What a Cheeseburger Taught Me About Running Nutrition

What a Cheeseburger Taught Me About Running Nutrition…

Perhaps hard to believe, but I learnt one of the most valuable lessons in my running career from the good old Maccas cheeseburger.

It was about the 58km point in an 80km race, that no man’s land where you are over halfway but not far enough through the race to smell the finish line. I had stopped at the aid station and looked in my green bag of goodies thinking, “is it time for a bit of sports bar, a gel or a honey shot?” – not an overly delicious sounding list of options at that point! While I was pondering my decision one of those old wisened runners with a 70’s style tennis band around his head and a t-shirt with some random ultra from 20 years ago emblazoned on it, ran up and pulled a cheeseburger, still in its wrapper, from his pack and began to get ready to chow down…I must have been staring as he started to tell me he had gotten through over 200 races with his nutritional requirements solely sponsored by the golden arches.

I definitely am not a frequent flyer at Maccas but I have never seen anything so inviting in my life…the pickles, the sauce, the plastic cheese…I could taste it…he must have seen the glint in my eye or perhaps my drooling gave it away so he reached into his bag and handed one over. I nearly knocked him over as I grabbed it and literally inhaled it thanking him as I ran off.

Of course this story has a point, and the point is that about 5 km down the road I was cursing every single cheeseburger in the world and desperately searching for the portaloo…I had broken my rule: PLAN YOUR RACE and RACE YOUR PLAN. 

As a runner you cannot control the weather, the course or your competitors, but you can control yourself: your nutrition, your clothes, your training, your recovery.

I always practice everything nutritionally before a race in as close to race conditions as I can and we do the same with all my athletes.

Here is what I believe are the key things you need for a perfectly prepared and practiced running nutrition plan:

  1. Night before meal: I have found over the years through trial and error that a big meal at a pre-race pasta party meal leaves me feeling heavy and full on race day. My preference and that of a large number of my athletes is to have that larger meal at lunch, and then at dinner have a small portion of easily digestible protein (like salmon) and about 1-2 fists of rice and a few token veggies. The key is to trial this before your longest training run – a month or so out – and then tweak it if it isn’t spot on. This meal is also travel friendly, I have found it at races from Boston to Melbourne to the Pacific Islands without any problem!
  2. Race day breakfast: The day after you trial your pre-race dinner get up so you can finish your breakfast 2 hrs before running that longest run…yes I know it will probably be 3am – you can go back to sleep! This is very scientific – I eat and recommend about 2g per kg of lean body mass…note this is lean not total – your sports dietitian can do your skinfolds to calculate this! So for a runner with about 65kg lean mass two options would be something like: one sports bar + 60g oats + 2 Tbsp honey + a Gatorade: This provides ~140g carb.
  3. Race Nutrition: This is a no brainer right? Well my story above shows that in a glucose-deprived state it’s easy to make mistakes or forget your plan….trial your gels/bars/chews. Work out how many you need and write down when you will have them or at what km marker. Know what sports drink is available on the course and try it in training! I race with a friend who writes it all in permanent marker on her arm! As a starting point I like to aim for about 50g carb each hour. So that’s a gel and some sports drink, or some lollies, or chews. BUT that’s me, some of our A to Z athletes can cope with more and some race brilliantly on less…that’s why it’s great to be guided through the process!

The next obvious area is post-race recovery…but I think Sal has that one covered in the next article…..

So if nothing else just treat your nutrition like your training and take it seriously; invest time and energy into it and it will reap huge performance and recovery benefits. It also means that there is one less stress on race day, you can get out run hard and enjoy the day!  AND if you want to eat cheeseburgers please, please, please try it out on a few training runs! J

Happy running everyone!

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HELP! Can someone explain what a FODMAP is ???

HELP! Can someone explain what a FODMAP is ???

I recently had a client come in and tell me that she had been to her Doctor and had an endoscopy and been advised that she needed to see me to start on the “MUDFLAPS” diet.

Now I never profess to know everything, but genuinely had not any clue what she was talking about. It was only after some pointed questioning around symptoms and her history that I realised she was talking about FODMAPS.

It is probably the question I get asked most at BBQs, on the sidelines at sports matches or from friends and family so I thought I would try to simplify it here for you.

FODMAPS stands for Fermentable Oligo-saccharides, Di-saccharides, Mono-saccharides and Polyols…. So in English they are simply a group of Carbohydrates, (primarily dietary sugars), found in a number of foods we eat every day.

The problem with this group of carbs is that in for some people, their small intenstine, (which is where we break down our foods), is unable to fully do its job and these foods pass through to the large intenstine not properly digested and become fermented by bacteria creating the symptoms associated with what is commonly referred to as IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Aside from the IBS symptoms which are never fun, people who have this response to FODMAP foods are also not absorbing all the nutrients from their food.

