Fuel Your Marathon Like a Pro


Photography by: Tiffany Renshaw

Elyse Kopecky, New York Times best-selling author of “Run Fast. Eat Slow.” shares her nutrition tips.

Think About Recovery as a 24/7 Job

Recovery foods are an essential aspect of getting the most out of your run and making sure you’re ready for the next one. When runners think of “recovery foods” they tend to think of the meal they eat right after training. While that first meal is important, your body is actually in recovery mode all day and especially at night, so every single meal and snack throughout the day is essential to staying healthy and strong. Leaning on packaged foods can leave you depleted of essential vitamins and minerals and cause you to feel constantly “hangry”. When marathon training it’s important to take the time to cook and eat three balanced meals per day and one or two nutrient-dense snacks.

After a long training run, it’s important to eat a nourishing meal within an hour of cooling down. My go-to recovery meal after a Sunday Long Run is a “Breakfast Power Bowl”: 2 eggs scrambled with cheese on top of leftover roasted sweet potatoes and/or brown rice with kale or spinach sautéed in olive oil, topped with sliced avocado and kimchi. This dish is loaded with easy-to-digest protein, complex carbs and healthy fats. On hot days my go-to post-run meal is a smoothie made with fruit, veggies, ginger, whole milk yogurt, coconut water, and almond butter or hemp seeds (see my favorite smoothie recipes in Run Fast. Eat Slow.).

Photography by: Tiffany Renshaw

Look After Your Stomach

Solid digestion is essential to staying healthy while marathon training. When your digestive system is compromised, your energy levels can plummet. Running causes your blood to flow away from your digestive system to your hardworking muscles. Therefore you need to avoid foods that are more difficult to digest when you’re running high mileage.

Most important is to eliminate any problem foods like dairy, processed gluten, and legumes. Start your day with a glass of warm lemon water. Incorporate easy to digest whole foods like soups, rice, sweet potatoes, chicken, and eggs. Avoid protein powders, which are very difficult to digest. Include simple salads with dinner to ensure you’re getting enough enzymes and fiber. Incorporate ginger daily in smoothies, tea and my personal favorite, Lemon Gingerade (recipe available in Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow.). When runners switch to a whole foods diet they sometimes overdo it with too many high fiber foods…broccoli is not always your friend!

Essential minerals are… Essential

High mileage depletes your body of essential minerals, which are essential to keep you training at your best. Low iron leads to anemia and fatigue. Not enough magnesium, potassium, and calcium can cause sleep disturbances. Whole foods provide the most digestible and absorbable sources of minerals.

To improve your sleep, try a light mineral-rich snack before bed. My go-to is whole milk yogurt (calcium) topped with berries (vitamin C for absorption), pumpkin seeds (magnesium), and a drizzle of blackstrap molasses (iron) or Ginger Molasses Granola.

Lucky for us so many of our favorite foods are high in minerals.

Fight Inflammation with Food

Food has incredible healing powers and luckily some of the most flavorful and satisfying foods are also amazing for fighting inflammation. Healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil help the body heal and have more anti-inflammatory superpowers than ibuprofen. Spices and herbs add tons of flavor and are extremely nutrient-dense and great for inflammation. Incorporate fresh herbs like basil, parsley, and mint into salads, add ginger and turmeric to smoothies and cook with flavorful high-quality spices like curry powder, cinnamon, and chili powder.

Shalane Flanagan’s favorite anti-inflammatory recipe while training for her NYC Marathon win was the Thai Quinoa Salad in Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow.

You can download this fan-favorite recipe here.

Photography by: Tiffany Renshaw

Don’t Fear Fat

Marathon training can leave you feeling constantly hungry, which can lead to too much snacking and possible weight gain despite all the calories you’re burning. Cravings for sweets is a sign that you’re not eating the right foods. Incorporating plenty of healthy fats into your diet is essential. Fat keeps us satiated longer and helps stave off snack attacks. Healthy fats are also important for a balanced metabolism and hormone regulation. My favorite high-fat whole foods are olive oil, grass-fed butter, virgin coconut oil, nuts, seeds, grass-fed beef, wild salmon, dark meat chicken, avocado, whole milk yogurt and aged cheeses.

Instead of counting calories, try to get back in tune with listening to your body’s hunger signals. Slow down and take the time to eat three balanced meals per day and actually chew and savor your food. Food isn’t just fuel, it’s meant to be enjoyed!

Hydrate Naturally

If you’re a heavy sweater (like myself and Shalane Flanagan!) water isn’t always the best drink to hydrate quickly because it lacks electrolytes which are necessary for absorption. Plus water can get so boring after a few gulps. The problem with store-bought sports drinks is that they’re often high in sugar or artificial sweeteners. Instead, make your own delicious hydrating concoctions at home. My go-to is Lemon Gingerade with a pinch of sea salt, which as a bonus is also amazing for digestion and inflammation. When on-the-go coconut water diluted with sparkling mineral water and a squeeze of fresh lemon is a great option.

Celebrate the Snacks

Hungry all the time?! Avoid the temptation of the office candy bowl by packing your own nourishing snacks to keep you fueled. Homemade snacks fill you up better than anything in a package. My go-to snacks are wholesome treats like Superhero Muffins, hard-boiled eggs, smoothies, veggies and hummus, banana with nut butter, aged cheeses, trail mix, yogurt with granola and berries, or roasted nuts. Check out Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow. for easy snack recipes.

Photography by: Tiffany Renshaw

So, What’s the Deal with Carb-Loading?

It’s important to top off your glycogen stores in the week leading up to toeing the starting line, not just the day before. Runners tend to overdo it by carbo-loading too much the night before. Instead, continue to eat the foods that fueled you best throughout your training and add in an extra snack each day that is high in complex carbs. Avoid high fiber foods, dairy, protein bars, processed gluten and any other foods that your body has trouble digesting. My favorite easy-to-digest carbs are bananas, sweet potatoes, rice and oatmeal. Don’t try anything new on race day! Avoid the endless energy bar samples at the race expo.

How does Shalane Flanagan fuel?

Shalane Flanagan and I have been friends for 19 years. We met on the first day of cross-country practice at UNC Chapel Hill. It’s been an honor to help her fine-tune her diet over the last 6 years to help her achieve some of her biggest accomplishments. I’ve traveled with Shalane during our book tours and we’ve shared many meals together. Here’s what a delicious day of eating looks like in the life of Shalane.

Breakfast: Oatmeal topped with nut milk, honey, berries, nuts, seeds, sea salt (see Race Day Oatmeal in RFES), coffee with cream, water or sports drink

Post-run: Can’t Beet Me Smoothie (see recipe in RFES), Superhero Muffin (Beet Blueberry in RFCFES), or homemade energy bars, coconut water or water

Lunch: Spinach and Sausage Frittata (recipe in RFCFES), baguette slice with butter, simple salad with apple cider vinaigrette

Snack: dark chocolate, salted almonds, fruit

Dinner: Steak, chicken, or salmon with roasted sweet potatoes and Thai Quinoa Salad, Runners Recovery Tea and a small sweet treat before bed

Check out a full list of Shalane’s favorite recipes.

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