Back in the Summer of 2019, my student, Bianca Cordeiro interviewed Cam Levins and Lanni Marchant for an article for iRun magazine. The article is packed with fascinating nutrition insights from Cam and Lanni. I thought a reprint would be of interest to those runners who are wrapping up their spring season. Since this article was written Marchant has made an impressive comeback to running with an 11th place finish in the 2021 New York City Marathon. And, Levins competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after managing to secure a spot in the marathon with one week to go in the qualifying window by winning the S7 Marathon in Austria with a time of 2:10:13. Enjoy the read!
It was such a privilege interviewing both of Canada’s marathon record holders, and now we are giving you a sneak peek at what it means to eat like a true champion.
Cameron Levins is the record holder for the Fastest Canadian Marathon Male with the record time of 2:09:25, and Lanni Marchant carries the record for the second-fastest Canadian marathon female at 2:28 and the second-fastest Canadian half-marathon female at 1:10:47. With a long laundry list of accomplishments, these runners must have some excellent nutrition advice for improving their running.
When approached for the interview, Cam and Lanni were both enthusiastic about giving away some of their nutrition secrets. Let’s take a look at how the nutrition advice of these two champions compares!
What do you typically eat leading up to races?
When it comes to pre-race, these champs agree that bananas have a distinctive golden touch on their performance and, of course, carbs, carbs, carbs. It also seems like they both love their nut butter!
Cameron: “The last thing I eat, before racing, will be about 3 hours before (at the latest) and it’s generally a bagel with peanut butter plus a banana. The day before I try to continue eating as close to my normal as possible, so I don’t upset my stomach with something strange. As long as my diet [is] balanced, it’s not too difficult to eat similarly no matter where the race is located.”
Lanni: To compare, Lanni explained that she doesn’t eat much before her shorter races. She generally eats a rice cake with a banana or a cliff bar. She does more carb-loading with toast and jam for the longer races or a breakfast consisting of toast with almond butter and eggs.
What do you eat and drink during races?
Cameron and Lanni ensure they have an on-the-go carbohydrate beverage for their marathon runs. Lanni’s past experience with marathons has allowed her more opportunities to experiment with ways to get carbohydrates and electrolytes during her races.
Cameron: “The only race I’ve consumed anything has been the marathon. I just drank a lemonade mixture every 5km for the entirety. I am currently practising and trying some new choices, but [I] haven’t used anything else in a race.” Cameron’s go-to is “Country Time Lemonade Black Cherry.”
Lanni: Lanni, in comparison, uses electrolyte and carbohydrate tablets and has even experimented with using gummy bears during a race in the past.
What do you put in your bag for after the race?
Both record-holders enjoy having Clif bars and bananas post-race, with both of those foods being excellent sources of fast carbs, no wonder! Sports bars are also a source of protein, making them a practical choice for recovery after races.
Cameron: “Often I would put a Clif bar in my bag after track races because I sometimes would continue to work out post-race so eating lots was not a good option for me. Lots of road races have food available afterwards, and I’ll usually grab a banana and muffin if I can.”
Lanni: Lanni says that she typically has a Clif bar after her race, or she will have a banana with peanut butter. She also often enjoys a carbohydrate-based recovery drink; she tries to have one with a little protein when possible.
Do you have any nutritional strategies for overcoming injuries?
Cameron spoke about the role of nutrition in preventing injuries, whereas Lanni talked about her diet as a tool to prepare for and recover from her hip surgery.
Cameron: “Basically err on the side of eating too much vs too little. I think there can be a fear that weight gain will lead to future injury risk but starving yourself of the resources your body needs to heal seems to be the more immediate concern.”
Lanni: Lanni, in contrast, spoke about how she used nutrition to help her through her hip surgery recovery period. Lanni increased her protein intake to maintain muscle, took gelatin and collagen for cartilage repair, and prioritized calcium for bone repair. Also, Lanni ensured she ate enough carbs, minerals, and vitamins to meet her nutrient requirements for healing after surgery.
If you were to eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Both Cameron and Lanni enjoy carbs enough to eat these favourite foods for the rest of their lives.
Cameron: “I love pancakes. Clearly not the healthiest choice, but I can’t imagine ever getting tired of them.”
Lanni: Lanni enthusiastically professed her love for Fuji apples and how her favourite snack can be sidelined depending on her training location. She lamented that it is tough to find apples when she is training in Kenya. And, that even her favourite nutritional supplements are tricky to source in this African country. As a result, Lanni travels to Kenya with her go-to products tucked into her suitcase.
How has your nutrition changed since you first started running?
Both runners expressed that they became more mindful of their nutrition over time and were happy to relay their learned diet lessons.
Cameron: “[Initially], I just ate what my parents gave me, and now I think about the benefits or repercussions of whatever I consume.”
Lanni: Lanni said she has been doing a complete overhaul with her nutrition recently; she explained that she “had some holes” in her past nutrition practices that needed to be addressed to maintain her physical health. Lanni reported that previously she did not fuel sufficiently around exercise. Recently, she has been fixing this weak link in her training nutrition by getting more carbs during her runs.
What is the number one nutrition tip you would give a marathon runner?
Both athletes provided awesome nutrition advice. Lanni spoke about preventative nutrition for athletes and the importance of moderation for races. And, Cameron talked about race-day food.
Cameron: “Make sure you are consuming carbohydrates and fluids early in the race because it’s already too late if you’re responding to your thirst/hunger.”
Lanni: “Eat more than you think you need to during training cycles. [Otherwise,] You can get sick or injured before the start line. And be mindful not to overdo carb-loading before a race.”
What did Lanni fuel with during her Mount Kilimanjaro climb? What is it any different from her race-day nutrition?
In 2018, Lanni Marchant climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Of course, she had lots of experience with running nutrition, but climbing nutrition was a first for her.
Lanni: Lanni explained that she ate food at all stops along the way up the mountain. She also reported that hydrating with fluids was necessary because of the sheer amount of fluid loss at high altitudes. To keep her energy levels high, she used portable carb powders and mixed them with water while trekking. Marchant also made sure to pack some snacks.
What nutrition tips do you have for NCAA long-distance runners?
In 2012, Cameron was awarded the men’s 2012 Bowerman Award for being the most outstanding collegiate runner in the NCAA. He speaks about the importance of proper nutrition for NCAA athletes with his excellent performance.
Cameron: “I know it’s difficult with their schedules but try to stop for an actual meal whenever possible instead of opting for a quick snack.”
There you have it- running nutrition secrets from the best!
It was inspiring to talk to Cameron and Lanni and hear about their practical and valuable nutrition secrets and tips for their running success. All that’s left is to implement their champion mindset and use some of these nutrition tricks.
Nutrition planning is integral to achieving your optimal athletic performance. Gazelle Nutrition Lab delivers one-on-one or group nutrition counselling and consulting to both recreational and high-performance athletes. In addition, the Gazelle Blog is a free resource for healthy recipes and health tips. Have questions? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch!