There are many approaches to nutrition with the goal of getting to similar destinations: feeling your best every day, running well, recovering quickly, and staying healthy long-term. I have always been fascinated by what people are actually putting on their plate, why they make their choices, and what works for them.
In the New Year when nutrition goals are often associated with short-term deprivation, I chose my first “What’s on Your Plate?” interview with a runner who competes at the front of the biggest ultras on the globe while making it look easy. Tim Tollefson knows how to show up ready to roll, having earned podium finishes at UTMB the past two years. The 32-year-old from Mammoth Lakes, CA, lets his desire for a happy belly, both physically and emotionally, dictate his daily choices. I wanted to learn more.
Had I started with this piece of information, I might have been shocked by what followed, but instead we ended with this little nugget: he used to work at a raw and vegan restaurant when he was in school. His takeaway… he would be starving on that diet now.
Talking to Tim about his nutrition choices was absolutely enlightening and gave me an incredible glimpse as to why it gives him so much success in his running. Enjoy what’s on his plate!
- Pre-Run: Oatmeal, almond butter, coffee and if he wants or is still hungry: a pastry, cookie, stroopwaffle, maple buttermilk bar, or an apple fritter. Yes, readers, with all the talk about depletion running, Tim’s focus is getting in food he enjoys before he runs. Why I wondered? His answer: “I love food. If I ran depleted, I would be focusing my attention on the food instead of the run.”
- Post-Run 2nd Breakfast: Egg and cheese bagel or one giant homemade honey wheat pancake with almond butter and maple syrup.
- Lunch: Tim goes with cafeteria selections (he is a physical therapist at a hospital): chicken, quinoa with mushrooms, pasta, or a sandwich. This tends to be his most balanced meal of the day unless his wife brings him dinner to work.
- Snacks: Any and all goodies that are brought into the hospital by patients, which includes cookies, brownies and muffins. I asked if he ever brings in snacks to which he responded with: “I might put an apple in my bag, but would rather have the sweets.”
As we entered into the evening of eating, I got to see a glimpse of the Tollefsons’ elite plan in action –
Tim’s wife Lindsay is also a highly accomplished runner; in fact, they both qualified for the Olympic Marathon trials in 2012 and in 2016. If dinner is delivered to work, Lindsay makes a veggie rice dish or couscous, beans, and veggies for him as they keep their house plant based. But, when they prep dinner together it might be pasta or butter cheese bread with homemade ranch dressing. They eat for quick ease and pure enjoyment.
Hearing about Tim’s day of eating was amazing because all his foods were selected for his love of these foods. There was no science in what should be done, but choices solely made because: “life is too short to deprive too much.”
I asked whether his food choices ever altered his performance, and he said that sometimes he has “bad” unstructured days filled with snacks and sweets. He knows these are not ideal and by the end of the day isn’t happy with his choices. But, he said, and I think this speaks so much to his ability to be adaptable in races: “I know when I have had a snack day I have missed the boat on my eating. But, I also know I can hit a natural reset button in the morning. I don’t focus on my food mistakes the next day but move forward.”
Tim knows from a long-term health perspective this plan is not forever. He knows that someday he won’t get away with all the sweets he loves to eat, but for now this works for him. While his plan is not the best choice for most, his ability to enjoy what he eats and not deprive himself is such a valuable lesson as we move into nutrition resolutions of the New Year. Yes, make changes to reach your goals but don’t be overly restrictive or deprive yourself. Know that you can reach your goals eating the foods you enjoy and that are right for you at the right time.
I look forward to learning about and sharing the food choices of other ultrarunners with the readers of UltraRunning over the next year and will include runners of all abilities and backgrounds in these profiles. If you have suggestions or questions, please let me know!