Talk at Gustavus - Goal Setting and Nutrition

I went down to Gustavus last Friday to partake in a workout with the team.  It’s their early camp and they had a longer up-tempo workout – super fun to be able to run with the team!  Gosh, it makes me miss college & the team.  It also makes me feel a little old, since I’m ELEVEN years older than the freshmen this year.  How did that happen?!?

One of the fun things I did after the workout was to do a talk with both the men’s and women’s team about all of the things I’ve learned about running post-college.  Although I did well at GAC (5 school records, 4x NCAA qualifier), I feel like I left a lot on the table.  I never finished All-American, didn’t really improve over my 4 years (until my senior year, outdoor track, when Dale had me running higher mileage (which was 40-50 vs. the 30-40 I had been doing previously - I made NCAAs in the 10k for the first time).  There’s a lot that I would change about my collegiate career.

My main message centered around goal setting and attitude.  I don’t know how I developed my current love of training and racing, but know that it’s a little unique.  I truly love the process of training, chasing goals, PRs, and making the most of each day I’m given.  It’s such a deep passion, too – there are very few days that I don’t want to do what’s on my training plan or push as hard as I can through a hard workout.  Each day, each workout, each strength session, etc is an opportunity to make myself better, stronger, faster.  I love that pursuit.

The second part of my talk centered around nutrition.  Although I am not at all an expert, there has been a LOT that I’ve learned lately, particularly with Donna Marlor’s help.  A few of the highlights, since I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while:

Obviously, being fit/lean is a part of running/racing well.  I always assumed that meant eating less – really it means eating BETTER.  Back in 2010, I was literally eating almost all of my calories from packaged or processed sources:  frozen pizza was a common evening meal, frozen meals for lunch were common (and convenient!), and I loved snacking on any chocolate/cookies/baked goods.  I targeted the right “number” of calories, so wondered why I didn’t look like the other women around me.  Must be that I was eating too much?

What I’ve found is that it was completely WHAT I was eating.  Now that I’ve switched to a mostly fresh and/or plant based diet (I still cheat, definitely! And I really like meat, but find that I truly love vegetable/bean dishes), I’ve found my body has responded remarkably well.  I look a little more like the women around me, and best of all, I recover faster (MUCH faster), am running better, and feel better overall. 

So, what have I changed?
·         -I just don’t buy the packaged/processed stuff.  Period.  Not even if it’s on sale with a coupon (this is hard for me! I love stretching a dollar as far as I can!)

·        - “Give me a dollar” jar – if I’m snacking in the evening, I need to contribute a dollar to a jar – which Nate gets to use to buy candy.  Since that’s something I don’t support, I have to be really desperate to “cheat” and contribute a dollar to his jar.  To this day, there is just $1 in it.  A moment of weakness…

·       -  In working with Donna, I’ve also defined how to eat the right amount at the right time.  This two things have probably made the BIGGEST difference in my running lately, I’m not kidding.
o   First, # of calories/day – since I’m a smaller person, my basal metabolic rate is just lower than average.  (Bummer #1)
o   When you add in the number of calories needed for daily activity, plus the number I burn/day running, I’m at around 2100ish/day.  That’s based on general nutrition ratios (can estimate using any online tool) and more importantly, monitoring my weight/caloric intake for a period of time.  At 2100/day I was maintaining weight.  2100, you’re asking yourself? That’s so low! Yes, it is… but I guess that’s what I get for being a pretty efficient runner.  (Bummer #2)
o   Bummer #3 comes when I’m trying to target race weight.  We’ve based that target on body fat %, based on averages published in Racing Weight.  Granted, everyone is so different… but at least that gives me a general guideline.  My target race weight is mid 104’s.  It’s very possible that I don’t have the genetics to get my body fat down to that level (My parents are not athletes, by any stretch of the imagination, don’t take offense Mom or Dad if you’re reading this!!) – but it’s a target, nonetheless.  So – why is this a bummer?  It means I need to be BELOW 2100/day to get to race weight.  Donna has suggested 1800/day, with obvious fluctuations.  That is a somewhat depressingly low number… especially if you love cookies, brownies, and all things bad for you…

·         I now have caloric targets for meals and snacks, also something different.  Although 1800 isn’t a lot, I don’t find myself hungry – which is odd to me.  Whenever I’ve tried to lose weight in the past, I’ve had days where I’m just HUNGRY.  I think that was because I was eating way too little, and my body responded by wanting a LOT (and I’d respond with a day of eating a ton).  Now, I’m more consistent because the caloric deficit is small. (Duh)

·         Donna’s given me targets for carbs, protein, and fat.  I often struggle to get to my protein and fat targets… and by often, I mean that every day I’m looking into the fridge (packing my meal for the day) and thinking… okay, this combination gets me about here, but wait… there’s not much protein here… what can I add?

·         Another HUGE change has been eating immediately after a workout.  I thought I added this in last cycle when I scarfed down a handful of almonds and ate an apple after a workout.  After reading Camille’s blog post, I decided to give her calorie targets a try.  What have I found?  In the month that I’ve done this, I have recovered SO much quicker.  You’ve seen my blog posts lately – there has never been a month that I’ve been able to maintain mileage like this, feel as good as I do, and recover so quickly.  It could be a coincidence, but I don’t think so – since although we’ve tweaked the training plan again this cycle to better fit me, and although I’m stronger – I really don’t think those two things would have made as big of a difference as I’ve seen in this cycle.

·         I have to be careful, then, with how these calories add up since I’m often running 2x/day.  I now generally try to eat breakfast after a morning run now, or time my noon run to end early enough where I have time for lunch at my desk before having to rush off to meetings.  

·         I’ve lost over 2 pounds since starting with Donna, which has been great – especially since it came off so easy.  I generally struggle with those first few pounds.  I guess what was has been so fun about working with her is how easy she’s made everything – I don’t really have to think much, just try to fall within my ranges, be aware of the total number of calories (love!).  If I feel like eating a cookie or pasta or a bagel or anything, I can!!  I just have to log it & fit my other meals smartly around it.  Yeah – freedom (Before I was just eating a lot of the same, because I thought those were the only “good foods” – turns out, everything is good, in moderation… duh, Nichole)!

That’s all for now.  Time to catch up on work.  If you have time Wednesday night, stop by the Co-op!  I’ll be talking about my journey, goal setting, and more details on how nutrition has helped me get there (and will help a ton going forward).

Nichole Porath

Nichole is a blogger, elite level runner, and coach. She ran professionally for Brooks for two years after qualifying for the 2012 US Olympic Marathon Trials. During that time she founded TNC endurance, where she coaches and motivationally speaks to organizations large and small. This blog details her rise to national-level racing, and continues to follow her as she gets back into racing after starting a family. Read on, friends!


  1. Thanks for sharing all of this! I'm always interested in learning how top athletes can lose weight because it isn't as though they have much to lose which makes it even harder!

  2. Although I understand that you are an efficient runner and not very tall, it seems like 1800 is a really low number of daily calories for a runner of your mileage. Is your nutritionist certain that this is okay for your amount of activity? I fear it may eventually lead to low energy levels.