What An Elite Runner Eats in a Day: How Tina Muir Fuels her Workouts
This week’s blogpost on Airia is rather unusual. I interviewed Tina Muir, elite runner and Community Manager at Runners Connect. She loves burgers and ran a full marathon in 2:37. Let’s skip the small talk and go straight to the questions I prepared for her. In the following material you’ll gain insight into elite running nutrition.
This interview contains the following ‘main chapters’ on nutrition, so feel free to read the parts you are most interested in:
• Who is Tina Muir?
• Elite Nutrition versus Average Nutrition
• Typical Training Day
• Pre-workout/Race Day
• Race Day
• How can an average runner eat more like an elite runner?
Who is Tina Muir?
Here is something random about me. One of my actual bucket list goals is to eat Chinese out of one of those take out boxes with chopsticks.
Or were you talking about my running?
Hello! My name is Tina Muir, and I am an elite runner sponsored by Saucony. I began running when I was 14, and being originally from the UK, I loved true cross country courses (the muddier the better), and I realized I was actually pretty good at it. I came over to the US on a full ride scholarship and ended up as an 11-time All-American athlete at Ferris State in Michigan. I then completed my MBA at La Salle University while being an assistant coach. Now I am pursuing some big running goals while working as the Runners Connect Community Manager and Run to the Top Podcast host.
I recently ran in the World Half Marathon Championships and the European Championships for Great Britain, which has been a lifelong dream of mine, and I ran a 4-minute PR in the marathon to run a 2:37.
Nutrition Basics: What simple rules do you follow when it comes to nutrition?
I like to eat the rainbow with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every day, except on the days before and day of a race. On those days it is best to eat white or pale foods, as they will not upset the stomach.
I also like to eat a lot of proteins and fats, which is not the typical runner diet, but I really find it helps with recovery and I have a lot of energy, even during intense training periods.
Elite Nutrition versus Average Nutrition
What is the main difference between elite nutrition and average nutrition?
I wouldn’t say there is as much of a difference as people think. Most people think elites either eat everything they can lay their hands on, from fried foods to raw eggs, because we can eat as much as we want as we burn so many calories in training, OR they think that we only eat salads and vegetables, and that a donut is a once a year occurrence after we have won a big race.
In reality, we sit somewhere in the middle. I try to make sure that I am putting foods into my body that are going to help with recovery and give me the fuel I need to perform. This includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, fats, meat, fish, eggs and coconut. All those things we hear about over and over as part of a healthy diet. But I also have a dessert every single night. I am not talking about three strawberries, but a real dessert. Bare minimum would be a handful of M&Ms, but usually ice cream or a cookie. I believe life is for living, and I don’t want to go through my life restricting…especially as most of us know what happens when we ban a certain food…we end up wanting it more.
When it comes to timing, I would just say elites think a little further in advance. We make sure we have the food to eat before, about the amount of time we know it takes to digest, and we have practiced to make sure it works for us. After, we have something to refuel ready and waiting to get the recovery process going.
Do you have a graph with your nutrition information?
I am afraid I do not. I don’t count calories or track it. If you want to read more about what I eat in a typical day, I wrote about it here.
What is the most common mistake runners do when trying to emulate elites?
Assume that they need to run fast to get fast. I do a lot of my easy runs significantly slower than people realize (around three minutes per mile slower). Most runners think elites run fast every day, but in reality, most runs are so slow you are barely breathing.
Are there such things as superfoods?
I do not think superfoods as such, but there are runner foods that it would benefit every runner to try and incorporate as often as they can; beets, sweet potatoes, tart cherry juice and salmon to name a few. They are fantastic at assisting with recovery.
Any tips for the right meal size?
I don’t have a specific meal size as a salad is a lot bigger than some fried chicken and fries, and may have a lot less calories, but I would say to try to get the bulk of your meal to be vegetables, with a large portion of meat or protein, and then limit the processed food as much as possible.
What do you think of vegetarian/vegan lifestyles? Many elites seem to love ‘green’, but most average people believe you can’t ‘run on plants’.
I think you definitely can. In fact, I headed towards the plant-based lifestyle and was getting everything I needed while doing so. There are so many grains and beans/legumes that can make sure you get everything you need, you just have to plan a little better. That being said, I mentioned this in past tense. I did go that way for a while, but now I am back to having animal products most days. I think for my body to be healthy as a woman, I needed to add more animal protein to my diet. I have felt better since I made this move, so for now I am sticking to it.
That being said, I still eat a LOT of vegetables and fruit in a day. I make sure that I get plenty with every meal, so I think it is very important to still include as many greens as possible.
Do you use supplements?
I do. I take an EnduroPacks Multivitamin, Body Health Perfect Amino, and a Ferrous Gluconate iron tablet every day.
Typical Training Day
What should a pre-run meal look like?
It depends on what run I have that day. If it is an easy run, it could be anything, as my stomach handles most things pretty well. As it is the summertime, I am running early in the morning, so do not need much. Usually it would be some roasted parsnips and a spoonful of coconut manna about 30 minutes to one hour before.
On a hard run day, three hours before, I will have a sweet potato with almond butter. I have a coffee about two hours before.
What about a post-run recovery drink?
I love Generation UCan for my recovery drink, but actually when it comes to post-run, I try to have a full meal right away. My favorite post run meal is some kind of leftover meat with this recovery bowl.
What do you eat for breakfast in a typical training day?
A dense, thick smoothie bowl or a four-egg omelette with smoked salmon. High in protein and fats to get the recovery process started.
WOW, 4 eggs. Lunch?
