Q&A: Elite Runners Ryan and Sara Hall Share Top Nutrition Strategies

The elite running couple shares smart fueling strategies for runners
Ryan and Sara Hall

Seafood is high in protein, low in saturated fat and a natural source of essential nutrients, including omega- 3 fatty acids, which is why the USDA recommends we include it as part of our diet at least twice a week.

It’s also why elite runners Ryan and Sara Hall recently teamed up with Wild Alaska Seafood to help educate athletes about proper fueling for marathon training and beyond.

Husband and wife, Ryan is a two-time Olympian and currently holds the American record for the fastest marathon, and Sara, also an elite runner, recently made her marathon debut at the Los Angeles Marathon.

We chatted with the couple over email to find out what benefits they’ve gained from including more seafood as part of their fueling strategies, their favorite pre- and post-workout meals and what advice they would offer to first-time marathon runners.

Here’s what they had to say.

The Active Times: As a result of including more seafood in your diets, have you noticed any significant benefits in terms of energy levels, running performance, etc.?
Ryan and Sara Hall: We grew up with seafood as a special treat at home, but recently we have made seafood a more regular staple of our diet. A big reason for that is learning how important animal protein is for building strength and recovery and the hormone production necessary to achieve that. Of all the animal proteins, Alaska seafood is one of the cleanest—it’s wild and sustainable—and is a very nutrient-dense option. We try to eat food that is nutrient-dense as much as possible as we found that it makes our recovery quicker. Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are highly anti-inflammatory, and help offset the inflammation created by intense training.

Aside from incorporating seafood and healthy omega-3s in your diet, what other smart fueling strategies can you offer runners? (e.g. What do you eat before working out? What do you eat for recovery? What do you eat before a marathon?)
Ryan and Sara: Eating before running is extremely important, and most runners skip it. Without breakfast, it's like trying to drive your car when it's empty of gas. A typical pre-run breakfast for us is a pancake made with Muscle Milk powder and teff flour (gluten free and high in iron), along with coffee blended with 1 tablespoon Kerrygold butter. This breakfast packs a good caloric punch for the energy we need, yet sits well in our stomachs during the workout. 

After the workout we try to get fuel in within 30 minutes of finishing, which is the time your muscles are most primed to take in the fuel and use it to rebuild them. Usually that is something that is low-fiber and low-fat, so that it gets digested quickly. If you have a sweet tooth, it's the time to eat sugar where it will go to your muscles instead of your waistline. Then we head home and make a more balanced, nutrient dense meal making sure to have healthy carbohydrates, protein and fat. That might look like salmon burgers made from canned Alaska salmon over mixed greens and baked sweet potatoes.  

The night before a marathon, we like to play it safe and make our meal in the hotel room to avoid getting food poisoning at a restaurant. We bring a hot pot into the room and cook brown rice pasta, tossed in a little olive oil, and canned seafood for protein. We avoid vegetables because you don't want to have a lot of unnecessary fiber in your gut on race day.

The morning of a race, we like to stick to a liquid shake of Muscle milk and Maltodextrin powder.

What have been some of your favorite new ways to incorporate seafood in your diet?
Ryan and Sara: We are very adventurous eaters and like to experiment in the kitchen together! We eat a lot of canned salmon because it's quick and easy when we are tired after training. We actually love the soft crunch of the bones in canned salmon because we can visualize the calcium in those bones going straight to building up our bones. Canned Alaska salmon is also ideal for dumping on top of a salad in a hurry or mixed with a little mayonnaise for a sandwich. After Ryan caught a bunch of Halibut on a recent fishing trip, we've also been experimenting with Halibut cooking techniques. At first we weren't sure how to best prepare frozen fish, so we used the instructions on wildalaskaseafood.com . There are also a wide variety of recipes there that gave us good ideas on how to be more creative.

Is Sara doing anything special to train for the LA Marathon? What advice would she offer to runners who are attempting a marathon for the first time? What advice would Ryan offer?
Sara: Leading up to the LA Marathon, I increased my mileage significantly to get my legs used to the pounding of the marathon. I did tempo runs up to 16 miles and long runs up to 24 miles, and did quite a bit of time up at high altitudes.The main thing I recommend is that people listen to their bodies and how much recovery they need.  Don't just do your workout because it's on the schedule for that day, if you need another day to recover, take it.

Ryan: I always tell people to make sure you get your long run in each week. The other workouts are supporting workouts to that one, but the long run is the priority. Make sure you are rested going into it, and prioritize it over the other training days. Also, practice focusing on just "running the mile you're in" rather than thinking about the ones that are ahead. You will go through bad patches in the race, but you can also come out of them and start feeling good, so don't expect that it's all downhill from there. And mostly, have fun! If it's not fun it's not worth doing, and you will run your best when you enjoy the process.

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