Ever wonder how elite athletes eat and train before a key race? I certainly do. Over the past few months, I’ve gotten to know Tina Muir through our Meatless Monday linkups and she’s agreed to answer a few marathon nutrition and training questions before she heads out to take on The Chicago Marathon this weekend.
Can you give us a little background about you?
I am 26 y.o. born in England, but I have been in the states since 2007 living in Aliso Viejo (CA), Big Rapids (MI), Philadelphia (PA), and now Lexington, (KY). I run for the Saucony Hurricanes team, and I have PRs of 16:08 (5k), 33:24 (10k) and 1:14 (Half Marathon). In 2012 I finished 3rd in the Great Britain Olympic Trials in the 10k. My other passion is cooking!
How do you change your diet leading up to a goal race?
In the 6 weeks prior to a goal race, I try to make sure getting the right fuel is a priority. This means eating the foods that will help my body recover, and stay healthy. Rather than obsessing over what I shouldn’t be eating, I make sure I fill my body with what is good for it. This tends to crowd out most of the bad stuff, but I still enjoy my sweet treat every day. You work hard, so you earn some of the foods you love! I also use this time to try out all my race day foods, so my body is used to digesting it when it comes to the race.
Do you keep track of calories, protein or carbs?
I do not keep track of specific numbers, but I definitely make sure that I increase my protein intake during the 2 months before the race. This helps lessen recovery time from the intense workouts. I am pretty good at getting in enough carbs, so that has never been a concern for me!
Do you “carb load” and if so, what does that mean for you?
I do carb load, but not in the structured way a lot of people do. I just significantly increase the % of my diet that comes from carbohydrates. In the week before the race, I almost completely cut out fibrous food, and reduce my protein intake. During this time I would say that 80% of my food intake comes from complex carbohydrates such as breads, grains, pasta, rice.
You mentioned you had some nutritional issues last time you ran a marathon-What do you plan to do differently this time?
Yes, in Philadelphia I did not consume enough carbohydrates or water during the race to sustain my effort levels. Combined with an overdose of caffeine, my body shut down. At Chicago, I will be taking on a carbohydrate drink every 5k, and I have changed my pre race meal to oatmeal and a banana to fuel with lots of slow burning carbohydrates.
What liquids do you normally consume or avoid? Caffeine?
I am not a coffee drinker, but I do have either a Chai or Green Tea with a little Stevia every morning when I wake up. I drink Body Armor after my runs, and drink Genucan or Skratch during long runs. I try to avoid “fizzy drinks” as we call them in England (Pop/Soda), but I do make sure to drink almond milk for calcium.
What is a typical day before a race menu?
I do not know exactly I will eat as Chicago provides a pre race dinner for the elite athletes in the host hotel, but I will stay as close as possible to the meal I have been practicing with. This is typically pasta with marinara sauce, and bread. My stomach can be very temperamental, and the last thing I want to happen is the need for a bathroom break halfway through!
Morning of race breakfast?
I will cook ¾ cup oatmeal in milk, add ½ tbsp. honey, and a banana 3 hours before the race. I will then have a second banana with an hour to go before the race.
Do you consume anything during your race?
I have tried out a variety of different fueling sources for this marathon, and my favorites were Skratch and Genucan. I will be using Genucan during the race to replenish my glycogen stores, and ensure I have enough fuel to sustain 6:00-6:20 miles. Since my last marathon I have completely stayed away from caffeine, but I know a lot of other elites who use coffee the morning of the race.
What is your go to post race meal? How do you rehydrate/refuel?
Post race fuel is very important, especially if you are going to continue training, or have other races coming up. I make sure to consume a protein bar and some kind of carbohydrates (banana, bagel) within 45 minutes of finishing the race. I will rehydrate with Body Armor and water immediately. As soon as possible, but depending on awards/interviews, I will eat a full meal. My favorite post race meal is pancakes with lots of syrup.
How long do you rest before your next run (after the race)?
After Chicago I will take two weeks completely off all exercise, and I will enjoy every second! If you work hard, and you commit yourself to your training, your body needs that time to repair itself, not just from the race, but the entire segment of training. For me, it is more mental than it is physical, but it is critical to moving forward. Your fitness will come back quicker than you think!
Do elite runners get nervous before races?
Oh yes, even if I am in a small race where I am confident I will win, I still worry about being beaten, stomach upsets, not feeling good…. all the usual things runners are concerned about. In fact, I would say I am often more nervous than most people, as I know I do not get many opportunities to prove myself, and if I do not race well consecutively, I may lose my sponsors. I try to just remind myself to have fun (as that is why we do it after all), and let the result take care of itself. That usually works for me.
Tina is currently sponsored by Saucony, Enduropacks, Body Armor, and Primal Sport Mud. This will be her second marathon. She doesn’t like to have a goal time out there for Chicago but she does plan to crush her 2:49 time (from Philadelphia).
Thanks so much for your time and answers Tina. It is always so helpful to read about what “real” runners eat and do before a key race. I hope this will be beneficial to others out there training at all distances. I will be running right there with you (virtually of course!).
What other questions do you have for Tina? Please ask them here and also visit her at TinaMuir.com for great recipes, training tips and awesome motivation.