Examples of FODMAPS include: fructose (fruit sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup); Lactose (milk protein, sugar polyols (sorbitol and mannitol found in some fruits and vegetables but also often present in artificial sweetners), fructans (found in wheat, rye and onions and garlic) and galacto-oligosaccharides  (found in beans and legumes).

It is important to distinguish between FODMAPS and “gluten free”. Gluten is actually a protein found in breads, pastas and flour and is not considered a FODMAP. Bread can often be an issue for FODMAP sensitive individuals because of the Fructans not the Gluten.

Confused yet???

I am not surprised, it is a very confusing area and can be quite daunting, not to mention painful and occasionally embarrassing for sufferers.

The good news is that it can be “cured”, I put that in inverted commas because it is not a magic pill situation rather a very evidence based protocol which your Accredited Practicing Dietitian can take you through.

So how do we do it? Essentially I design a nutrition plan which is very low FODMAP and assist clients with label reading to identify sneaky FODMAPS. The plan is continued for 2-6 weeks or until the person is symptom free.

How long will it take? Is a common question. Unfortunately, that is the million dollar question as each person is different and responds differently. I always say to people that I wish I could jump in their bellies and that would make thing a lot easier!  Usually, I expect people to start seeing some reduction in symptoms over the first two weeks.

Once a person is symptom free we start to “challenge” them with various FODMAPS again in a very controlled, careful way. My goal is to get people to have a broad a diet as possible and ultimately identify which FODMAP causes their symptoms!

My last word is to say that you don’t have to live with IBS, please go and see a dietitian who can step you through the process and get you back to feeling great!




The Final Five – It always starts innocently enough

The Final Five

It always starts innocently enough, I am at dinner, a checkout, in a cab and someone asks me what I do and after I tell them the first thing they often say is “Hey! any tips for dropping the last five kilos?”

Generally, a story ensues and I end up “working” wherever I happen to be! Luckily, I love my job and I love helping people and most people who ask you are genuinely ready to listen.

So here are my top three tips I have seen help people to maintain or achieve a goal body composition or weight… (I caveat this with the fact that everyone is individual and for the best individual care please do see an Accredited Practising Dietitian).

  1. Be mindful… many years ago a good friend and fellow sports dietitian gave me a book to read called Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink. It still resonates with me today. Essentially, he encourages people to think about what they are putting in their mouth at all times. It’s too easy to pick up the leftovers on the kid’s plates because you don’t want to waste them, grab a handful of lollies from a colleague’s jar as you walk past or sit in front of the television and have chocolate/chips or a snack on your lap and before you know it you have hoovered half a packet of Tim Tams…. sound familiar?

Being conscious of what you put in your mouth is important and it will often make you think “am I really hungry?”  and make a conscious choice to not eat it. Keeping a food diary is also a great help as if you have to write it down it does make you think twice about it!

  1. Stay Hydrated… Sometimes when you think you are hungry you are actually thirsty… yes honestly! Give it a try, I guarantee that often you will be satisfied with a glass of water or a cup of tea or mineral water.


  1. FREE! Veggies and Salad: I call these “free” they are low calorie and fill you up… so your plate should have half of the surface area covered with these colourful additions! They are high in vitamins and fibre and actually taste pretty good. So, follow the half a plate rule of thumb and you will see a difference in not only your belt buckle but as a bonus you will feel great too!


  1. Ok I said three but here is another one… MOVE! Move as much as you can… walk up stairs a bit quicker, do the shopping with a bit more vigour, walk whenever you can. We all sit down too much and moving will help you maintain weight, feel better and maybe, just maybe, even burn up some energy to shift the “final five”.

It sounds pretty obvious laid out like that doesn’t it? Hopefully they are obvious enough to be easy to implement, even just one of them.

Given I have answered that question, from now on when someone asks what I do for a job the world is my oyster… I can say I do something completely different, like drive a bus, or a florist, or a fighter jet pilot…!


Running Nutrition 101 for beginners!

Running Nutrition 101 for beginners!

Recently I was interviewed by the Sunday Mail regarding nutrition for the Bridge to Brisbane run. It is however applicable to all people whether you are old or young or a regular runner or just starting out. I have never met anyone who couldn’t improve their diet even in a small way!

I hope you enjoy the Q&A session and learn something! Feel free to email any feedback or experiences!

  • Is nutrition and diet important for fitness/running/etc please? If so, why? If not, why not?

FM: Nutrition is a vital piece of the puzzle to get the best out of your fitness and running. Think of your body as a car, the better fuel you put in and the more you maintain it the more likely you are to “drive like a Lamborghini”!  Your body uses all the food you eat to fuel your running and importantly to recover from your training as well.  

