to eat lighter during certain periods and I would blame the training for making me tired. But this year I put in the most training that I've ever done and I'm finding myself training seven days a week and I have very little need for days off. The recovery is happening in between workouts.
SR: What do you think is the most important thing when it comes to nutrition for athletes?
MB: Eating enough is one of the biggest issues that I have to coach people on. Not just how good the calories are, but how much you’re taking in.
NM: With this type of training, you can't exclude any one micronutrient or strictly limit one macronutrient. So we might have higher ratios of one macro over another at times, depending on our training and depending on what we feel we need or just depending on what our family's having fun eating. I definitely think that most people could benefit from getting adequate amounts of each micronutrient and not trying to strictly limit or to exclude all together one macronutrient that they've demonized.
MB: They’re all important.
NM: I feel like people tend to eat overly clean and fear high-fat foods or fear any form of sugar from fruit or vegetables or whatever. We just have a very diverse, nutrient-dense and very natural healthy whole food diet. But it's not that clean. Like we eat cheese, we drink wine, we drink beer. It's like we have a more indulgent European style. It's just very balanced and we never overdo things.
MB: Our daily eating resembles a farm to table restaurant. There's some really nice, good healthy stuff there. And then at the same time, there's very indulgently really good-tasting food.
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This family celebrates small wins... whether it’s Marky reading, Nico making it through the night without peeing in the bed, or mom and dad setting his and hers FKT’s on the #claremontloop trail in their morning workout! 😜 #family #winning #anyexcusetocelebrate @souverainwine 🙌❤️
SR: What does your pre-race nutrition look like?
MB: It depends on the distance. But for the most part, this is what we do. We'll have a double shot cappuccino and then right after that I'll do a supplement called Chagit, which is like Chaga mushroom extract. After that, I'll do some caffeine-free PerformElite by EndurElite. If we're doing a Sprint, we go on an empty stomach. If we're doing a Super or a Beast, we'll have a piece of toast or oatmeal with some peanut butter or almond butter. And then after that, any water that we take in in the morning will be an electrolyte supplement, SustainElite, also by EndurElite.
SR: What about post-race?
MB: We're not very good at it. But what we're supposed to do is take our amino acids to replenish some of the aminos that we burned during the race. And then we're supposed to have a multivitamin and some kind of quick carbohydrates. Usually, we have a smoothie.
NM: Sometimes we drink some of the drinks that they have at the finish line. We usually plan to go eat out and we're pretty lenient on what we decide to eat. Maybe we can find a cool restaurant or go and eat with friends. That's the one time we maybe enjoy a little indulgent food that's outside of our norm.
MB: Typically we burn up to anywhere from 2000 to 3000 calories in a race. You have to replenish all those calories and there's no way to do it eating super clean. Usually, we'll do a burger and beer after the race because it takes away some of the soreness.
SR: What does your recovery protocol look like?
MB: We'll do a systems check in the morning. We see where our muscles are and how much mobility we have and if we're able to run. And if we're not able to do those mobility exercises or any of the routines, then we scale back or modify the workout and do non-impact or something like that. After we're done running, typically we'll do a quick static stretching routine. Before we go to bed, we do a 15- to 25-minute stretching routine. And that's every day. It's helped me a lot—my knee was really bad at the start of the season, but now it's actually pretty much healed up.
NM: We also do foam rolling and use a tennis ball or lacrosse balls for trigger point release.
MB: I actually had a really good ART (active release techniques) therapist, Dr Ron Higuera, that worked with me ever since I was in college. He taught me how to take care of myself and I brought that into my own programming.
On the Mental Game
SR: What do you do to mentally prepare for a race or intense training session?
MB: What I like to do is I like to picture myself running and then going into each of the obstacles in the sequence that the obstacles are given to us on the course map. That gives me an idea of how I'm going to perform the obstacle and how I'm going to execute. It gets me more relaxed, kind of saying, ‘Okay. I've already done the race in my head. All I have to do is do it in real life now.’ It's very powerful in being able to simulate the same exact experience.
SR: What inspires you?
MB: I love being a student of the sport. I love being able to help other people as well. I do online coaching for people and I do programming for them. Everything that I'm learning on a weekly basis, it just makes me hungry to learn more and to gain more knowledge into the sport too. That's what keeps me hungry at this. And I always say the one thing I want to do, before it's all said and done and I'm not competitive anymore, is to run a perfect race (run all out the whole time and do every obstacle at 100% efficiency with no flaw in my game). That's what drives me.
NM: I’m inspired by this sport, and at 35 years old, I'm inspired that there's something to get better at. I'm excited that I have something in front of me that I know I could be better at. And I feel like there's nothing in my way except hard work. Something else that drives me is that I want to be my strongest ever. I want to be my fittest and my fastest ever. And be someone my kids look up to.
SR: How would you say Spartan Racing carried over into your other parts of your life?
NM: Our kids love it. They love obstacles. So now instead of just being runners we have hung rings from a tree at the park and hung crazy obstacles and jumped around like monkeys with our kids.
I think travel is incredible. My son who's just turned seven has been on an airplane 55 times, has been to 25 states and I think 10 or 11 countries. And a lot of it was traveling to races with us. They ask us ‘Where are we going next mom, dad?’ The kids at the school ask our kids what their mom and dad do and how come we're so ripped. Our kids feel special because they're like, ‘Oh yeah, we have the obstacle course parents.’ It's unique. It's something that they're proud of. Both of my sons have low vision. My oldest son is legally blind and they're probably not gonna be doing the typical sports that other kids play, like basketball and baseball and soccer. There's a lot of barriers for them in those sports, but because obstacle course racing is still running and even though there are physical barriers in front of him, [our son] knows how to navigate them because he's familiar with all of them. So he's really the rad kid who does obstacle course racing. And I'm really glad that we brought that into his life.
MB: It brings another dynamic to our lives and closeness with my kids.
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