I mentioned earlier this summer that I would be working with nutritionist Michelle Pellizzon to help me feel and perform my best while training for the New York City Marathon. Michelle, who is also an ultra marathoner, has been guiding me through a phased nutrition approach that matches my training schedule and has offered to share some of her secrets with all of you. Keep reading for Michelle’s story and tips for setting yourself up for success in the kitchen.
Marathon Nutrition 101 – Quality Base Phase, by Michelle Pellizzon
By the time I finally decided I was going to run a marathon, I had come to terms with the fact that I’d gain weight and the entire training portion would be miserable.
Obviously, I was dead wrong, but stay with me here.
See, I’d never been a runner. And I’d only experienced the marathon distance by talking with friends and family members who’d trained for a race. From the sidelines, I noticed their bodies change. Calf muscles became increasingly more defined as their races got closer. But it didn’t seem to me—despite the fact that a lot of these runners were putting in 50 to 80 miles a week—that much else was happening.
Even my dear old dad, a middle-aged Italian man who you can tell really loves pasta, ran three marathons at age 50 but didn’t lose a pound. In fact, some of my friends gained weight because they felt famished all the time thanks to their heavy running schedules…and ate accordingly.
Plus, training for a marathon sounded like one of the levels of Dante’s inferno, except with shin splints and chapped nipples instead of evil demons. It honestly didn’t seem worth the trouble.
A few years went by where I didn’t even think about marathons or endurance sports. But after I went to school for nutrition and really learned the scientific effect of food on our bodies, I started studying up on how nutrition affects athletic performance. Around that time, I finally got the balls to sign up for a marathon.
I’ll save you from the long-winded version of this story and skip to the ending: After doing a ton of research on nutrition for endurance athletes, I then experimented on myself. And it worked! In a span of 10 months, I ran three Boston-qualifying marathons and a 50k—which was huge, because I had never jogged further than 5 miles before this past year.
Best of all, I felt really good (no marathon training torture stories here!) and didn’t feel famished all the time. I owe it all to nailing my nutrition during the weeks leading up to my races.
Since then, I’ve been helping athletes reach their goals and feel amazing by dialing in their nutrition. It doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming, and you can totally come up with a marathon nutrition plan on your own. The first place to start? Your training schedule.
When I work with clients, I always ask to see their schedule laid out. Every plan is a little different, but you should be able to break yours up into specific sections. Usually, it looks a bit like this:
Quality Base Phase – This is where you slowly start adding more miles to your running routine.
Hills / Strength Phase – You’ll build muscle and power by running repeats and upping mileage.
Speed Phase – Your mileage is high, and you’re working on intervals (OK, I’ll agree these are a little torturous) in order to increase your speed.
Progression and Taper Phase – Always comes at the end. You’ve already done the hard work and your body has adapted as much as it possibly can for your race—there isn’t much more benefit you can get from training once you’re 5 weeks away from racing. This phase is for confidence, and for getting to race weight (if you’re into that sort of thing).
Based on the workouts that are scheduled each week in your training plan, you should be able to tell which phase you’re in.
Here’s the fun part—each phase has a different nutritional focus. We want our food to work for us, not against us. And it’s possible to ease inflammation, quicken recovery, increase power, and improve our endurance by making small changes to our diets.
As Evann and I work together to make her NYC Marathon training the most enjoyable yet, we’ll unpack the nutritional components for each section.
Today, let’s start at the beginning with the Quality Base Phase.
Darling runners, whether you’re brand spankin’ new or old hat at this, getting back into a regular running routine can be painful. Inflammation and soreness start to build up as we increase mileage and get used to being on our legs. And a little inflammation is OK, but chronic inflammation is no bueno. Not only does it affect your health in the long run, but it’ll slow your recovery and inhibit your speed. So, we’ll start by eliminating the worst offenders: excess sugar and low-quality dairy.
During your Base Phase, try to cut back as much as possible on added sugar. When we eat sugary products—white bread included—our bodies produce inflammation. That’s definitely not helping you, and even though it will be hard at first, I promise you’ll feel so much better! Start by nixing the most egregious culprits (candy, processed flour products, and sugary coffee drinks) and then slowly eliminating the foods that just aren’t serving you.
Then take a look at your dairy intake. Nearly 80 percent of the population has some sort of dairy intolerance—so even if you don’t realize it, your “healthy” Greek-style yogurt might cause an inflammatory reaction in your digestive system. Whenever possible, eat full-fat, grass-fed dairy. Studies show that milk and meat from grass-fed cows are higher in B Vitamins and other essential nutrients. And fat isn’t a bad thing, especially if you’re getting it from all-natural sources. Unfortunately, the dairy industry relies on hormones, antibiotics, and suspicious grain to increase production—even if you don’t have a problem eating dairy, all of these factors can negatively impact your health.
Becoming more aware of these foods and making smarter choices will lower overall inflammation—and that will help you feel better and get more benefit from your workouts.
Next time we’ll tackle long run nutrition and really get into the nitty gritty of the Strength and Speed Phases. In the meantime, leave your questions below, or come find me on Instagram!
All images via Michelle Pellizzon