To become an elite Ninja Warrior, you need a few things to succeed: consistent training, an amazing work ethic and a ninja-worthy diet. That’s right, fueling your body for competitive success is just as important as killer abs. Ninja athletes who are involved in high-frequency training, especially as they train for ninja competitions, require an increase in nutritional intake, with the right type of nutrition, for optimal success.
We wanted to find out what that was, so we reached out to athletes, trainers, and nutritionists to get their suggestions for helping ninjas in advance of competitions.
Note: Huge thank you to Lorin Ball, Rainer Jundt, Suzanne Himka and Erin Johnson for contributing to this article. Learn more about our contributors at the end of this post.
Nutrition Advice for Ninjas
Every BODY is Different
Of course, every person is different and at a different phase in their ninja journey. The key here is to learn what works best for YOUR body because there are no strict guidelines for peak performance since everyone is completely unique. What works for one person may not work for another person.
Learn to listen to your body. Dial in how it responds to different “fuel” during training, before and after a competition. The pros say this…
“Everyone is different and everyone is starting out at different times.” says pro ninja Lorin Ball. “If you’re only a week out from comp date I wouldn’t advise making any big changes to your body or you could really throw yourself off focus, these things take time and it’s really, really, hard to create new habits/routines.”
Elite athlete trainer, Erin Johnson offers this advice, “the best way to know what works for you is to try and few different things and measure the results. If you are looking for a place to start, I would suggest to first address your hydration. And that does not mean the day of the competition. Hydration should start two or three days before you want to perform at your best. The easiest way to make sure you are drinking enough is to carry a water bottle with you at all times. Drink water instead of soda or juice during meals and throughout the day. But stop about 90 minutes before bedtime so you aren’t up all night using the bathroom! This way you come into your comp hydrated and ready to go.”
General Nutrition Guidelines
In addition to keeping yourself hydrated, the pros we chatted with offered up these tips.
Registered Dietitian and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Suzanne Himka shared these sugar facts:
“Most people don’t understand that foods that contain simple sugars such as cereals, granola bars, etc. often contain sugars that lower the immune system. What’s shocking is that just ONE teaspoon of sugar (4g under the carbohydrates section under “sugars”) will lower a child’s immune system for one hour. Therefore one can of soda which has 30 to 44 g of sugar is the equivalent of a child consuming 11 teaspoons of sugar which lowers a child’s immune system for the entire day. Just imagine a child consuming 11 packets of sugar all at once. Seems unreal, but kids do this every day with an average consumption of 2- 5 cans of soda a day for the average teenager.”
Lorin Ball says he likes to drop weight before a major competition.
“It’s the fastest way to make climbing and upper body obstacles easier. “For me” the fastest way to do that is to significantly cut down on the amount of salt intake and sugar.”
All sugar is not evil, however. Sugar found naturally in fruits contain many of the nutrients needed to fight off illness, which we all know is really important before a major competition!
Load up on “Good Fats”
The Nature Ninja, Rainer Jundt suggests loading up on “good fats” while you train, and otherwise.
“Good fat is very important in training and recovery in general, but leading up to a competition, I like to have plenty of it in my diet because it is a much more efficient fuel for our bodies to burn. Because fats tend to burn more efficiently than carbohydrates it’s like ‘putting a log on a fire, it burns slow and hot’, a much more sustainable source for athletes who need the stamina to compete.”
Rainer recommends MCT coconut oil by a company called BulletProof (not sponsored). He says,
“MCT’s are an amazing fat derived usually from coconuts. MCTor medium-chain triglyceride is a short branch triglyceride that your body can easily digest. This is a type of fat that burns faster in the body, but unlike glucose fuels your cells and brain much more efficiently. I like to have this in my diet in the week leading up to comp because I feel it primes my body with more of these healthy ketones (fats) to use on competition day when I will need them the most. I usually put MCT oil in my smoothies or coffee in the morning. On competition day I like to do a smoothie an hour or so before my runs with MCT oil to give me some fast-acting energy. I usually have honey on me as well to take a spoonful of right before my run to give me an instant boost.”
Add Collagen to Your Diet
Collagen is a hot trend in health foods and for good reason, supplementing your diet with more collagen is associated with a number of health benefits and very few known risks. In addition to increasing muscle mass, preventing bone loss and relieving joint pain, supplements may improve skin health by reducing wrinkles and dryness.
Essentially, collagen is a major building block to all of our cells. As we age, our bodies stop producing collagen, however getting a healthy amount in our diets is amazing for all cellular regeneration, tendon, ligament, bone, muscle, and skin.
“Bone broths are usually where we get a lot of the collagen that exists in our diets from,” says Rainer, “and I love making good bone broths as well.”
He goes on to suggest that Oxtail bone broth is a favorite.
Training for a Ninja Competition – Months Before the Event
Lorin Ball offers this workout advice in prepping for a competition:
- simulate what you think might resemble the type of courses you are going to be competing on then double down on the number of times you complete those courses.
- surround yourself with people who are better than you or at least training buddies who will push you to do 10 extra reps when you want nothing more then to rest.
Ideally, come game day your upcoming comp should feel 10x easier than all of the work you did in your training.
In addition to training harder, you’ll also want to find the balance of staying well-rested. Suzanne Himka says, “having a strong healthy immunes system will keep the ninja’s body ready to practice and compete at maximum strength!”
