LOVE HARDER , EAT BETTER & EXPLORE FURTHER
Author’s Note: Not one of us is a licensed dietician but 20+ years of training experience, one doctor and two engineering degrees we feel at least educated enough to talk about what has (and has not) worked for us…
Most often I find I am asked by other runners what I eat/drink during a run or a race - but I think its pretty important [and pretty entertaining] to understand how athletes fuel when its even more important - during training. I decided to look into this from a few interesting perspectives - highlighting lots of different diet choices - vegetarian, plant-based, omnivorous and whatever you might call how Cary Long eats.
Jackie #Wildcard Merritt - Wildcard no more - Jackie Merritt blew the southeast apart last year breaking course records and winning races across the South and most recently placing 7th at the Western States 100. She fuels on a whole foods plant-based diet (i.e. essentially healthy vegan) and has maxed out over 100 miles per week getting ready for recent efforts.
Liz Canty (me) - If Jackie is the #wildcard - I’ll take #underdog as my hashtag. Having only about 2.5 years in sneakers - I’ve enjoyed a bunch of crappy road races before finding my stride in trail/ultrarunning. Some notable performances at Southeast races, course records and my favorite - 1st Female/CR at Beaverhead Endurance 100k in Idaho this past July. Fueling vegetarian (not vegan…yet) and currently training at 70-80 miles per week getting ready for my first 100 miler.
Luke Hough (…Mr. Canty) - Seven years running competitively between road/trail and the last 5 years in the ultra trail world. Has run Zion 100, Bear 100 (which he stopped at mile 83 due to calf injury) and Rocky Raccoon 100 (23rd Male in 19:20). Only improving in speed and endurance, even though he’s getting old. Just kidding J Omnivore runner currently training for a reattempt at the Bear 100 this September and eating everything and anything I take off the stove.
Cary Long - Lover of trail running, trail working and trail-tooting. Most of the Southeast knows and loves Cary Long - especially on an East Coast Trail and Ultra Podcast - I know him as the creepy, older groomsman at my wedding… This man can do anything and eat anything he puts his mind to!
Daily Calorie Intake During Peak Months of 100 Mile Training
Liz - I definitely don’t count calories, and with increased mileage lately I have been STARVING. Lots of run-ger. If I thought about it and counted out my standard day I probably eat around 2,000 calories a day. Which sounds so silly and standard but I make sure I don’t go to bed hungry. Fun fact: I am also a “volume-eater”, I would rather eat a lot of a less-calorie dense food (read: lots of salads, fruits, veggies) than less of a more calorie-dense food.
Luke - If I counted all of my calories, I would probably be in for quite a shock. I probably pack a thousand calories in at breakfast, spread another 600-800 through the work day, and finish off with 800ish at dinner. Dinner is really where the variation happens depending on if I have a beer (or two), and how many scoops of ice cream use to deliver the chocolate syrup to my mouth. So I think I fall somewhere in the 2500-3000 range.
Cary - places the screw up my calorie intake are Sitar Indian Buffet, Hildegards German Buffet, El Omeca Mexican Buffet and 88 Chinese Buffet. Yes I have a problem. But oftentimes I try to eat a Pro-Bar for breakfast and lunch.
Jackie –Your body sees and treats 300 calories of kale very differently from 300 calories of gummy bears so your calorie count can be a pretty meaningless number. But, as an estimate, when I am running 100+ mile weeks, I am probably consuming at least 2500 calories a day. During my highest mileage and quality weeks, I often have to make concerted efforts to not drop too much weight by adding more high energy and nutrient dense foods and snacks like nut butters into my daily fueling. This is important because when your body is in a negative caloric balance (i.e. losing weight) it is much harder for your muscles and other systems to recovery from harder training efforts and high mileage.
