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Analyzing a Marathon Runner's Week of Eating - 52 Weeks to Mont Tremblant - Week 24

Food can mean different things to different people. For a marathon runner it means fuel, recovery, and a little bit of freedom. SENS Fitness Endurance Team member Todd Stevens is training for the New Jersey Marathon in April. It’ll be his first marathon. He’s given himself the goal of finishing in under four hours. Todd is set to begin his ninth week of training for the 26.2 mile run. We’re looking at a few days of nutrition to see if there are areas to improve. I swiped this idea from Triathlete Magazine, which profiled an elite triathlete’s nutrition in a similar fashion.

Athlete stats

Name: Todd Stevens

Age: 37

Weight: 165 lbs

Monday

Workout: REST DAY

Breakfast: Protein shake with frozen berries, peanut butter, chia seeds, and spinach

Coach’s take: This is an ideal breakfast on a rest day. Quality protein and fats with limited carbs. Replenishing the carbohydrates lost during a workout isn’t necessary here.

Lunch: 3 oz. grilled chicken, arugula, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and a vinaigrette.

Coach’s take: All whole food sources, which is great! My only suggestion would be to increase the protein portion here. an extra ounce or two of chicken would have been ideal.

Dinner: Chicken and sausage paella

Coach’s take: Here are the carbs! A nice even mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrate. With an intense run coming up the following morning, it’s worth getting some carbohydrate in the night before. This was about 55g of carbs, which is, in my opinion, right where it needs to be to see the benefit in tomorrow’s workout. Any more, say 75g and up might be difficult to digest in a meal such as this.

Snacks: Protein shake, fruit, veggies, greek yogurt, and nuts.

Coach’s take: All quality, minimally processed options here!

Tuesday

Workout: 55:00 run as 5:00 Zone 1, 35:00 Zone 2, 15:00 Zone 3

Breakfast: Larabar, Cauliflower breakfast bowl

Coach’s take: Carbohydrate intake is essential post-workout. Increasing the carbs a bit (36g from breakfast) would be my suggestion. Doubling it to around 70g would help shuttle protein to the muscles and boost recovery. The 20-25g of protein is a good amount here. A suggestion could be to reduce the fat intake from the cauliflower bowl and replace it with a simple carbohydrate.

Lunch: Chicken and vegetable soup with a side salad

Coach’s take: I like this a lot! A great mix of protein and carbs. Some nuts or seeds (walnuts, cashews, pumpkin or sunflower seeds) would have been even better.

Dinner: Shrimp, tomatoes, and rice

Coach’s take: A solid dinner. Again, the carb intake in the evening is in the sweet spot with another quality source of protein.

Snacks: Muffins, greek yogurt, raspberries, granola.

Coach’s take: I’m not a huge fan of muffins or granola. I don’t believe they provide the same bang for your nutritional buck as say, fruit does. I would have swapped them for some some fresh fruit. Having said that, these muffins have zero sugar, are made with nut flower and bananas. They’re clearly more nutritious than the muffins from your local baker.

Wednesday

Workout: 40:00 run as 5:00 Zone 1, 30:00 Zone 2, 5:00 Zone 1

Breakfast: Cauliflower breakfast bowl, Larabar, Protein shake with peanut butter, and guacamole.

Coach’s take: First, kudos for thinking outside the box and getting some healthy fats in with a tablespoon of guac! I would have liked to see a bit more carbs here, but a case can be made that given the low intensity run that a huge amount of carbs isn’t necessary. Overall a solid spread of protein, fats, and carbs!

Lunch: Hamburger and fries.

Coach’s take: Based on the food log, the portions were in check here so I don’t have a problem with this. The beef was very lean and potatoes are a vegetable, right? In all seriousness, a lean beef burger with a small side of fries is just fine. This meal has been demonized more times than not, but not today.

Dinner: Pork chops and cabbage

Coach’s take: A great low carb dinner is fantastic here. Getting the protein and fat with the pork chop is just right. The day’s carbs were taken in at lunch so no need to pile on here.

Snacks: Air-Fried chicken wings, muffins, granola, greek yogurt, raspberries.

Coach’s take: Again, I’ll echo what I said earlier about the granola and muffins. Everything else for snacks is perfect.

Thursday

Workout: Hill repeats as 5:00 Zone 1, 5:00 Zone 2, 12x (0:30 Zone 5 uphill/1:30 Zone 1), 5:00 Zone 1

Breakfast: Cauliflower breakfast bowl, avocado, Larabar

Coach’s take: This is fine as it has been all week from a macro standpoint. However, I’d like to see more of a variety in food choices. That will help get a varied micronutrient profile which can aid in recovery.

Lunch: Nothing listed

Coach’s take: Todd isn’t one to skip meals and I’d never recommend it so it’s safe to assume food was consumed just not logged. As you can see from these few days, Todd is consistent. For other endurance athletes in training, if missed meals becomes a pattern it’ll be a conversation that needs to be had.

Dinner: Shrimp, tomatoes, basmati

Coach’s take: A good mix of protein and carbohydrates again. For a 400 calorie meal, this is nicely done for a dinner.

Snacks: Air-Fried chicken wings, muffins, granola, greek yogurt, raspberries.

Coach’s take: Same as before with breakfast, I’d like to see a varied approach to snacks. These are all quality, which is a positive, but the different vitamins and nutrients from other foods is essential.

Overall, Todd is eating a large amount of minimally processed foods, which are going to improve recovery and performance. Processed foods and simple sugars like cookies, crackers, cereals, and chips for example provide little in the way of nutritional value. Todd’s ahead of the curve in his whole food consistency. I would like to see more of a variety in the food choices. As I mentioned, that’ll allow for more vitamins and minerals to avoid a deficiency down the line. Knowing Todd, he’s a superior meal prepper so the repeat meals and snacks is understandable.

He averaged roughly 1,900 calories per day over this stretch while maintaining his weight. Endurance athletes often think they have free reign to eat whatever in any quantity because they’ll, “just burn it off.” While it’s true that endurance athletes burn more calories than most, it’s also a huge misconception that they can get away with eating poor foods in large amounts. The flip side is also true for those who do end up losing significant amount of weight while training for an endurance event. Losing too much weight will cost you muscle and the ability to perform on race day. Todd has struck a nice balance here!

If you’ve been following along for my workouts, here they are.

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Upcoming week:

Swim: 4,800 yards

Bike: 3:30

Run: 4:00

Strength: 15

Total: ~9:15