This is a special blog post today and specific to a really amazing and important event coming up THIS week!
This Friday, Pale Horse CrossFit, here in Charleston is hosting a 24-hour event, where we are completing 24 hero workouts in total, a different at the top of each hour for 24 total hours. If you’re not familiar with CrossFit, we’ve got a type of workout called “hero WODs”. WOD stands for “workout of the day”. The hero WODs honor fallen troops or servicemembers who had been in the CrossFit community. You’ve likely heard of the Murph Challenge that is completed every Memorial Day (1 mile run, 100 pull ups, 200 push ups, 300 air squats, followed by another mile run). Murph is a CrossFit hero WOD that honors Lt. Michael Murphy. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of hero WODs at this point honoring fallen military personnel or first responders who lost their lives in the line of duty. They’re known for being pretty brutal...always a tough workout, both physically and mentally. In these workouts, people tend to complete them at a higher level of intensity, because of the meaning of the workout itself, which is the fact that someone lost their lives and we are honoring their commitment to our country by putting ourselves through 10-60 minutes of pain and suffering, knowing it doesn’t come close to what they or their loved ones had to endure, but still honoring who they were and what they sacrificed.
We decided to host this event to honor these fallen individuals even more, to another level by completing 24 of them over 24 total hours. The proceeds raised will be donated to Stop Soldier Suicide.
Now, you know me...and you know that I can’t pass up an opportunity to learn and then educate on what I learn.
Today’s blog post is a guide to approaching this 24-hour event. I’m sharing everything you need to know if you plan on attending and completing a few, some, or all 24 hours of this event. If you’re not completing the event, don’t worry!! This can completely be applied to other situations. Yes, it’s 24 hours, but it also shows you a little bit how you would go about structuring your nutrition around a competition (something pretty common in the CrossFit space) or preparing for a race...basically it can be applied to any sort of performance based event. It also will maybe even give you an insight into what happens if you pull an all-nighter and go for 24+ hours without sleeping...as you’ll see, being awake for 24 hours burns a lot of calories.
I’ve structured it into a couple important categories...your nutrition leading up to the event, during, and after, along with sleep & training adjustments and lastly hydration!! I’ll first breakdown how you would need to structure all of these for 24-hr participants, then will break it down for participants joining us for only a few hours. All of these are going to be crucial to not only making it through all 24 hours of this event, but also performing well and avoiding injury and fatigue... Enjoy!
NUTRITION WEEK OF
Before we get into the nuts and bolts on macros and meal timing, let’s real quick put it into perspective how much energy you’re going to be expending over 24 hours of training.
The math is somewhat complicated, so if you would like to see a breakdown of it, just shoot me an email at email@example.com and I’ll break it down for you.
Looking at the event, we’re going to average 30 minutes per workout, so you’re looking at 12 hours of training and 12 hours of “rest”...which is significantly more than your typical 1-2hr training day. Below is a table with the expected calorie expenditure for various weights for both a normal day and during this 24-hour event.
As you can see, regardless of your weight, you’re going to need a TON of energy and calories to keep yourself going and looking at that chart, you might be a bit overwhelmed at how you’re going to get nearly 3x your maintenance intake in one day without puking. We all learned from Michael that you can’t just grab your fettuccine alfredo 5 minutes before and expect to feel 100%. Well, only if you want to puke! So, let’s dive into how to actually prepare your nutrition to avoid just that.
The biggest struggle with this event is going to be the frequent training during the event (on the hour for 24 total hours) and the minimal time availability for solid food and meals and the amount of calories you need to stay recharged and fresh. Even for a relatively overweight or heavier individual, ~6000 calories is a lot...and that’s pretty much the minimum amount of calories needed for this event. When we are in situations like this where time and volume are a concern, we focus 75% of our attention solely on fueling up BEFORE the event even starts.
The week of is all about FUEL...
So, essentially lots of carbs.
Carb-loading is best done over the course of a few days. It takes 24-48 hours for carbs to get converted and fully stored as glycogen, so you’re best to take the entire course of this week to carb-load up. It also helps in cases like these where you’re going to need a ton of extra calories. What I recommend doing is taking ~300-500 calories from the expected amount from the 24-hour event and moving them to the days leading up to the event. You still want to leave yourself sufficient calories for the day of the event, how much of which will be detailed in the following section.
As you can see here, you’ve just reduced the number calories you need to eat on Saturday by 1600 calories.
If you track macros, then you should make most of these caloric increases via carbohydrates. 300 calories from carbs would be 300/4 = 75g extra carbs/day Tuesday through Thursday and an extra 175g of carbs on Friday. This may seem like a lot but 1-2 cups of pasta or a big bowl of oatmeal with some fruit would satisfy those amounts Tuesday through Thursday and double that amount come Friday.
If you don’t track macros or calories, then simply just make those additions I just mentioned above...all you really need to be doing is adding 1-2 handfuls of starchy carbs and maybe some extra fruit today through Thursday and 2-4 on Friday before the event.
A quick note on the scale and these calories. You’re going to be eating a TON of food, which will lead to some water retention and subsequent *weight* gain on the scale. If this brings you stress, simply stay off the scale. This will come down after the event. It’s more crucial now to have fuel than to be as light as possible!! Secondly, these numbers are simply calculations, so don’t put too much emphasis or stress on them. Don’t worry about going into MFP and slamming in 10,000 calories and making yourself sick. This was more meant to put into perspective how much fuel you’re going to need come Friday/Saturday and how to prepare yourself as best you can.
