Fast food

On a post-Olympic high, Great North runner Laura Emmerson seeks professional advice for a sporting diet

The McLeod men are nothing if not fit. Dad Mike, 60, is an Olympic silver medalist and the winner of the first Great North Run. His sons Mark and Ryan are both pro athletes, so they’re the perfect interviewees for this Run hopeful.

Hearty food and lots of it seens to be their recipe for speed and endurance. Mike’s wife Jo raised the family on roast dinners, spaghetti bolognese, mince and dumplings and the like. Mike, who won Silver in the 10,000m in Los Angeles in 1984, was more likely to race on a low-tech shepherd’s pie, topped with cheese, than any scientific recipe I’d assumed all athletes lived on.

And while frozen food and ready meals are out, Mike is partial to spotted dick, apple crumble and homemade custard.But what about us Great North Runners? Mike (pictured right in his heyday) says your food the night before a race matters far less than your intake in the week leading up to it, when you need carbs to put fuel in your system.

“The night before you just need calories,” he says. “People get that wrong and just eat lots of carbs the night before a race, but you should eat like that all week. I still eat much as I did when I was competing – things like steamed fish and veg, shepherd’s pie with lots of mash and cheese on top. Fruit and veg are important, too. When you’re training hard and running 20 mile races, you can eat junk food because you just burn it off, but on the whole you want a healthy diet.”

Mark, 32, says watch your fluid intake. “Fluids are the most important thing. You just need water. Energy drinks are more important after a race, but you’ve got to hydrate prior to competing.” He doesn’t take on water during a race, but that’s because he’s looking to finish the Great North Run in 70 minutes. “Just take small sips during a race. Too much can give you stomach cramps.”

Ryan, 27, who is currently out of action through injury, backs up the family advice with an enlightening anecdote about Kenenisa Bekele, World Record holder and Olympic champion (at the time of writing) in the 5,000m, who he witnessed devour a McDonalds the night before the world cross country championships in 2003. “He still won; the point being that it’s all about getting calories in the night before. He’d eaten well leading up to the race, so he could get away with it.

“I enjoy cooking – paella, stir-fries with lots of veg, lasagne, and things my mum used to cook. I always make my own sauces because shop-bought often contain hidden sugars, and I never eat ready meals or frozen foods.”

Mike, 60, used to coach Ryan and Mark, and still does to a degree, but he doesn’t race any more. He does still eat healthily though, despite his love of puddings. While Mike now enjoys the odd pint, Mark’s teetotal and Ryan has drunk alcohol about five times in the last year. “Mo Farah [10,000m Olympic Champion] had a go at me three years ago after a race when I said I was going out drinking,” says Ryan. “He asked me why I would throw away all that hard work of training by drinking. I hardly drink now.”

Mark advocates cutting out fizzy drinks. He used to drink lots of Coke and put on three stones after an injury prevented him training a few years ago. He was able to lose the weight by cutting out the fizzy drinks alone.

For those starting out in running, Mike says, just be flexible and work out what works for you. “Everyone’s different, so experiment to see what works for you.”

They all advocate beans or eggs on toast for breakfast, – but not beans the day before a race because it’ll fill you up with gas! Mike likes sardines or pilchards on toast and Ryan always has toast and jam three hours before a race. So vital is this preparation he travels abroad with it. And there you have it; jam makes you run faster. Who knew?


Gold medal grub
In search of quick and easy food to lay on for your Great North Run party? We call this the food of champions

Grilled Lamb Skewers with Crushed British Peas Tzatziki and Chilli click here

Warm Radish, Halloumi, Potato and Cherry Tomato Salad with a Mustard and Dill Dressing click here

Beetroot, walnut & herb dip with pitta crisps click here

Runner(!) Bean and Broad Bean Remoulade click here


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