When I’m around runners, there’s always one topic that is sure to come up: food. It doesn’t matter whether I’m racing, running just to run, talking about running, or simply hanging out with a group of runners, food is always on the brain (or ahem, in the mouth).
On my weekly early morning trail runs, we often discuss what we’re going to have for breakfast (and sometimes even lunch), and joke that cashew milk lattes are our sole motivation for waking up and running. When I’m racing, almost without fail, I find that runners are eager to talk about their race day diets, or will wax poetic about what they’re going to eat (errr, inhale) at the finish line. In fact, at Ragnar Trail Los Coyotes, I think I waxed poetic to our whole Sweat Pink team about a big, melty, cheesy quesadilla waiting for me at the finish line. And probably tacos. And also likely ice cream. And perhaps even wine.
Given the fact that I’m talking about melty, cheesy quesadillas (and wine!) at the finish line, it’s probably clear that when I say race day diets, I’m not talking about following the keto diet, practicing paleo, going gluten-free, or attempting to be vegan. Instead, I’m talking simply about what runners are eating while they’re racing and what they’re eating to recover. And the reality is, it really varies from runner to runner (don’t believe me, check out this post on what the world’s greatest runners are eating for breakfast – hint hint, it’s not all rabbit food).
People are constantly asking me what I eat while I’m racing, what I eat while training, and what I eat day to day, and more often than not their questions are posed as assumptions about my diet. Oh you must eat really healthy?!? You probably don’t eat things like that…(usually in reference to candy, ice cream, pizza…). And usually their assumptions are a bit off.
So in honor of tomorrow’s WIAW with Great Lakes Gelatin and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I’m going to clear the air and let you all in on my big secret of how I stay fueled for racing, running, and life (I know you’re all on the edge of your seats), and I’m going to give you a snapshot of what some of my favorite runners are eating, starting with my Ragnar Trail Los Coyotes Sweat Pink teammates and ending with the Fit Approach team.
Ragnar Trail Los Coyotes – Sweat Pink Team:
Race day eats: Generally my race day eats consist of simple carbohydrates, fats and protein. I look for foods that are easy to digest (aka no cruciferous veggies!), easy to eat, and also enjoyable. If I’m going into an ultra or relay race, my go to race day foods generally include toast and nut butter, bananas, snickerdoodles (the softer and chewier, the better), gummy bears, pretzels, and sticky rice balls filled with whatever I’m in the mood for. If I’m going to be racing at night, I also drink coffee, and / or coca-cola, and will usually find some kind of instant soup or ramen for the heat and of course, the salt. Give me all the salt.
Training eats: Since I am basically always training (aka I don’t have a training plan and am never disciplined enough to start one), I generally try to eat a pretty balanced diet at all times. I don’t diet. I don’t obsess over what I’m eating. I don’t restrict foods. And I enjoy food. My mornings usually consist of coffee and one of the following: a smoothie (generally cold brew coffee based), yogurt bowl with granola, fruit, chia seeds, and a heap of nut butter, or if I’m feeling fancy toast with egg and avocado is always a good way to start the day. For lunch, I’ll often eat whatever is leftover from dinner or some kind of roasted veggie goodness with greens, cheese, and whatever else I can find in my fridge. Dinner is often something like veggie tacos or burrito bowls, pita pizzas with hummus (one of our go to weekday meals), and all the spaghetti squash. And dessert is usually chocolate. Or sometimes ice cream. Maybe even yogurt and fruit. Whatever, it is, I usually find a reason for dessert. Just something small and sweet. So healthy?… Maybe. I don’t eat things like that…Maybe not.
Race day eats. It’s really dependent on what distance I’m going but I typically start off with either oatmeal or a granola bar, i.e. cliff bar or 1/2 a Lenny & Larry’s cookie. During the race I almost exclusively drink carbo pro mixed with either Skratch or gnarly for my electrolyte. I will eat the occasional potato, avocado & orange slice during an ultra with vegan broth in the later hours. I don’t normally eat a ton of food while racing but do like to get vegan pizza or vegan burgers post race.
At Ragnar though I ate a ton of pizza, 3 pizzas one before my first run & second run & one after my last run. If I’m running straight through I don’t eat like that at all. Lol
Training eats. Sean & I follow a vegan diet & we eat out a lot. Breakfast is normally oatmeal, with flax & hemp seeds mixed with blueberries. I drink one cup of coffee a day & during the summer we drink lots of smoothies. Lots of water. Lunch is normally bean & rice burritos, açaí bowls or veggie burgers with roasted potatoes. Dinner varies depending on if we are home or not. We eat out a lot in the summer because it’s so hot in the house. When we are home for a decent amount of time, I do cook, but lately that’s been few & far between. I go through phases where I want all the desserts but really don’t eat a ton of dessert but we do get freezes from Pressed Juicery at least once a week. My downfall is French fries, I love them!