If you’re not doing 24-hours, then use the following chart to calculate how many extra calories you’ll be expending each hour you’re participating.
If you’re going to do 3 or fewer workouts, I wouldn’t worry about carb-loading the days before except maybe 50-75g extra carbs on Thursday or Friday before the event and leave the rest of the calories to be consumed as your recovery during the event. If you’re doing more than 3 workouts or plan to be in attendance for all 24 hours (just not training for all of them), then I’d carb load 100-200 calories in the days leading up to the event.
NUTRITION DAY OF
This is divided into two parts: pre-event on Friday and during the actual event during the 24 hours.
On Friday, it’s important to get majority of your veggies and intake earlier in the day, as veggies and food quality will likely not be the priority during the event. The event will be starting at 6pm, which means on Friday, you should aim for roughly 3 meals leading up to the event: breakfast, lunch and a pre-workout meal. Breakfast and lunch is where most of your veggies and fats will lie. Aim to get a full meal of protein and veggies and a good 1-2 handfuls of carbohydrates at each meal. Good sources of carbs here are bagels, protein pancakes, oatmeal + fruit, etc. They are relatively carb-dense without requiring a ton of volume. The pre-workout meal should be comprised mostly of carbs and lean protein to prepare you for the event and should be consumed 1-2 hours before the first event (around 4pm)
NOW, the biggest issue is that liquid post-workout shakes are the best means of recovery...but you can’t rely on liquid-fuel for 24 total hours.
Each hour you’re going to need to recover. I recommend alternating between solid foods and liquids each hour, also keeping in mind the workouts that are coming up next. Aim to have 30-50g carbs and protein 0-15 min post-workout to shut down that cortisol response and get fuel in for the next workout.
Some other considerations to keep in mind:
If the workout takes close to the hour, rely on liquids post-liquid
If the upcoming workout is cardio-dominant, rely on liquids
If the workout takes ~15 minutes, likely best to strive for solid foods
If the upcoming workout is a heavier, strength-dominant workout, solid foods are a better option
The post-workout liquid option needs to include whey protein (or other form of protein – EAAs, BCAAs, etc.) and a carb source as a non-negotiable in every shake. The carb source could include cyclic dextrin (my recommendation), dextrose, Gatorade powder, or even some oats thrown in there. Another alternative is a protein shake with a banana for example if you don’t have access to liquid carbs. A last option includes recovery gels, gummies, etc. These are perfectly fine to include...however, if you’ve NEVER tried them before, I would consider holding off. These can sometimes lead to significant GI issues and manyyyyyy trips to the bathroom. If you’ve used them, then by all means go for it. I’d aim for 20-30g servings (usually 1-2 gummies and 1 gel). Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water when trying gels.
The food options are a bit more extensive. You can rely on prepped meals with lean protein (chicken, turkey, deli meat) and starchy carbs (potatoes, rice, pasta) or more “snack” quick on the go options (fruit bars, fruit, jerky, rice cakes, fig bars, meal replacement bars, etc.). My recommendation is a little bit of everything, alternating every few hours as to increase variety and not get bored and to get as many nutrients as possible.
Not doing 24 hours? The same rules apply. Get a post-workout shake and/or meal immediately following your workout! If you’re doing a couple workouts spread apart, then have the standard post-workout shake/liquid, potentially a meal if >3 hours apart, and a pre-workout snack/bar or a quarter of your post-workout shake 15-20 minutes before your next workout.
SAME DAY RECOVERY
After the event, get a goooooood hearty meal consisting of a protein, veggie, and carb source. This doesn’t have to be a perfect “quality” meal. I strongly suggest rewarding yourself for completing 24 long, grueling hours. This could mean a nice burger or even some pizza...as long as you’ve got some protein, carbs, and veggies, you’ve earned that meal and deserve every savoring bite!
1-2 hours before bed, get another 30-50g of carbs, as a minimum to further bring down that cortisol response and help you sleep and tap into a much needed recovery mode.
Should you drink alcohol?? The elusive question. YES, alcohol does cause muscle breakdown...but so does working out for 24 hours!! If you’re in the mood for a post-workout beer, then GO FOR IT! I would limit to no more than 3 as you’re pretty depleted and likely have a much lower tolerance level and we also don’t want to be messing up your sleep too much.
I also recommend waiting until at least 8pm to get to sleep. If you’ve ever done a 24-hr event, going to bed immediately at 6pm may mean you wake up wired at 5am...so try and wait a little closer to a normal bedtime as to not mess up your normal sleep routine.
DAYS 2-5 RECOVERY
Go by feel. I’d take those 2-5 days with at least 50-75g extra carbs. Minimize processed food and increase or even double the amounts of fruits and veggies over those days to fully recover. Once you feel >90%, then you can resume normal intake and get back to some normalcy. It’s okay to feel a little wonky for a few days. The last time I did a 24-hr event was in college, and it took me close to a week to fully recover.
Minimize training (at least by scaling down intensity and volume) until you feel FULLY RECOVERED. Don’t hit the gym again on Monday ready to PR your Grace time or hit a max snatch. By this point, you’ve built up massive amounts of recovery debt and need to pay off that debt before going back to the gym full-throttle.