Marks Daily Apple
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14 Jun

How to Fuel Ultra-Distances: The World’s Toughest Mudder

A couple weeks ago, I received an enthusiastic email from a group of Aussies. They were planning on competing in the World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM), a perversely-warped, extreme version of the regular Tough Mudder that has contestants complete as many 8-10 mile circuits as they can in a single 24-hour period. To get the spot in the WTM, their four-man team had to place in the top 5% of finishers in the Melbourne Tough Mudder, so they aren’t physical slouches by any means. They’re also Crossfitters, rugby players, and avid Primal eaters. Simply put, these guys make us real proud.

They weren’t writing just to say “hi,” however. They also needed Primal fueling advice, especially since the guy who won last year’s WTM ate anything but Primally. For a single, one-time, all-out event, I’d actually say that making concessions with your diet are fine, but these guys weren’t having it. They wanted to stay Primal for the duration and avoid all the sugary gels and extruded pasta in a vacuum bag (yes, people are really eating this).

Did I already say they make us proud?

Well, is such a thing even possible? And if so, how would you go about doing it?

Let’s read the relevant portion of their email before we begin:

Hi Mark,

On the 31st of March 2012, myself and a team of mates competed in Australasia’s first ever Tough Mudder race on Phillip Island in Melbourne, Australia. Tough Mudder is a 20km obstacle course race designed by British Special Forces which tests endurance, strength, mental commitment and teamwork and is one of around 30 events held annually across the globe.

Out of the 26,000 entrants in the Melbourne event, my team and I managed to finish in the top 5% of all finishers and subsequently have been selected to go to the world championships in Englishtown, New Jersey, USA. The world championships puts the world’s most hardcore Mudders through a grueling 24-hour challenge designed to find the toughest team on the planet. When the mud settles on November 18th, 2012, a select few winners will have bested 500,000 others worldwide for the right to call themselves the World’s Toughest Mudders.

Like any good team about to undergo a huge challenge we have been researching the event and preparing mentally and physically. As Primal eaters we are obviously interested in diet. Last week we found the winning athletes’ diet (Junyong Pak) from 2011 below is his advice and Race Diet plan (I think this much sugar could kill all 4 of us!)

‘In addition to Powerbar gels, I decided to supplement with canned fruit in heavy syrup, pasta, PB&J, protein drink, gatorade, honey, eggs, and bananas. I forgot to eat the honey, and did not make eggs or bring bananas but ate everything else. The canned fruit (peach chunks, halved pears) was a huge winner. I packaged these into vacuum seal bags such that each bag contained half a can of fruit, or 175 calories. These were robust bags that did not break, relatively compact, and also supplied some of my water intake. I could bite off a corner of the bag without taking my gloves off and bite the fruit out like a gel. I packaged the pasta in similar fashion with much success.’

Mark, as you can see, I think if we did this we would all be in a sugar coma and never wake up. Can you help us come up with something Primal to fuel us through the race?

4 Man Team:
James Laird: 28 yrs, 6’2″, 95kg
Scott Laird: 25 yrs, 6’1″, 80kg
James Stiles: 28 yrs, 6’2″, 88kg
Marc Burbrough: 25 yrs, 6’4″, 92kg

Thank you and regards,


Here’s a video of the guys in action to give you an idea of what they’re up against:

It’s gonna be like that, only crazier, and performed multiple times across the day.

First of all, hats off to them. If I had to do another ultra endurance event sometime in my life, the World’s Toughest Mudder would probably be high on my list. It looks like good, clean (well, dirty, actually) fun. It may be fun that takes a week to recover from, but fun nonetheless.

Second, the WTM is not just an ultra-endurance event. With some 24 obstacles ranging from sprints up steep muddy hills to climbing towers and vaulting over walls to swimming through ice-water (and plenty of as-yet unannounced obstacles), you’re not just going to chill out in the oxidative energy pathway, burning fat for energy. The bulk of your energy can – and will, if you take the necessary steps – come from fat, but defeating most of those obstacles (over and over again across 24 hours) will also require intermittent forays into the ATP-PC and anaerobic pathway. Your nutrition, then, has to take both aspects of the race into account.

A month or two before the race:

Become a fat-burning beast.

This may not be a stretch for you bunch, seeing as how you’re already following a Primal eating plan. If you are fat-adapted, stay adapted. If you aren’t, get fat-adapted. Being a fat-burning beast will help you efficiently burn all that body fat for energy (and even the lean among us have enough body fat to provide energy for a 24 hour ultra distance event) and hold off on burning glycogen until you really need it. Doubleplusgood. If you aren’t already adapted, I would recommend limiting your daily carb intake to around 60-70 grams in the months leading up to the race. This will train your body to rely on fat for energy while sparing glucose.

Titrate down your Crossfit metcons.

