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Daily Nutrition

The Latest Wisdom on Fueling with Good Food

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An excerpt from The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition


(Click here for Fitzgerald’s homemade salmon burger recipe.)

When Deena Kastor (then Deena Drossin) was 11 years old she fell in love twice: first with running and then with cooking. At first she thought of her athletic and culinary passions as completely separate, but as she grew older they converged. At the University of Arkansas, Kastor spent what little free time she had outside of classes and track practice reading cooking magazines, wandering the aisles of grocery stores, and sweating over a hot oven. One benefit of these extracurricular activities was that Kastor ate much better than the average college student did. This may be one reason she was an eight-time NCAA All-American at Arkansas.

Kastor went on to achieve even greater success as a professional runner. She set American records in the marathon and half marathon that still stand, won the Chicago and London Marathons, earned a pair of World Cross Country Championships bronze medals, won numerous national championship titles and, most memorably, took home a bronze medal from the 2004 Olympic Marathon. Throughout her stellar career Kastor was fueled largely by her own cooking and she always believed that her love of food preparation was a major contributor to her success.

I think she’s right. There’s a difference between nutrition knowledge and food knowledge. Having nutrition knowledge is great, but we don’t eat nutrition—we eat food. To eat well it is necessary to translate nutrition knowledge into food knowledge. This is where people who like to cook have an advantage. Women and men who are comfortable in the kitchen tend to stock their refrigerator and cupboards with better foods, include greater variety in their diet, rely less on fast and processed foods, and therefore eat healthier than do people who don’t cook, regardless of their level of nutrition knowledge.

I’m not saying you have to be a world-class chef (I’m not) or prepare a complicated dinner every night (I don’t) to eat healthily. I’m just trying to make the point that eating well comes down to eating good food. And the purpose of this chapter is to help you do just that.

As you’ve seen, there are just two basic rules you need to follow in your everyday diet as a runner. First, you need to consume enough carbohydrate to get the most out of your training. In addition to this, you need to maintain diet quality balance to shed excess body fat and get down to your optimal racing weight. Naturally, you must heed these two rules simultaneously in your diet. To do this successfully you will need to base your diet on meals and snacks that include lots of high-carbohydrate, high-quality foods but not so exclusively that variety—or enjoyment—is sacrificed.

“I believe you can eat anything you want,” Deena Kastor told me back in 2003. “It’s OK to satisfy your junk food desires, as long as you fill up mainly on healthy foods.”


Salmon Burger with Sweet Potato Wedges and Spinach Salad

1 pound fresh salmon
1 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup sliced fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce
1 egg white
4 whole wheat sesame buns, lightly toasted

Chop up the salmon and add it to a bowl containing the chopped red onion, basil, salt, pepper and hot pepper sauce. Mix everything together, add the egg white to the bowl and stir thoroughly. Shape the salmon mixture into four equal-size patties and cook them in a frying pan with a little oil over medium heat for 3 minutes per side. Serve each on a lightly toasted bun.

You can’t very well serve such a fancy burger with regular french fries. It has to be sweet potato fries—preferably home cooked. They’re easy: Combine a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch each of brown sugar, grated nutmeg, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme in a bowl. Cut one or more sweet potatoes into small wedges and coat each wedge in the mixture.

Preheat your oven to 400°F and bake the sweet potatoes for 1 hour, turning them after 30 minutes

Round out the meal with a spinach salad with your choice of veggies and dressing.

Assuming you eat about 4 ounces of sweet potato and 1 cup of spinach, this meal provides 58 g of carbs. It also counts as two vegetable portions, one whole-grain portion and one fish portion.

Excerpted from the book The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition, by Matt Fitzgerald. Reprinted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2013.