Marathon running nutrition - with Rio-bound Olympian Lisa Weightman

Lisa and her family training for Run for the Kids earlier this year. Image courtesy of  Herald-Sun article.

Lisa and her family training for Run for the Kids earlier this year. Image courtesy of Herald-Sun article.

Lisa Weightman is one of Australia's best runners - an Olympic and Commonwealth Games marathon runner.  Lisa has been training hard over recent months in preparation for the Rio 2016 Olympics, after a break following Peter's birth.  You can learn more about Lisa at

I first met Lisa when I was working at the VIS a number of years ago, when marathon training was relatively new for Lisa after much success at shorter distances.  I have loved hearing of Lisa's marathon achievements since, and her efforts to get back into training and competing at the elite level. 

I ran in the Run for the Kids this year with Lisa.  Well maybe not with her, she didn't actually know I was there, but I cheered her on as she was passing the other way towards the finish line as I was pretty much just starting (she did get a head start though as she would have had pole position while I started a little further back in the field)!

Lisa has been generous enough to take the time to share with us some of insights into nutrition and hydration for long-distance running:

What are your three top priorities when it comes to nutrition?

1. Balance.  I don't believe in fad diets or new products on the market that claim to be the fix for everything!  I believe that if we have a range of healthy food in our diet then we have a better chance of covering all the bases for great performance, recovery and general good health.

2. Chocolate isn't all bad.  A piece of chocolate or a slice of birthday cake because you are celebrating a milestone shouldn't be feared.  Keep the healthy balance going and don't sweat a small treat occasionally.

3. Don't forget to drink.  Hydrating is just as important and requires constant attention as the weather changes and your training loads and locations vary.  I don't use sports drinks on a regular basis now that I know what works for me in a marathon.  Water, some electrolytes and a good cup of tea works well for me.

How does your day-to-day nutrition vary compared to the days leading up to a marathon?

It varies a great deal.  Day to day I eat a balanced diet that is pretty consistent.  Cereal, fruit, meat, lots of green vegies.  When I move into the final week before a marathon I change the amount of protein and carbohydrates I eat that week with the final 3 days leaning to almost a full carbohydrate intake.  This is necessary to ensure the muscles have enough glycogen to get me to the finish line.

What is your favourite recovery meal and why?

Post marathon it’s always a lean meat beef burger and hand cut chunky potato chips.  I assume that is because the body has seen enough energy gels and sports drink to last a lifetime and all it wants is a big chunk of protein and to replace the salt that is missing! 

Post training recovery I love my mum's salmon pattie recipe with a big plate of seasonal vegies (recipe to be posted on Thoughts page in the near future!).  The salmon patties contain rice, so they are a good combination of protein-carb-fats and the vegies fill you up ready for a good night sleep post session.

Do you have any special strategies to stay hydrated with your large volume of training?  Different from summer to winter?

I don't always get this right as I am a busy mum, working part time and training like an elite athlete (you ARE an elite athlete Lisa!).  At times I struggle to remember to drink I must be honest.  But it doesn't take much to spring me into action if I do get it wrong as your sessions give it away pretty quickly.

I think winter is harder than summer as you don’t have the same trigger of heat to remind you to drink.  So I try to have the same big favourite glass on my desk all the time to remind me to drink.  Water bottles go everywhere with me now.  My bright "Girl that runs" bottle and my little Pete's "Paw Patrol flask"!  Pick a good bottle that you want to take with you, an accessory! That will help!

Any final tips for distance runners?

You need to have a bit of an obsessive nature to be a distance runner, but don't let that take over your common sense.  It is ok to have a treat and it is also ok to have a rest day when you need it. 

Best wishes for a great run in Rio Lisa!!  Follow Lisa on Twitter for training and Olympic preparation updates.



Best post-run breakfasts for recovery vs weight loss

What do you eat after your Sunday morning run?  I pondered this question a few weeks ago as I ran along a beachside track on the Mornington Peninsula.  An amazing mix of different people were out and about that morning, from elite runners who had their energy gels strategically placed along the route, to holiday-makers working hard on their new year's resolutions to get fit.  I thought about the different goals of the various runners and wondered what they had in mind to eat after their run. 

From walking down the main street during the days prior it was very obvious that many of the holiday makers had no hesitation in choosing the full cooked breakfast, as you might well do when you are in relaxation mode and someone else is preparing it for you.  Other runners may have been going home to a bowl of cereal, or perhaps home-made pancakes as a holiday special.  Or just a quick piece of toast before heading out to their next activity.

With so many breakfast choices, what are the best options to meet health, recovery and performance goals? 

The biggest mistake I see people make when it comes to breakfast is the bias towards carbohydrate and a relative lack of protein.  Have a quick think about typical breakfast foods - it's a carb-fest of cereal, bread, fruit, juice and maybe even a muffin or pastry.  Where is the protein??  Add some milk to your bowl and you will bump up the protein, or a spoon of yoghurt with fruit or muesli, but a token portion with your brekky may not quite cut it.  If you are doing a decent run, and you run regularly for fitness, or are training for an event, then protein post-run should be high on your agenda.  Ideally you should be squeezing in at least 20g of protein into your post-run breakfast for muscle recovery.  Protein is sometimes considered the nutrient most important for strength training, but endurance type exercise such as running can increase protein requirements too.  And don't think protein is only for elite runners doing lots of kms and hills.  Regardless of your speed or distance, if you are working hard you need protein due to increased muscle damage and the need for repair.

You probably need some carbohydrate also after longer runs to assist with recovery, but the amount you need will vary according to training and body composition goals, and the timing of your next training session.  If you are heading off to a busy day after your run, you most likely will benefit from some fuel for energy during the morning, in combination with your protein.

Don't forget the vitamins and minerals!  It's not all about protein and carbs.  By including some fresh fruit or vegetables, maybe some nuts and seeds, and choosing carbohydrates that are wholegrain you will be boosting your overall recovery nutrients.  Some healthy fat is beneficial at breakfast too.

Here are some suggested high performance post-run breakfasts that meet the above criteria and importantly contain at least 20g protein:

- 200g Chobani natural yoghurt with fruit salad and 2tbsp nuts/seeds

- 2 poached eggs with spinach, mushrooms, tomato and 2 multi-grain toast

- Small bowl of natural muesli with milk, topped with a few big scoops of Greek yoghurt and berries

- Large banana and berry smoothie (use milk, yoghurt and almond meal for protein, or maybe add some whey protein)

-  1 small tin of tuna, with sliced tomato, avocado and fresh basil on rye toast  

- Leftovers eg. beef/vegetable stir-fry with quinoa

1 cup home-made baked beans on rye toast, sprinkled with cheese

- Chia pudding made with milk and topped with blueberries and macadamias

- Omelette with herbs and crumbled feta (may need to add some carbohydrate)

- Bowl of porridge made with milk, topped with yoghurt and chopped almonds

- Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and grilled asparagus (may need to add some carbohydrate)

If you are trying to lose weight, remember that you don't need to go low-carb all the time.  For recovery it can be helpful to include some carbohydrates in the immediate recovery period.  Always eat a good post-run meal, then you can adjust food and portions later in the day to meet body composition goals.

If you need help in planning your nutrition for your health and performance goals, please get in touch, or find an accredited sports dietitian close to you at Sports Dietitians Australia.

I would love to send you free nutrition updates and recipes, just leave your details on my Thoughts page.  You can also follow me on Facebook and I have just set myself up on Instagram too!