A Marathon-Runner-in-Training Keeps a Food Diary

Plates of carbs aren’t the only thing on the menu for this long-distance runner. Read on to find out what our expert thinks of her eating habits.

This week's diarist adds milk to her coffee, hoping to satisfy her daily calcium needs. Our nutritionist isn't convinced.

The Stats
Gender: Female 
Age: 27
Height: five-foot-six-and-a-half (“That half inch is important.”)
Location: Arlington
Profession: Legal-recruiting coordinator
Self-described activity level: “I’m pretty active. I ran my first marathon in 2008 and found that the distance and long-term training suits me. I’m no Kara Goucher, but I love the sport. As Bart Yasso says, ‘I often hear someone say I’m not a real runner. We are all runners —some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner.’ I hibernate for a few months of the year for sure but typically get out for a run or get to a gym class three times a week.”

Day One
Breakfast: In a rush as usual. I have 30 minutes to get dressed, make breakfast, pack a lunch, and walk the dog. Must also make the dog breakfast. There is leftover spaetzle with mushrooms and shallots from the previous night’s dinner in the fridge. I was at the W Hotel for a reception and missed the fabulous feast at home. I pack a one-cup container for lunch, knowing full well I will eat this for breakfast the minute I get to the office. Also grab an orange, a cup of Chobani yogurt, and some cash to buy something later in the day.
9:15 AM: Deposit myself in front of my computer. Grabbed a cup of coffee from our in-house cafe. My coffee routine is a 14-ounce mug three-quarters full with coffee and topped off with what I hope is a half cup of milk. That way I’m not totally lying to the doctor in my annual physical that I drink milk every day. The spaetzle is heavenly.

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Noon: Thank God for the cafe. My company subsidizes it, so it’s inexpensive, and the company that runs it makes a real effort to offer healthy choices. I get a salad: spinach, romaine, onions, olive slices, Parmesan cheese, red bell peppers, mushrooms, fresh ground pepper, sunflower seeds, cucumber, and about a tablespoon of Caesar dressing. Also pick up a cup of chicken-and-rice soup. Total: $4.57. I stop by my floor’s pantry on the way back to fill up my water mugs. I keep two 34-ounce mugs on my desk. I try to drink both—and sometimes a third—depending on what’s going on in my marathon training that week.
2 PM: Another department has food left over from a lunch meeting. I head upstairs to scope it out and am rewarded with leftover Lebanese Taverna. Grab two slices of pita, a small scoop of baba ghanoush, curried chickpea salad, and Lebanese salad. Eating “second lunch” is one of the hazards of my job. There’s free food around too much, and it can be tough to say no. I have a track workout planned tonight, though, so I need a little afternoon fuel anyway.
6:15: Finally make it to the track, and there is a dang track meet happening. I wait it out to see if the meet ends; 30 minutes later, I am defeated. I can’t even run home from the track because I have all my worldly belongings with me. Call the husband to retrieve me. He offers to drop me off to run somewhere else. No, I give up. Time for a beer.
7:15: Dinnertime. My husband jerked and smoked a pork tenderloin this past weekend and we still have leftovers. I use two slices of Arnold Health Nut bread with a schmear of yellow mustard, two slices of reduced-fat provolone, a few bread-and-butter pickle slices, and some hot sandwich peppers. This is delicious. I have a Legend Brown Ale while I eat my sandwich.
10:15: I take a 20-minute stroll around the neighborhood with the dog and then head to bed. I chug a glass of water before falling asleep.

