When I first started training for marathons, I assumed I could eat whatever I wanted. I was logging more miles and completing longer runs (I had never run more than 7 miles before) and therefore needed more calories. In my mind, calories equaled calories. And so, despite training for and completing my first marathon, I put on weight and actually felt unhealthier than when I first began.
I knew a couple of runners who logged some seriously high mileage and ran speedy marathons and they were two of the healthiest eaters I knew. I couldn’t understand why. It seemed like an oxymoron—what was the need to eat healthy when you were burning hundreds of calories (or more) a day with running?
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that it clicked for me. For years, I had been running to eat. And these competitive runners were eating to run. It was a big shift in my thinking and the way I viewed food.
These days, I am much more conscious about what I am putting into my body. Everything (almost, everything) has a purpose and ultimately whatever I eat should help fuel me for my next run. I have found that as the mileage and intensity pick up, my diet matters more and more. While a 2- or 3-mile run the morning after a night of fried food might feel OK, a 20-miler or 6 x mile repeats on that diet would be a different story.
I typically eat 4-5 small meals a day consisting of lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, quinoa, good fats (oils, nuts), a fresh juice and occasionally some chicken and beef (2-3 times/week). I do not count calories, carbs, fat, etc.—but instead focus on eating things that make me feel good, both during my run and throughout the day. My family and I do not eat out often because I much prefer to cook a meal so that I know exactly what ingredients are being put in. I also try to do a lot of meal planning and food prep on the weekends to ensure that easy, healthy options are available for the week when things get hectic.
I run first thing in the morning (often out the door by 5 a.m.), so my normal pre-run routine is a few sips of coffee to wake me up. Immediately post-run, I drink a glass of water mixed with Vega Team Recovery Accelerator, followed by a small snack high in protein (a smoothie with peanut butter and half an avocado) within 30-45 minutes.
But while I aim to eat healthy most of the time, I allow myself a little freedom each day to enjoy things that I love—cookies, chocolate and wine—because I’m a big believer in being able to enjoy the benefits of my hard work each morning.
For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit 26Strong.com.