Favorite Post-Long Run Treat
Liz - I have the unfortunate situation of being not hungry for too long after I finish a long run. My husband (and I’m sure he’ll tell you) can eat a horse as soon as he unties his trail shoes. I’m lucky if Saltines look appetizing. However, sometimes, on the rare occasion my stomach might agree a real big, cold, berry, kale and peanut butter filled smoothie is AMAZING. Our pantry (unbeknownst to Luke) is generally full of all kind of superfood goodies that I can blend up in there and sip on while I stretch out. Hemp hearts, chia seeds, ground almond & flax meal, etc. etc. Literally thinking of the one I’ll have after my run in the sun this afternoon…
Luke -Cold sweet tea. The overly sweet kind you buy at the grocery store. I try not to eat or drink a lot of sugary things in my daily diet, but post long run, I just want the sugar. After a long race, I just eat and drink anything I can get my hands on including pizza, hamburgers, hotdogs, cookies, beer, chili, ginger ale, watermelon, potato chips, and one time a breakfast sausage scramble. If it’s at a finish area, I’ve probably eaten it.
Cary - Galen's Alabama Omelet which contains sausage, cheese, with gravy and biscuits and a side of thick bacon. Yes I have a problem. I feel justified and a little depressed and lonely as the last bite of gravy and biscuit traverses my lips.
Jackie – My favorite immediate post-run snack is probably a homemade coffee smoothie or maybe some kind of lentil soup in the winter. I also LOVE coconut water after a long hot run in the south. Rehydrating after your run is actually more important to recovery than refueling so I like drinking something like coconut water that encourages me to drink more than just plain water sometimes.
Favorite Recovery Meal
Liz - As mentioned, when my stomach does finally recover - the favorite finish to a long training day for me is a veggie-filled, hot-sauce covered tofu/egg scramble. And then cover it in avocado and sriarcha - because #spicyfood. Alternatively, when I’m a little more rushed basic-white-girl avocado toast is delish, but lacking in protein unless I can fry an egg up on there.
Luke - I became interested in nutrition when I was really into weightlifting, and I still carry around that idea of recovering muscles need protein. So I like a big bowl of plain Greek yogurt with granola, honey, and some form of frozen berries. I don’t skimp on the yogurt either. It has to be at least 2% fat, and I eat like 1/3 of a pound.
Cary - Anaheim Chili Serrano pepper burger with fries covered in dog gravy and nacho cheese sauce.
Jackie – I pretty much love every meal that can be found on minimalistbaker.com. We use a lot of sweet potato, avocado, tahini, black beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts and dark leafy greens in our cooking. Daily, I add chia seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds to pretty much every meal in some form. Chia seeds are a complete protein and contain all essential amino acids that your body cannot make on its own. I eat 1.5-2 tablespoons daily added to a morning smoothie with avocado toast and/or afternoon snack. I also love pumpkin seeds, especially lightly roasted with a little olive oil and salt, and will add them to anything...lunch wraps, salads, burrito bowls, stir frys, etc. Pumpkins seeds are a great source of iron and B vitamins, which are particularly important to high level training and competing as an athlete.
Favorite Pre-Run/Pre-Race Dinner
Liz - Fortunately the night before a long run or race, my stomach is not super picky. I find I have plenty of time between eating and my race/run start in the AM that I don’t have to be too careful. Anything with a good split of carbs (from gluten and veggies) and protein works well - also some sodium always helps me, so salty food is lovely. Favorites to date have been big bowls of stir-fry or veggies tacos with beans/rice.
Luke - Lucky for me, I have an iron stomach (mostly) and the pre-run dinner doesn’t matter much. I try to avoid really fibrous foods before shorter distances like the 50k since I don’t want to increase chances of any mid-race detours to the woods. My standard pre-race dinner is pizza and beer. I like to pretend it’s carbo-loading, but really I just like pizza and beer. Plus, if I don’t eat the whole 16” pizza, there’s some left when I finish the race!
Cary - salmon with sweet potatoes. However for the past three weeks I have had Casa Blanca's Hawaiian Chicken and rice cover in queso and bacon.
Jackie – Cheeseless pizza has traditionally been my go-to pre race dinner, mostly because you can find it pretty much everywhere when you travel to a race and are not always able to make a home-cooked meal. Before Western States Jeff made these Mediterranean baked sweet potatos ( https://minimalistbaker.com/mediterranean-baked-sweet-potatoes/ ) that were delicious and also seemed to work really well for me during the race.