Race day eats: Depending on the distance or race I usually use a gel or liquid calories. I work to be consistent to maintain fuel and hydration throughout a race. For longer races I like to have three options of fuel sources, so gel, liquid and maybe soft cookies to eat. This prevents me from getting tired of eating the same thing. Also, it’s always nice to have a cold coca-cola at an aid station during a hot day. I take salt throughout a race. It helps me late in races.
Training eats: I work to stay balance and eat consistently throughout the day. The biggest thing that I have done is to have fuel within 20 minutes of finishing a workouts. Nothing specific simply getting calories in as been my emphasis.
Race day eats. I generally eat pretty light on race day (post-race night is another story!). Depending on the distance, in the morning I’ll have a banana or a bagel, or a muffin if I’m traveling and could find a vegan one. And coffee. Lots of coffee. During longer races, like marathons, my stomach can be a little touchy, so during the race I will just have gels, plus I’ll carry a carb drink that has some calories. In a relay race, I’ll snack on trail mix or fruit, but just try to time it so that I have a couple hours before my next run. After the race I’m usually not hungry for several hours. I’ll try to eat some of the post-race offerings like bananas or bagels, but only because I need the fuel. Later on, I’m looking for pizza or French fries, my post-race treat choices.
Training eats. Honestly, I don’t put extra thought into my training diet compared to what I would normally eat. That’s probably because I’m always training in one way or another. Even if I don’t have an event coming up, I’m still running and staying active. I do follow a plant-based diet, so there is a little extra care involved when planning meals. I generally start off the day with a banana before my run, especially if I’m planning on running more than a few miles. Afterwards, I’ll have breakfast, either something like oatmeal with all the nuts and fruit, yogurt with granola, or, my treat meal, eggy tofu with rye toast (I didn’t become a vegan because I didn’t like eggs!). I eat frequently during the day, probably every few hours (I’m always hungry). I’ll snack on some fruit or nuts, or sometimes I’ll make a smoothie. Lunch is a sandwich or salad, with a variety of things, but always including avocado. Dinner might be pasta with vegan chicken, spaghetti squash with marinara sauce, or just about anything that includes potatoes, a quick soup or stew (and other vegetables too!). I have dessert a few days a week, usually vegan ice cream (there are so many choices these days). I will usually have a glass of wine with dinner, even on nights before a race (gasp!).
Race Day Eats: The night before I like to indulge in a carb heavy dinner whether it’s pasta, pizza or both with a beer or two. The morning of the race I take my granola to a ridiculous level and add as many ingredients as possible that are easy to digest and give me a wide range of nutritional energy set in a base of goat yogurt. We’re talking an oil free – low sugar organic granola that’s baked with seeds, nuts and cranberries. Then I layer on: HANAH ONE daily superfood, peanut butter, sprouted almonds, flax seeds, turmeric, red pepper, ashwagandha, maca root powder, cinnamon, salt, hemp hearts, one whole banana and frozen blueberries & raspberries. Paired with this “Gwyneth Paltrow” (Jamie’s suggested name) granola collage I’ll brew up a pour over coffee and have at least half a bar of 90% dark chocolate (no added sugar please). After devouring this breakfast harmony (hopefully this has happened at least an hour before racing) I’ll grab a few more snacks like a Larabar, RxBar or Chocolate Snackaroons while I’m waiting for the race to start.
Training Eats: Training is living and living is training so my intake doesn’t really change day to day to be race ready. In general I stick to organic whole foods that have no added sugar and try to limit my meat consumption. My mornings are similar to the race day “Gwyneth Paltrow” granola just as a smaller portion with no snacks or coffee afterwards. I’ll add more red pepper if I’m feeling unusually tired in the morning or brew up some green tea and shave some fresh ginger into it. Then comes my favorite meal time: fancy toasted lunch. I enjoy experimenting with new flavor combinations and keep a few staples in the line up: eggs, toast and cream cheese. At this point it’s a wild guess what ends up on the toast but recently I’ve been adding micro greens, sweet n’ hot peppers, avocado, hash browns and dust the top with salt, pepper and paprika. At this point I’m ready for coffee or an espresso to send me flying into the second half of the day. Because of all the incredible food options where I live (Portland, OR) I tend to go out for dinner which falls into five categories: tacos, paleo bowls, Thai/Indian, sushi or a simple meat and veggie dish (salmon, root veggies and a green). I try to avoid the famous Salt n’ Straw ice cream shop by my house and opt for 90% dark chocolate for dessert.
Sweat Pink Team:
Race day eats: Race day mornings are usually a hurried affair for me. Sometimes it involves getting ready at a camp site or rushing from a hotel if I’m traveling. So I tend towards quick and easy like English muffins with peanut butter and a banana. And of course coffee. After racing, I’m usually craving either pizza or a burger and fries.