Training for a Ninja Competition – Weeks Before the Event
Rainer Jundt recommends clearing your system from naturally occurring free radicals as much as possible. Ninja obstacles put bodies under stress with elevated heart rates, and a strong current of blood that can dump stored toxins and free radicals in the body. He says, “Once these are in the blood it can fatigue us and make us feel sick, so it’s good to try and clean yourself out a bit.”
Here’s Rainer’s suggestion:
First thing in the morning drink a couple of teaspoons of Apple Cider Vinegar in a glass of water. This is a great way to jumpstart your metabolism early, feed your gut bacteria and promote good gut health, and also flushes out your kidneys and clears any harmful waste that can collect from training and eating. It’s important to drink a couple more glasses of water after you have drunk your ACV to help it process well through your system.
Training for a Ninja Competition – A Week to a Day Before the Event
The week leading up to an event it is recommended to train lightly by focusing on cardio, stretching and balance exercises. The last thing you want to do is damage your muscles!
Rainer also likes to get plenty of phytonutrient-rich greens the week leading up to a comp, as well, to give him plenty of vitamins, minerals and enzymes the body needs to perform.
Rainer says, “Pound for pound, nothing packs quite as much nutrients as some of the dark leafy vegetables like Swiss Chard and Collard Greens. They can be hard to eat, but my trick is either getting them into my smoothies, or blanching them, which is just simmering them in a little water for five minutes with a lid on your pan. Add some salt and pepper and mix them in with your eggs and they can be very delicious. I’ll also add avocado to get some good fats to fuel my day.”
Suzanne Himka suggests drinking lots of fluid as its hard to drink a lot on the day of the actual competition. Hydration affects grip strength so anyone who is not fully hydrated will have a disadvantage over the athlete who is fully hydrated.
She reminds us that oftentimes a win comes down to seconds and in some cases hundredth of second and being properly hydrated can make a real difference! She goes on to say that performance drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade are laden with chemicals, food colors and sugar and highly recommends skipping those in favor of fruit-infused water or Vitamin Water (not the Zero kind, though).
Training for a Ninja Competition – The Day of the Event
Here are Suzanne Himka’s suggestions for nutrition on the day of a competition.
”The day of the competition, most people are experiencing nerves so it is recommended to eat about four hours before competing to allow everything to pass through, and to avoid an upset stomach prior to your runs.”
Suzanne recommends snacking on things like:
- saltine crackers
- bagel with butter or nut butter
- sunflower seeds or small amounts of trail mix
- Cliff bar
- Cheese stick
- Fresh fruit
Foods to Avoid
- Sugary drinks (any soft drink, Gatorade, powerade, Red Bull, Monster)
- Donuts, pastries, sugary candy,
- Caffeine of any kind due to its effect on dehydration and the brain
Erin Johnson adds, “In addition, remember before your competition that you need to be fueling your body with the best balance of foods: Carbs, protein and healthy fats. Make sure you are eating enough and that the choices you make are good ones. Stay away from refined and processed foods, instead focusing on whole grains, veggies, fruits, and lean proteins”
Or, you can be like Brian Arnold …. His nutrition involves “taking in a lot of calories and then burning as many calories as possible!”
If you want to be in peak performance for your next competition, listen to what the pros say and take care of your body. You’ll be glad you did when you’re hitting the buzzer over and over again!
Thanks again to Lorin Ball, Rainer Jundt, Suzanne Himka and Erin Johnson for contributing to this article. Brian Arnold, too! 😉
Lorin Ball is a 10x American Ninja Warrior competitor, Gym Owner of Ninja Brand Parkour, Photographer at lorinballerphotography.com and Wolfpack Pro Team Member.
Rainer Jundt is a certified Health Coach (HC) through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, (IIN) New York. He is also a Personal Trainer (PT), Functional Movement Coach (CED), and Ninja/Calisthenic Pro Athlete! Getting to grow up in the rugged beauty of the Colorado Rocky Mountains allowed him to witness first hand how nature is our greatest teacher. Nature isn’t something beyond our walls or something that’s just outside…we are nature! Rain traces these patterns, between the ecosystems and elements of our planet to help bring a more holistic awareness of our ancestry as human beings and the parallels living all around us – attributing him the name in the fitness community, Nature Ninja. As a Health & Movement Coach, Rain preaches that food is medicine and movement is a currency that unites everyone! Through bio-individual awareness, food education and an exploration into the roots of human motion, he seeks to help others align with their higher goals.
Suzanne Himka, RD, CSCS is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist. She is a tester for American Ninja Warrior and has won the Ninja Wolfpack Tour Amateur Female and the Colorado Ninja Challenge as well as Colorado Ninja League Female Masters Champion. She was a college gymnast and has competed and won on the TV Show, “American Gladiators” as well as won Obstacle Course Racing World Championships. She has a passion for ninja, fitness and nutrition and currently is a PE and Science teacher in Colorado Springs and does motivational speaking and nutrition seminars. Follow her at www.suzannehimka.com.
Erin Johnson is a certified Endurance Coach who coaches Ultra Distance Mountain Bike racers and Ultra Runners through her company, Pinnacle Performance Training. Erin’s 10-year old daughter is a competitive ninja athlete and was invited to compete on American Ninja Warrior Junior, Season 1.
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