What works best for you pre-run (1-2 hours before a long training run)
Liz - For me its not really about what I eat, but more about when I eat it. As long as I have had my last bite of breakfast 20-30 minutes before I start, I’m generally fine. Out of habit and safety - I’ll usually either have just a granola bar for a shorter effort, or, for longer runs/races, I’ll have oatmeal with banana and peanut butter and maybe even an extra scoop of yogurt. And COFFEE. Always Coffee. Forever Coffee.
Luke - This is the critical time window for my stomach and where I most often make mistakes. I’ve found a little granola or oatmeal is most tolerable, but if I’m running 50k or longer, I’ll have a bit of yogurt with it. Whatever I eat, it needs to have time to be almost fully digested before the run/race starts, or else I’ll spend the next hour with indigestion. I would rather start with an empty stomach and start eating after 5-6 miles when my stomach is settled. Once I’m settled into a run, I can pretty much eat whatever I want without problems.
Cary - Pro Bar mostly. David Thurman has put me on to peanut butter sammiches. Definitely coffee with honey in it.
Jackie – A small cup of black coffee and a slick of avocado toast with sea salt and chia seeds (shorter race 5K – 50K) OR oatmeal with banana, honey and nut butter (longer race 50 – 100 miles)
Worst nutrition mistake ever (mid-run/race/anytime)?
Liz - So maybe we could say this was altitude-induced….or I could admit that I have some lactose-intolerance issues with dairy. The day/night before Beaverhead 100k, somehow I had ended up eating more cheese/dairy than I really intended too. Between a cheesy artichoke dip appetizer, mozzarella on a veggie sandwich and probably excess milk in coffee along the way - the first 20-30 miles of Beaverhead 100k were spent off-trail and looking for “toilet paper”…aka non-rash-inducing-leaves. All of this led to incredible chafing that lasted too long.
Luke - At one of my first 50k races, I thought I would get a performance boost from taking caffeine. When I first started running ultras, the packaged nutrition options weren’t as varied as they are now, and I relied heavily on a big tub of lime Gatorade powder from Sam’s Club. I decided it would be a great idea to dissolve a caffeine tablet (or possibly 2) in with the Gatorade in my hydration bladder. The problem is balancing dosage with the need to hydrate. The day was hot, and I drank way more than usual. I got all dizzy, and my vision was tunneled. That was the worst 50k I’ve ever ran.
Cary- Before a 10K I have a Hardee's Sausage egg and cheese biscuit. Entering mile 5 I had a brown snake playing peekaboo with my brown eye. I was choking it so hard and my face was grimacing. Rob Youngren was on the side and thought I was really into the run and gave me a shout out of encouragement. Rounded the corner to the finish line and crapped myself through the finishers chute and ran straight to the blue dolphin.
Jackie – Gels. I haven’t had a gel since 2014 and I plan to keep in that way!
Coffee? Go or no-go pre-run
Liz - GO.
Luke - Nope, nope, nope! I love coffee. I like to make coffee. I like to drink coffee. I can absolutely not have coffee any time before a run. I need probably 5 hours between drinking coffee and running, or I’ll be burping and moaning for the entire run. This is a proven fact for me at this point, but for some reason, I still try to drink coffee before runs occasionally. The outcome is always the same, Liz being grossed out by the outward signs of my discomfort.
Cary - Definitely coffee. Issue is, sometime is doesn't do its magic till around mile 6 of the race.
Jackie – Absolutely, if the run is in the morning. Just keep all that sweetener and creamy crap out of it.
So there you go - a few of your probably favorite people talking about the things that fuel their crazy lives and the things that send us into the woods immediately…
Luke Hough & Liz Canty
Liz Canty and Luke Hough. Co-habitants who like to run, race, explore and drink much too expensive beer. Read along through the awesome, the sweaty, the daily life and the occasional bickering over which running shoes are the best…