I know, I know – if you’re like most CrossFitters, you get off on the metcon intensity, and you owe a lot of your physical prowess to training that way. But those metcons burn through glycogen like crazy, and if you continue to follow the 3 on, 1 off (or even 2 on, 1 off) workout schedule without upping the carbs, you’re going to burn yourselves out. Keep the metcons to once, maybe twice a week, shorten them up considerably (5-10 minutes instead of 20-30 minutes), and up the intensity while reducing the volume. Make sure to do some simple, basic, low-rep, low-volume, high-intensity, low-stress strength work instead.

A couple days before the race:

Fill those glycogen stores.

But Mark… didn’t you just say to go low-carb to maximize our bodies’ fat-burning and glucose-sparing potential? What gives? Simple. Two days of (healthy Primally sourced) carb loading to the tune of 350 grams or so per day will top off your glycogen stores. Since you’ll be getting your carbs from whole food sources like sweet potatoes, potatoes, squash, fruit of all kinds, and, if you swing that way, rice, you may have to eat what seems like a large amount of food. It’s not, not really. People act like it’s impossible to eat carbs while eating Primal, and I don’t get it. Just reach for the tubers and fruit.

Take it easy.

Don’t CrossFit, don’t lift, don’t do much of anything that will sap your stored energy and exhaust your muscles. Go for a walk, work on mobility, do some yoga, or do nothing at all. Enjoy your (brief) time off!

Race day:

Eat a light breakfast.

Couple strips of bacon, a couple eggs, some fruit, and strong coffee. This will give you a bit of something in your stomach without weighing you down, and the coffee will liberate some fatty acids for use during the event (not that you need help with that).

Eat some medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).

Why MCTs? They can’t be stored, meaning they must be utilized for energy. MCTs also increase the production of ketones. These are good things, since fat is going to be your ticket through this race. In most cases, I’d tell you to get your MCTs from a whole food source, like coconut oil. Not today. Today, I want you to take three tablespoons of pure, unadulterated MCT oil. If the thought of that appalls you, try frothing it up in your coffee.

Drink some salty broth.

Broth, especially homemade broth dosed with plenty of sea salt, provides easily-assimilable electrolytes like sodium, calcium, and magnesium. You’re going to be excreting a lot of sodium, so add 2-4 grams of sodium. Not salt, but sodium. Hey, didn’t I say to drink salty broth? For reference, sea salt is about 1.8 grams sodium per teaspoon, while table salt is about 2.3 grams sodium per teaspoon.

During the race:

Keep a fat source at hand.

MCT oil, nut butter, and coconut oil are squeezable and fat-rich. Maybe toss in some hard-boiled eggs for protein and fat.

Keep a slow-digesting carb source at hand.

Peter Attia, the endurance athlete who’s been training in a ketotic state for months now, recommends Superstarch, a non-GMO cornstarch that provides steady, even glucose. Best of all, Superstarch doesn’t spike insulin, especially when compared to maltodextrin, so you can take it during a race without impacting your ability to burn fat.

If you can’t get your hands on Superstarch, plain cornstarch (not maltodextrin, which is absorbed too quickly and results in too large an insulin spike) will work tolerably well.

Keep an energy drink on hand.

I recommend the molasses/honey/coconut water hybrid mentioned in this post. Consider mixing in more sea salt for sodium, too, as you’ll be excreting tons of that.

That’s what I’ve got. The key to doing this thing in a low-carb state, of course, is that you are completely fat-adapted. Becoming a fat-adapted fat-burning beast will make you or break you. Choose wisely, my friends, and be sure to let us know how you do! Grok on!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Excellent article!! One additional question to follow up the recommendations… How would the “recovery” phase be?

    Daniel wrote on June 15th, 2012
  2. How about putting whey protein in your race energy drink? In endurance events your body also burns amino acids for fuel. Adding some protein may mitigate muscle loss.

    mikeinmadrid wrote on June 15th, 2012
  3. I’ve done Tough Mudder twice now. The first time in Englishtown NJ (11/2011) and it wasn’t that bad, with the exception of the wicked cold swim across the lake. That my friends was not very fun.

    From one crossfitter to another, good luck!

    Karen wrote on June 15th, 2012
    • Cheers Karen! The temperature is definately something we are factoring into our training, NJ Winter’s look brutal.

      Marc B wrote on June 15th, 2012
  4. I’ve signed up for something called the Dirty Dash, being held close to where I live in Idaho. It’s 5 miles with obstacles, but much more laid back than the tough mudders. I think it’ll challenge me though and provide some fun teamwork and competition. I’m 48 yrs. old today and this is the first time in twenty years when I even considered doing something like this. Thanks to Primal and the community for changing and improving my life. Good luck tough mudders, I’ll be thinking of you when I’m scrambling through my own race.