Day Two
7:45 AM: Another rushed morning. When will I learn? I run out the door with some extra cash to buy breakfast and lunch at work.
9:20: Parked at my desk finally. In my to-go box from the cafe, I’ve got a scoop of eggs (what looks like two eggs to me), a slice of turkey bacon (the last one!), and a big slice of whole-grain bread.
1 PM: I decide to join some friends on the roof terrace for lunch. I stop by the cafe to see what’s cooking. I get a small tortilla and fill it with chopped iceberg, a quarter cup of shredded cheese, salsa, a spoonful of corn salad, and a small dollop of sour cream. I also pick up a salad: spinach, romaine, mushrooms, onions, Parmesan, edamame, red pepper, sunflower seeds, and carrots. I get about a half-cup scoop of black beans and rice to go with my “taco.” The meal is a little light on protein; I make a mental note to consider this at dinnertime.
3 PM: On to my second mug of water.
4:30: After work, I’m running from the office to the gym to meet my husband to do some weights. There is a sad banana on my desk. I think I have to eat it before it gets much browner. That will be a good pre-run snack. Now I have to work like a madwoman so I can leave at 5:15.
5:20: Out the door. It’s so nice out. Perfect weather. I love running in Washington in the spring: tourists walking six across on the Mall, dodging tour buses, runners and bikers dodging the traffic.
7:00: To complete our fabulous and sweaty date night, we head to Lost Dog Cafe for pizza and beer. It’s the night before I have to do a ten-miler as part of my training plan. I go for a small Greek salad and the Burro Pie: a whole-wheat crust, topped with a black-bean purée, pico de gallo, and chopped lettuce and cheese. I also have a Sneaky Pete IPA and a Dale’s Pale Ale. I eat two slices of my pizza and take the rest to go. That will be my lunch tomorrow.
9:58: Head to bed and down 28 ounces of water before sleep.

Day Three
5:50 AM: Ugh. I’m not a morning person, despite my diligent campaign to become one over the last few years. I force myself to get up, and by 6:15 I have eaten a pre-run breakfast of two whole-wheat waffles with a schmear (yes, that’s a technical measurement) of peanut butter and fruit preserves and have packed my Camelbak with a granola bar, banana, orange, and two slices of bread for toast later on. Off for ten miles.
8:05: Stop in my office to drink 16 ounces of water, eat a post-run banana, and grab my shower stuff.
8:50: I head to the cafe to see how much turkey bacon is left. Today I’m rewarded for my punctuality: I get two whole slices of turkey bacon along with eggs, two slices of toast, and coffee.
9:30: As I’m putting my leftover Burro Pie in the fridge, I remember I have a lunch meeting at noon. Nice. I can save my pizza for an afternoon snack.
11:45: At the lunch meeting. It’s at another office, and it looks like they’ve ordered Devon & Blakely box lunches. Awesome! I pick a hummus-and-avocado sandwich on whole wheat with shaved Parmesan, spinach, and arugula. The box also has a penne pasta salad (about 1 cup) with feta, spinach, and a few slices of red and green bell pepper, and a Granny Smith apple. Oh, and there’s a blondie in the bottom. I had a big glass of water with lunch as well.
1:45 PM: Grab an orange before some afternoon meetings get going.
3:45: Taking a quick break to eat my two slices of pizza. Black-bean dip on pizza is genius.
5:45: Heading home for the day. We’re having spaghetti for dinner—it’s a Friday-night ritual because my long runs are usually Saturday morning. I considered eating something that’s less of a carb fest since there’s no long run tomorrow, but the brain power to replan that night’s meal at this point just isn’t there.
7:15: Dinner is whole-wheat penne and probably a cup and a half of pasta sauce. I really love sauce—like eat-it-straight-out-of-the-jar-whoops-the-whole-jar’s-gone love it. I go back for seconds.
8 PM: My husband and I are babysitting our two-year-old niece all day tomorrow and sending her parents on an all-day wine tour. It’s our Christmas gift to them. I’ve been planning the picnic menu to make for them for a few weeks and am about to get to work. It’s going to be kind of a late night, but I love cooking.
12:25 AM: In bed. In the fridge/picnic basket are marinated sliced pan-seared skirt steak to be served over baguette with roasted marinated tomatoes and lemon-dill sauce; red-potato-and-dill salad made with yogurt; a selection of cheese, salami, pita chips, and hummus; miniature chocolate cupcakes with homemade raspberry buttercream frosting; Buckeyes (peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate); a fruit salad; and some chocolate bars and black liquorice. I’m pretty good about not snacking while I bake, but the brownie batter is hard to resist. I did some ser
ious work on the bowl after the brownies went into the oven. And of course, I had to taste test a few slices of the skirt steak to try out the marinade.

