Ultramarathon runner Stephanie Howe was a two-time All-American in cross country and nordic skiing at Northern Michigan University. She holds a master’s degree in physiology from Montana State University, and she’s currently working on a Ph.D. in exercise physiology from Oregon State. She’s doing this while training for and completing several ultramarathon races per year. (An ultramarathon is a running race covering a distance longer than 26.2 miles.) In 2014, she won the famed Western States 100 and earned a second-place finish in the Ultra Race of Champions 100K. Suffice it to say, when Howe offers advice about training and nutrition, she knows what she’s talking about. In CLIF Bar’s “Eat Like an Athlete” video (in the player above), she dishes some of her training secrets. Here are seven ideas you won’t want to miss:
1. Find Creative Ways to Get Your Nutrients
Howe’s favorite CLIF Bar combo is a chocolate flavored CLIF Bar topped with peanut butter. It’s a smart enhancement. Peanut butter is full of healthy fats and protein, both of which are necessary in any athlete’s diet.
Pairing healthy foods together is a great way to sneak in extra energy or nutrients. Use Howe’s trick of adding peanut butter to a chocolate treat, or try other combos, like adding slices of avocado to a chicken meal, or drizzling extra olive oil on a salad to increase your healthy fat intake.
2. Create a Fitness “Bucket List”
Setting a fitness goal makes it easier to stay motivated and not give up when things get tough. Howe had to overcome injuries before all of her biggest races, and she constantly sets new goals. Her ultimate? To conquer the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), a stunning 104-mile mountain race that carves through Switzerland, France and Italy. Create new challenges for yourself so you never run out of goals.
3. Map Your Route
Howe usually prepares with lots of food and water before a run, but once, while she was running a race in Ecuador, she got lost in the woods and went for two hours without eating or drinking. She eventually found her way back to the race, but the experience made her vow never to be without food or water for that long again.
Whether you’re heading out for a long run in the woods or a short jaunt around the neighborhood, map out your run and leave a copy of your route where someone can find it. You want somebody—a family member, friend, or coworker—to know where you’re going and when to expect you back, just in case. And when you head out for a race, always have back-up food and water options available in case something goes wrong. Having an emergency snack on hand ensures you won’t hit empty if you veer off the course for a bit.
4. Treat Yourself After a Race
Howe celebrates race finishes by chowing down on chips and guacamole followed by a huge burrito. That’s not just a tasty reward; it’s a healthy one that helps her body rebuild. Refueling after a competition allows her body to recover more quickly. Make sure to treat yourself to a meal that contains healthy fats, carbs and protein so you can bounce back from a big race quickly. Also, if you plan a post-race treat, you’ll have something to look forward to in the closing miles of a long run, spurring you on to a strong finish.
5. Find a Training Partner
Training with a friend is always easier than training alone. Howe got creative with her training buddy and started running with her dog Riley. Riley now goes on all of her long runs, even for distances up to 30 miles. That might sound like a lot, but Riley is the ultimate training partner. He actually gets disappointed if Howe cuts a run too short, and he always wants to run farther.
A training partner makes you more motivated and more accountable, since you know the other person (or dog) is counting on you. It keeps you from slacking off or making excuses—and who wants to let down their dog? Even if your partner can’t go the full distance, having a friend meet you for just a few miles will give you an extra boost.
6. Find Balance
The best nutrition advice Howe ever got was to eat everything in moderation. To build a balanced diet, athletes need to get enough carbs, protein and fats. Howe believes you can incorporate almost everything into a healthy diet as long as you eat appropriate quantities.
A complete plate for an athlete consists of one-third protein (chicken, salmon or tofu), one-third carbohydrates (pasta, rice or quinoa), and one-third vegetables and greens. To get a little bit of fat in, add a sprinkle of olive oil to your pasta, or a healthy fat like avocados.
7. Eat Lots of Greens
Howe’s all-time favorite food group is vegetables. She even prefers broccoli over bacon—but it’s even better to have them together. She puts things like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale into a bowl with a little olive oil, and sometimes adds a little bacon.
A bowl of veggies is a great dish for an athlete, since it’s filled with healthy nutrients and good fats—and a little bacon is a reward. Add a lean protein like chicken or salmon and a quality carbohydrate like quinoa, and you have a perfect performance meal.