U.S. Olympic runner Colleen Quigley talks her love of food, training and balancing both


On the eve of the New Balance Fifth Ave Mile, U.S. Olympic runner Colleen Quigley talks to FoodSided about her favorite foods, training and finding the balance in her life.

Elite athletes, like U.S. Olympic runner Colleen Quigley, are dedicated to perfecting their craft. While training is a big focus of their best performance, eating well, and right, can be the optimum fuel for that performance. Recently, FoodSided chatted with Quigley about her favorite foods, training regime and how a runner becomes a mermaid.

When I was offered the opportunity to chat with Colleen Quigley, I did a little research on her background. The acclaimed steeple chase runner’s road to success wasn’t quite a direct path. The former model wasn’t the kid who was groomed to be an elite athlete. She experienced all that school and the world had to offer. After chatting with her, her approach to training and food seems to reflect a wonderful example of balance.

Looking at Colleen Quigley’s website, her love of food is quite apparent. Whether it is sharing a favorite recipe or suggesting some delicious recipes to support training, she seems to appreciate that athletes eat good and well. Even though she might not have that overindulgent, cheat day, her recipes are so flavorful and thoughtful. It goes to show that food is fuel for athletes.

As a mom of a cross country runner and swimmer, I was quite curious to chat with Quigley. Finding a way to encourage young athletes to eat well and listen to their bodies is so important. Whether it refueling after a race or preparing your body for a big event, eating right is paramount.

After an injury, she turned to swimming as a training option. Having always her runners aren’t swimmers and swimmers aren’t runners, personally, I wanted to hear her perspective on this cross training. Her philosophy on using these two sports to complement her training was quite fascinating.

Colleen Quigley, photo provided by NYRR

Below is a transcript of my interview with Colleen Quigley.

Cristine Struble: Is there one food that you avoid on race day? Or, is there one food that you have to have prior to a race?

Colleen Quigley: On race day, I keep my diet super simple. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing too spicy, just boring plain food. For Sunday’s race, since it is at 12:10 p.m., I will only have one meal beforehand, so that’s easy. I will wake up and have oatmeal around 7:30 a.m. That is the same meal I have before all my workouts as well, so I know that it sits in my stomach well and will be no problem. My favorite breakfasts (along with my oatmeal recipe) are on my website here.

CS: If there one food that you always have to have before a race? Is there a food that you find energizing before a race?

CQ: The only thing I have after my last meal (oatmeal) will be a coffee. Other than that, I like to warmup and race on an empty stomach, feeling light and powerful.

CS: Do you allow yourself a cheat day during training? If yes, what is your favorite cheat day meal? Or, after a big race do you allow yourself a cheat day/meal? What you do eat post-race?

CQ: I feel best when I cut out sweets and alcohol during my racing months. But I still allow myself a couple pieces of dark chocolate after dinner sometimes. My favorite “dessert” during the season is plain Greek yogurt with some berries and granola. This absolutely hits the spot, is a little sweet and cool like ice cream with a satisfying crunch from the granola. I make my own granola and am in the process of creating my own granola company (called “gRUNola”) but I also have a recipe on my site. I recommend making your own because then you know exactly what goes in it because a lot of the granola you buy at the store is actually packed with sugar and not a ton of nutrients, just oats and a sweetener. My granola has plenty of nuts and seeds for healthy fats and is packed with nutrients.

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CS: How to you keep energized during training? Are there certain foods that you find helpful for training, keep your diet on track yet don’t leave you deprived?

CQ: I don’t usually fuel during my training because my workouts aren’t really long enough to require that. I have teammates who run the marathon and do these insane long runs that definitely need to stay fueled for. My longest run is 1hr 45 min to 2hrs long and the most I need for that is some water and electrolytes typically. Sometimes I will use a gel or gummy product for an especially long/hard run but the main focus for me is fueling properly before (not running in a fasted state) and definitely recovering well with good food after. As soon as we get done cooling down, I’m popping in some of my homemade date balls to get fuel to my muscles immediately and start the recovery process. You can find the recipe for those on my website, too.

CS: How much do you train during season? Is being hungry during season typical/ok? What would you suggest to younger athletes who dislike that hunger/training scenario?

CQ: I feel like I’m always hungry and always eating. That’s okay. The best thing you can do is listen to your body. And plan out your eating so that you don’t find yourself in a situation where you are super hungry and in a place where you can’t find suitable, healthy, fresh food, like at an airport or on the road. So if I’m going to be traveling I try to prep ahead of time and bring myself some healthy snacks in case I get in a pinch. I always have a bar in my bag in case I need it, but as much as I can I try to snack on fresh fruits and vegetables in between meals.

CS: How important is hydration to your training? How can the weekend athlete or the young athlete benefit from proper hydration?

Hydration is such a part of my life now that I don’t even realize how much more water and electrolytes I drink than the normal person. I always have my water bottle with me. Always.

CS: How important is eating clean? Does it affect your training/how you feel during training?

CQ: I enjoy eating foods that make me feel good, energized, and strong. But those foods also have to taste good. I can tell the difference in my training when I have had crap food. It makes me feel lethargic, heavy, sore, swollen, achy, etc. I studied nutrition in school so this topic is definitely a passion of mine. I also highly recommend athletes speak to a nutritionist or dietitian to get more personalized advice on how best to use food as a tool for improving training and performance. In my opinion, nutrition and mental coaching are two areas that are massively overlooked by a lot of athletes and both play just a big of a role as the physical training in an athlete’s success.

Colleen Quigley, sample meal, photo by Colleen Quigley

CS: What’s your favorite recipe/meal that a runner should incorporate into his/her diet?

CQ: I eat such a variety of foods, which I think is really important. People always want to know what the superfoods are or what my favorite food is. Variety is key. Eating lots of different vegetables and grains and fruits and fats will make sure that you get all the micronutrients your body needs. Spinach is great, but if you eat only spinach as your leafy green you are missing out on a lot of yummy vegetables, but also a lot of sources of vitamins. One of my all-time favorite meals is one that I grew up eating with my family. My family has always been super healthy, so we ate this pasta dish instead of having macaroni and cheese like most kids would. It’s called yogurt fettuccini and it is a creamy white sauce pasta made from plain yogurt and parmesan cheese. It is a total crowd pleaser and I’ve been making it for my teammates (in college and as a pro) ever since I left home.

CS: On your website, you mention that you balance running with swimming, as a mom of a competitive swimmer/XC runner – how do the two sports balance each other? How important is cross training for an athlete?

CQ: In 2015, I taught myself how to swim because I was injured and needed to exercise while I couldn’t run (both for mental and physical health). Swimming has been a total game changer for me. I know that if I try to run as many miles as my other teammates do that I will end up with an injury. And as good as I might be able to be if I were able to run 100 miles per week, I’m useless if I do that for a week or two then end up injured. So for me, I run less miles and supplement with swimming to make up the difference. I still get injured sometimes, but I’m less afraid to take a down day in the pool to recover if needed. Now I recommend swimming to both injured runners and healthy runners who are trying to get some extra cardio work in without the impact of extra miles. I build swimming into my normal routine by replacing a double run in the afternoon 3-4 times per week with a swim instead.

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Thank you Colleen Quigley for taking the time to chat with me and FoodSided. Best of luck at the New Balance Fifth Ave Mile and the rest of the season.