Day Four
7:30 AM: Up and at ’em. I still have to ice the cupcakes, and because I get so wrapped up in that, I have a total breakfast fail.
8:30: Stop at Greenberry’s in Reston for a skim-milk latte on the way to our babysitting gig.
9:15: After wiping away a few “Mommy, Daddy, you’re leaving? Noooooooo!” tears, I mange to find a Luna Bar in the pantry. This will have to hold me over till we go to Chipotle for lunch this afternoon. Off to the Reston Zoo.
11:45: I hope our niece always remembers that we were the ones who introduced her to Chipotle. I get my usual order: burrito bowl, easy on the rice, extra black beans, salsa, corn, lettuce and guac. I realize I haven’t had much water today, so when we get home I drink a Nalgene full.
4 PM: We plan to make pizza for ourselves and our niece and a special meal for her parents. We pick up sauce, cheese, and heirloom tomatoes for the pizza (we’ll stop at Trader Joe’s for pizza dough next), and salmon filets, ingredients for a strawberry-and-kiwi salsa, brown rice, and asparagus for her mom and dad. We’re all kind of hungry and are raiding the free-sample stations at Whole Foods.
6 PM: Dinner is ready. The pizza is extra saucy, just the way I like it; I have two slices.
8 PM: The baby is in bed, and the adults retire to the living room for a bottle of red wine. We chitchat and linger over the wine till about 10. We’ve got to go home because we have another early morning tomorrow.

Day Five
5:30 AM: Wake up call! We’re volunteering with the Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation. The foundation provides 20 volunteers for a water stop along the course of Pacers’ GW Parkway Classic ten-miler, and in return Lost Dog will receive a grant from the running store. I make a point to get up early so I can actually eat breakfast this morning. I brew a pot of coffee and fix a thermos for me and one for my husband. I put together two whole-grain waffles with some peanut butter and preserves and eat a banana in the car.
8 AM: The elite runners coming through! These guys don’t really stop for water, but a little later the 7,300 other people running the race come through, and they’re stopping for water. As a runner, I feel like I’m doing my duty by returning the favor of so many people who’ve handed me water in races. But I’ll tell you, holding the cups out sure makes your arms tired after a while.
10:30: We make it home around 10:30. I’m starving at this point. All I want is a big bowl of black beans with cheese and salsa. This is my favorite quick meal after spaghetti.
1:15 PM: We head out to Centreville to attend the engagement party of a college friend. The party has a great spread. We’re there till after 5, so I have an open-face roast-beef sandwich on rye with a little yellow mustard, a small scoop of coleslaw, a little bit of hummus, and pita chips. I also have a Scotch ale, a white ale, and Noble Pils. On the way home, I realize I haven’t had any water since we left the house earlier today. We stop and pick up two 32-ounce bottles. I drink one during the ride home and one with dinner.
7 PM: Pizza dinner tonight, since we have so much left over. I also make a spinach salad and serve it with light Champagne vinaigrette from Trader Joe’s. I snack on about Trader Joe’s horseradish hummus and a big handful of pita chips while prepping dinner.
9 PM: I head up to bed with a glass of water and a small glass of red wine to watch some TV. It’s been a long day!

From the Expert
Rebecca Mohning, a registered dietician and exercise physiologist in Annandale, says:

“I have to commend this runner for how well she manages to eat despite her hectic schedule. She seems to get by with a quick snack or nibbling on something she finds in the office. Her diet is focused around carbohydrates and fluid intake, which is important to keep up with the demands of her training for the marathon. I would suggest a calcium supplement despite her careful effort to add milk to her coffee every day. She is still two servings short, unless of course the Chobani yogurt becomes a snack priority at the office. The frequency of cheese would provide the other needed serving of calcium.

“It might have been just one of those weeks in DC, but I would recommend limiting alcohol the night before a run workout. Alcohol can really dehydrate and disrupt sleep, which can have a significant impact on the next day’s performance.

“Another word of caution: Be careful of mindless eating or snacking while cooking, grocery shopping, or working in the office. These are all tempting areas in our environment that can trigger eating. Be sure to have a healthy snack at the office and ask yourself, ‘Is this hunger or a craving?’ If it’s true hunger, then you will eat what you brought, like the banana or the Greek yogurt. If you would rather eat the chips or cookies, it’s a craving. So try to distract yourself by going for a quick walk or refilling your water bottle and taking a work break.

“Overall, I am impressed with her healthy choices, including fruits and vegetables on a daily basis while eating on the run, and her conscious effort to watch portions, whether she prepared a meal or ate out. She paid close attention to her portions and saved part of her meals for the next day.”

Are you brave enough to keep a food diary? We dare you. Send an e-mail to with your contact information and why you think you’d make a good diarist.

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