Depends on the day, I love to have either the recovery bowl I mentioned above or a collection of roasted vegetables with some meat or fish and some Nuttzo Nut butter.
My husband and I love leftovers, so often it is a random mix of whatever we have left. Here are some meal ideas for what we like to have.
I also ALWAYS have a dessert of some kind. I have a big sweet tooth, and I do not believe in restricting as life’s for living, so dessert always features as part of my dinner.
Water? Electrolytes? How much water should a runner drink?
It is difficult to give an exact amount, and I tend to just go by thirst. If I am thirsty, then I know I need more water. If it is a humid day, I will typically try to get a little extra even if I am not thirsty. I keep an eye on the color of my pee (sorry, too much information here!). If it is dark, that is a sign it is time to drink up.
When it comes to electrolytes, I cannot recommend this EnduroPacks Electrolyte spray enough (use code tinamuir for 15% off). It is so easy to just spray in any drink. It has no calories, and nothing else in there, just pure electrolytes.
How many times do you eat in a typical training day?
I am sorry, I am saying this a lot, but depends on the day. Usually I would say I eat four to five times a day; the three meals plus some decent snacks, but some days I find I just can’t stop grazing, so I would say it is a lot more!
What types of carbs do you eat? Does it matter?
The less processed the better! I try to have a lot of starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash and carrots for fueling up without feeling sluggish. I do eat some of the more traditional carbs, but I try to limit those as much as possible.
How do you get just the right amount of food – not too much, not too little?
Well, I am probably not the best person to ask for this. I know what the answer is, but I am not so good at following it.
The answer is follow your hunger. Eat till you are satisfied and stop then. Listen to the signals your body is telling you.
But that being said, I love to eat, so sometimes I do eat when I am not hungry just because I want to eat. I can get away with it a little more than most people because of the amount of miles I run, but I am working on this.
I find that eating more protein and fat with every meal helps with this as it keeps you full for longer, and I find I crave less foods than when I used to have cereal for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch. I found I was hungry every few hours, whereas now I can go three to five hours without eating…a big improvement.
Are there any tricks to avoid gastrointestinal problems the next day?
I have found that the more you add vegetables and fruits to your diet, the more your body adjusts. I find I can even eat a salad the night before a big workout and not have it upset my stomach because it is used to it. So my best advice would be to practice. Eat the same foods regularly, and give your body time to adjust to new ones before adding them to a meal before a hard run. Experiment and find what works for you.
Best foods you would recommend for the pre-workout day?
My night-before meal is a baked potato with some kind of fish or chicken. Stay away from the fibrous vegetables as much as possible (unless you are used to it and know it works for you), and stick to white or pale foods.
I also think sweet potatoes are a great idea…but if you eat them before your workout like I do…you may get sick of them.
What are some golden rules to follow when planning race day nutrition?
Practice. That is the number one rule. If your race is a few months away, practice what you are going to eat the day before and the day-of plenty of times before the race day. This means eating exactly as you intend to do on race day (timing as well) in all your hard workouts and longer runs. This will help your body get used to it and know what is coming.
I would also say to trust YOUR body. If something works for a friend, and they tell you it is the best pre-race meal ever, but you find it just doesn’t seem to sit right, don’t eat it just for the sake of it. Find what works for you, and stick with it. Every body is different.
What should you eat for breakfast?
I don’t think there is a particular meal that will work for everyone (see above). I think it is all about experimenting with your body on hard workout days to see what you find works the best.
If you are asking for me in particular, I have a sweet potato with almond butter and a banana three hours before the race.
What should you eat during the race?
If it is a marathon, I like to have three Powerbar gels at miles 7, 14, and 21, and water every three miles. I also take my EnduroPacks spray at miles 11 and 17.
Once again though, this is about finding what works for you. I have friends who swear by Clif Bar Shots, but for me, they just do not feel right. I like the consistency of the Powerbar gels better. Try different ones, and see what you like best…but again, practice it months in advance, so your body is well used to whatever one you choose on race day.
How do you avoid “bonking”?
First, be sure that it is actually bonking you are experiencing. This is a fantastic article to understand the difference between Bonking, Cramping, and Fatigue that I would recommend every runner take a read of.
I have experienced all three of these, and they are all miserable in their own way, and yes, all since being an elite runner. Read my latest race recap about the European Championships Half Marathon if you do not believe me that we struggle in races, too!
Bonking is due to running out of fuel, so my best advice would be to make sure you fuel up correctly before and during the race. Cramping can be due to a lack of electrolytes (in which case I recommend that EnduroPacks spray again!) OR your muscles being worked too hard, in which case I would consider going slower earlier or making some changes to your training plan. This free marathon training schedule and guide will help a lot with how to plan it out. Most of us know what fatigue is, but again, that guide should help.
Lunch? Dinner? I’m sure you have lost some calories.
Just a few. I believe that post-race food is for celebration. You have worked so hard in your training and in the race that you deserve to enjoy what you like. My favorite post-race meal is either a burger and fries or pancakes. I also make sure to have some kind of sickly dessert, just like this freakshake I had after the London Marathon.
How can an average runner eat more like an elite runner?
Don’t think so hard about it. It is pretty simple in the end. Try to limit the processed foods as much as you can, and eat as many whole, real foods as possible. I love to food prep on the weekends, so I have plenty of healthy options to choose from. Try to keep adding in good foods as much as you can, and it will crowd out the bad. But, do not restrict, don’t see it as you are giving something up or not allowing yourself to have something. That way you will want it more (trust me I know), and that will mean you are more likely to binge in a moment of weakness. We only have one life, so try to find that balance. I Know it is hard!
Here is a day in the life of what I eat.