    Teresa wrote on June 15th, 2012
  5. I can’t recommend the UCAN Superstarch enough. The stuff is awesome and no taste when mixed with cold water. The stuff rocks and lasts for hours. I’ve been carb restricted for 8 months (less than 50 a day for the most part other than a few cheat days here and there) and just finished a half marathon with hills in San Diego. Never felt better before and after, no carbs, superstarch at the start and ran 5 minutes fast than last year with the same training. There is no need for a lot of carbs for distance events. Matter of fact every event I did this year so far I have PR’s in from previous years and I’m 47…

    Tom A wrote on June 15th, 2012
  6. I would like a little advice on which Superstarch product to buy. I am running a 24 hour race on soft sand at the beach. Should I order the plain powder, the flavored drink mix, or the superstarch with protein powder?

    annierobic wrote on June 16th, 2012
  7. I volunteer for the Greased Lightning challenge. That looked like a lot of fun. Otherwise, the first Berlin Wall would have been the end of me.

    Sophia wrote on June 16th, 2012
  8. Something else for good Aussie lads to think about is to make sure you have a good kit of cold weather gear/clothes. I ran the very first Tough Mudder in Englishtown, NJ (not the Toughest version, just the regular 12 mile course, once). If I remember correctly, air temperature that day was about 44F and the water obstacles were about 36F. To say it was “bitter” would have been an understatement. One of my team, a small man with very little bodyfat, had to be ambulanced off the course due to hypothermia. I heard there were so many hypo cases that day, the directors shut down the water obstacles. So, get yourselves properly suited up and also get a lesson on how to manage your swimming/breathing in severely cold water. If I’d not had a lesson by a former French Navy SEAL, I might have panicked when I hit the water the first time.

    Probably the only time my 32% bodyfat was an advantage! 😀

    LadyAdmin wrote on June 17th, 2012
    • Thanks for all your help, Yeah we are well aware of the temperatures at last year’s WTM. By the looks of last year’s results, almost half the competitors failed to complete 1 lap and I’d say the majority of that would be attributed to the cold. Luckily for me, where i’m training at the moment (Rotorua, New Zealand)is hitting similar temperatures which has made for good practice.

      Marc B wrote on June 18th, 2012
  9. Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi

    You go guys…..from a Melbourne girl!

    Hilary M wrote on June 18th, 2012
    • Thanks Hilary, You Rock!

      Marc B wrote on June 18th, 2012
  10. Erwan Le Corre should run this.

    Tom E. wrote on June 22nd, 2012
  11. I did the Tough Mudder in Oct of last year at that course and qualified for WTM but decided it was too cold for round 2! Man, on my race day it was 43 degrees F out and that ice bath and all those water obstacles were tough (and lots of mental grit). I ran it with Paleo and Crossfit training also and couldn’t have been happier with my result. Hats off to you guys! Hope you killed it.

    Joy wrote on July 3rd, 2012
  12. I just got notified that I also qualified for the WTM in November.. Been reading lots about ultras lately (finding ultra, born to run, eat & run). Thanks for your advice. I’m pretty excited about the news.

    Russ_b wrote on July 19th, 2012
  13. I was SO excited to read this article just now! My girlfriend is trying to talk me in to doing the Tough Mudder event in our area. Thankfully its not the 24 hour version but it both scares the bejesus out of me as well as pumps me up! Thank you SO much for this info! I’m working on becoming fat-adapted right now. You are awesome Mark! Always full of such great educational info that keeps me motivated!!!!!

    Tammi wrote on August 18th, 2012
  14. Looks like the race is Nov 17-18. I hope to see an update article with some interviews of this gang afterwards.

    Mark wrote on September 12th, 2012
  15. Can anyone un-confuse me? In his 12/7/11 article “How To Fuel A Marathon,” Mark recommends 150 gm of carbs daily during training. For ultra training, above, he only recommends 60-70 grams daily. Why the difference?

    drmrforman wrote on May 26th, 2013
    • I think the issue is to become fully fat-adapted well in advance of the race. Ultras require less sustained anaerobic work than marathons, and so the training ought to be more in the oxidative pathway.

      nadavegan wrote on June 8th, 2013
  16. I did the tough murder in black diamond/Seattle last year. I had a huge breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, potato wedges, and black coffee. I had the breakfast around 07:00. My event started at 14:00 and I was done by 17:00. You wait at different obstacles and bottle necks. Ran the entire 12 miles. I never lacked for energy or GI troubles. Had a beer at the finish. No hunger. I had a small dinner of meat and veggies. An amazing day. Clean eating really works.

    mark wrote on June 10th, 2013
  17. Hi there, would potato starch be a suitable replacement for superstarch? Not sure if we get that here in South Africa. Thanks your work! ;D

    neets wrote on September 20th, 2014

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