Michel Roux Jr has run 20 marathons and finds running provides him with the balance he needs to cope with his busy schedule. Find out why the superstar chef cuts red meat from his diet before a race, which superfoods get him to the finish line and what every new runner should avoid doing...
Hi Michel! We hear you don't eat red meat in the run up to the marathon, why is that?
Are there any other foods you avoid when you’re training?
Foods that are very high in fat, although saying that if you're running you need quite a bit of fat in your diet. The way I look at it, eating animal fats or unadulterated fats such as butter, cream and cheese are actually good for you. I do avoid foods that are high in sugar.
You said in The Marathon Chef cookbook that it was trial and error creating recipes for your training, what did it involve?
When you're training for a marathon, the diet can be a bit boring so it's finding spices and flavours to make it interesting. I ran the Midnight Sun marathon a few years back. My body clock was all messed up and I didn't know what to eat for lunch so I decided to eat what the locals were having. I found a restaurant in Tromso that was serving whale meat and I thought I’m not going to have another occasion to eat it so I did. I ran 26 miles with the taste of whale blubber in my mouth. I think I woke up the next morning and it was still there!
What ingredients do you have in your runner's storecupboard?
Spices - pepper, chilli, cumin, caraway seeds – you can put them in a pepper mill and grind them. Dried foods like seaweed, kelp, mushroom and tomato - they really enhance the flavour of dishes.
What do you eat before or after running?
I make a homemade granola bar or flapjack - they're very convenient. There are energy bars available but it's great to make your own. If you can't make your own, take a little sachet of good quality dried fruit and nuts - they are very nutritious.
What do you think is the one thing all new runners should avoid doing?
Setting off too fast. As a novice runner, I remember my first marathon. You read all the magazines. Everybody tells you, ‘Don't go too fast’ but I made that mistake. You get caught up in the wonderful euphoria of the event and everybody cheering you on and then you get to the first mile marker and think, ‘How did I get here? I’m going really fast and I feel great!’ Slow down! It's far better to be sprinting at the end.
What is the best way to refuel mid-race. Do you have gels?
I’m not keen on the thick gels but sports drinks are very good. Start drinking those when you're training so your body is used to absorbing them or you may have a bad reaction on the day.
What is the one diet or lifestyle change you would suggest for someone preparing for their first marathon?
Cut back on the booze. Having said that, I always have a glass of wine with my meal. I don't really change that habit even the night before a marathon – I find it relaxes me and aids digestion and that's the way it is. That's one glass though, not a bottle!
How has running changed your life?
I stopped smoking. I gave up 24 years ago. I certainly run a lot better. Cutting back on alcohol and moderation in general is good, reading food labels and being careful when you eat in a restaurant too is important, choosing something grilled as opposed to in a cream sauce.
I also think running (or any sport) makes you manage your diary better and prioritise what you do. You find time to run and do other things.
Is there one thing people can do on race day to make them go faster?
Often my fastest times and my best times come when I'm least expecting it, so I think it's down to being totally relaxed and maybe trying to put that speed thing at the back of your mind. I've always looked at my split times and one thing that does help is trying to do the first half of the marathon slower than the second half. If you can keep something in the bag for the end, I reckon that's when you get the PBs.
Can you name three things you've learned while you've been running marathons?
1. If you don't train properly it can be very painful...
2. …and it can be very painful if you try to train with an injury – I found that one out first-hand!
3. They're very personal because you're on your own. You may be running in a big marathon with 30,000 people but out there, it’s just you. You and the clock!
What do you find yourself thinking about when you’re running?
Oh, a hundred and one things. It’s a great moment of escapism. I’m very, very busy working nearly every hour of the day so when I’m on my own running, it’s a great release.
As a world-renowned chef Michel Roux Jr is the author or many cookbooks including The Marathon Chef: Food for Getting Fit.
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