  • Does it vary for men, women and/or children? Or would it be, basically all the same or very similar?

FM: The overall basics of a healthy diet are similar for most people however amounts and timing of foods can vary greatly between people. As we age needs change also. Men and women can have slightly different needs as well. A good sports dietitian can help you to make sure your diet is the best it can be for you!

BUT an easy way to think about a healthy diet is to imagine a plate: with half of the plate containing a mix of vegetables or salads, a quarter with protein (such as lean meat, poultry, seafood, legumes or eggs) and the last quarter containing some carbohydrate (such as a grainy bread, brown rice, pasta, potato or quinoa). There is also room for healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado or some nuts!

  • It’s four weeks out from the B2B. We assume it’s time to improve your diet, if you haven’t already. Is it too late to make improvements to what you eat?

FM: The really good news is that it is never too late. Nutrition is a wonderful thing in that your body responds to what you eat pretty quickly! I often have people email me a few days after coming in, telling me how much better they feel!


  • If not, what are some basic changes people should implement and why?

It is basically making sure they are eating in line with the suggested guidelines above as well as regularly. I normally like to see three meals and two healthy snacks. Sleep is very important as is reducing their intake of highly processed, high fat and high sugar foods such as takeaway, fried foods and softdrink. Additionally, amongst other problems and issues, we know that drinking alcohol can reduce recovery time from training so people should ensure they are careful their consumption is within guidleines.

  • What if you’re also hoping to lose some weight along the way? Would the diet change at all?

The best advice I can give to people when trying to lose weight is to be mindful of what they are eating. Often we eat without thinking about it and we can fall into the trap of eating more than we need to, but most importantly we don’t stop to enjoy our food! Food is meant to be an enjoyable thing! Again, it is a fine balance with athletes in ensuring they fuel adequately to be able to train and recover which again is very doable at an individual level by a specialised Sports Dietitian or Accredited Practicing Dietitian.


  • Should your nutrition vary depending on whether this is your first or 5th or 10th Bridge to Brisbane etc?. If so, by how much or?

Experienced runners will know what has worked for them in the past and hopefully should learn from any mistakes. I have made plenty over the years and many marathons under my belt still learn every time I run! My best advice is not to try ANYTHING new on race day. Practice all of your nutrition strategies in training beforehand. I never send anyone into an event without dinner the night before/breakfast on race day/any nutrition on the course/hydration, completely planned and ready to go. It’s one less thing to worry about!


  • What foods should you be avoiding (especially in the lead up/last month before the run?). Please clarify whether these are to be avoided strictly before the race or in general perhaps?

FM: Aside from the foods mentioned in q4, which should be avoided/eaten occasionally all the time, I generally reduce intake of high fibre foods in the day or two leading up to the race. This includes excessive veggies, & beans as well as anything extra spicy like curry which may upset your gut. 

  • Are there any foods that can help your performance?

FM: There are lots of supplements and things on the market which people can try but generally, I believe that 80% of your performance on race day comes from a healthy diet in the lead up. You want to start the race with a full tank and a few extra simple carbohydrates the day before will make sure your tank is topped up.

  • What should your diet look like on a training day compared to on a non-training day?

FM: Again depending on how much training you are doing and how often, nutrition will vary. Generally if you are eating a healthy well balanced diet you need to make sure you go into your training fuelled up. If, for example, you are running after work, have a snack at about 3 or 4 pm and also make sure that you eat as quickly as you can after you finish! If you can eat something with a mix of protein and carbohydrates within 45 mins- 1 hr of finishing you will recover very well. This can be breakfast or dinner as well, it doesn’t need to be anything extra if you are close to a meal time.

  • How about on the day before the race and on the actual day of the race?

FM: See question 8 answer. re carbs… Also you want to make sure you are well hydrated, so drink a glass of water with meals the day before and the morning of the race. Make sure you have breakfast at least 2 ½-3 hrs before the start, which could be toast, banana & honey or porridge cinnamon and maple syrup to give you the petrol to race your best!

  • Anything you should do after the race (day of and/or day after?) nutrition-wise?

FM: See answer to question 9. A great recovery snack after racing is one which combines protein to help your muscles recover and carbohydrate to replace your basic energy stores. Believe it or not a chocolate milk is a great option straight after the race! Later on have avocado, eggs, wholegrain toast make a perfect brunch to top off a great morning!

  • Anything else you would like to add?

FM: Sports nutrition is such an individualised thing and each athlete is different. However, evidence as well as experience tells me that everyone can benefit from taking stock of their diet. I have seen mums running their first 5 km gaining as significant improvements as elite athletes from making a few tweaks to their nutrition! Another benefit is you will feel better and have more energy not just while you are running but in everything you do. We all want to be the Lamborghini not a rusty hunk of junk!