This Olympic runner doesn't fear fat.

By Brianna Wippman
Updated May 24, 2017
Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky
Credit: © Alan Weiner

Elite runner Shalane Flanagan holds multiple American records, she won the bronze medal in the 10,000-meter race at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and she'll represent Team USA in the marathon at this summer's Rio Olympics. So how does Flanagan fuel while running 120+ miles a week? In her forthcoming cookbook, Run Fast, Eat Slow, Flanagan shares the surprisingly delicious-sounding recipes she swears keep her satisfied and largely injury-free. (A few examples: Long Run Mineral Broth, Can't Beet Me Smoothies and her go-to Race Day Oatmeal.) For the book, Flanagan partnered with former college teammate and graduate of the National Gourmet Institute, Elyse Kopecky, to create nourishing recipes for runners that dispel food myths (like fat is bad) and embrace nutrient-dense whole foods. We caught up with Flanagan and Kopecky on their favorite recipes from the book and what Shalane is most looking forward to eating in Rio.

Shalane, you kept a food journal leading up to the Berlin marathon. What did you learn from it?

SF: When we first kicked off our cookbook project, Elyse asked me to keep a food journal so she could study what I ate and translate it into nourishing recipes for the everyday runner. It was great inspiration for the book, but it also helped me improve my own diet. Elyse showed me I wasn’t getting enough healthy fats and taught me to make simple switches like buying whole milk plain yogurt instead of low-fat sugary yogurt. Getting more fat in my diet has enabled me to feel satisfied, more energized, and now my racing weight comes naturally—no deprivation needed.

How does Run Fast, Eat Slow differ from other running-related cookbooks?

SF: This is the first cookbook for athletes that doesn’t obsess over macronutrients measurements and instead teaches runners how to simply fuel their bodies with real food. We intentionally left calorie counts out of our book because calories are not a good measure of the nutrient quality of food. Instead we want to teach people how to be in tune with their energy needs.

EK: When I was running competitively in college, I suffered from athletic amenorrhea, which is when you don’t get your period. It's a problem that's common among female runners and there's a lot of misinformation when it comes to nutrition. I think we still have a fear of fat in the US and counting calories doesn't tell you anything. When I moved to Europe after college, my diet changed; I was eating less processed foods and more healthy fats from nuts, cheese and whole-milk. I approached food with a healthier mindset. Shalane and I connected over this when I moved back to the States, and we wanted to bring the idea of "indulgent nourishment"—eating whole foods—to our teammates and fellow athletes.

Is there a recipe from the book that you're particularly attached to?

SF: My body needs more iron while training at high altitude and I crave red meat. I love to make the Greek bison burgers and bake wholesome treats to devour after a hard training session. Most people don’t realize a burger is actually a healthy indulgence when you take the time to prepare it from high quality grass-fed meat.

EK: It's too hard to choose just one! For my family, it's more of a meal (3 recipes from the book) that I make at least once a week. I have a toddler, and they need a lot of really good fats as their brains develop. Saturated fats get such a bad rep in our culture, but they're essential and really important for active people. My daughter, Lily is a total carnivore. I'll make the grass-fed burger with Greek bison from the book, which is really rich in iron and good fats. We'll have it with sweet potato fries and a grain salad. I like to use the leftovers for burger bowls with brown rice or quinoa and some stir-fried veggies.

We got into making bone broth before [Shalane ran in] the Olympic trials. I invited Shalane over to show her how it's made, how to pour it out and properly store it. I had her hold the strainer while I poured the broth into the bowl, and unbeknownst to Shalane, I'd put chicken feet in to scare her. She screamed! "What is this? A witch's brew? Are you a witch?" It was hilarious and we still laugh about it.

What tips do you have for busy runners when traveling?

EK: I always keep a healthy snack stashed in my bag such as roasted nuts with different seasonings. I dedicate one day a week to make big batches of things—a big tray of veggies, grains for salads and a full pint size mason jar dressing. Making food in advance is important; it's easy to grab [a less healthy] packaged bar if you don't have something already made. In the summer we'll throw extra meat on the grill and in the winter we'll do roasted chicken—that way we can take advantage of leftovers for quick meals during the week.

SF: Always pack your own snacks! I’m hooked on baking a batch of our Ginger Molasses Granola or Superhero Muffins before I travel. Bring along your race day fuel so you aren’t trying anything new on race day. I bring my own oatmeal and nut butter so I can make my Race Day Oatmeal in my hotel room.

Elyse, you have an adorable daughter! Did she help with the recipe testing?

EK: Yes! We started writing the book a few months after Lily was born. We actually never fed her baby food, we let her learn to explore all of the foods we were eating. Lily [now 2] is obsessed with the Beet Hummus! We took her to a restaurant recently where we ordered hummus (a classic version) and because it wasn't bright pink she wouldn't even touch it!

You've known each other since your college days at UNC; did you learn anything new about each other while working on Run Fast, Eat Slow?

SF: Since our days at Carolina, I've always known that Elyse was a focused and driven woman, but working on our book together my mind was blown. I surround myself with passionate and dedicated athletes everyday (so I have high standards!) but I can honestly say Elyse is the hardest working woman I know. Her commitment to excellence and giving her absolute best can be seen in every aspect of her life, whether it's the tiniest details of our book or raising her daughter.

EK: I used to think, oh Shalane must have these amazing days; she gets to go on runs and see new cities. But really, it's incredible to understand what an elite runner like Shalane puts into her career; she's busy all day long—whether it's running, going to the gym, cross-training or getting a massage (and not the relaxing kind, it's super painful!!). Shalane even has to answer her phone no matter what time of day! She's one of the most [drug] tested female athletes and they even showed up at the house once when we were recipe testing. I didn't know this part of the sport that was always following her. I'm thankful that the they do that it though, it's important to keep the sport clean. She's incredibly dedicated and a huge inspiration to me. As busy as Shalane is, she was super involved in the book every step of the way, testing each recipe while on the road. When I get nervous or stressed out I think to myself, "just be like Shalane."

I'll also never forget visiting Shalane at her house in Portland and being surprised that none of her medals or accomplishments were on the wall. Shalane keeps her Olympic medal in a sock drawer, and when I asked her why it wasn't on display she told me, she "doesn't want to be complacent." Shalane wants each race to be better than the last. No matter what she's always onto the next accomplishment. We actually had her bring the medal for the [cookbook] photo shoot and my daughter (who was one at the time) put it in her mouth and started teething on it! Hopefully that means she'll get some athleticism!

Shalane, how has your food mentality changed going into this training season and the Rio Olympics?

SF: Elyse taught me how to embrace delicious, healthy food. In the past I would feel a burden with my "diet." I worried about whether I was eating the right foods and how it would affect my performance. Now I feel like I have been given such a great tool, I know how to cook indulgent recipes and don't have to worry about counting calories!

What's the food like at the Olympic village? What food(s) are you looking forward to trying in Rio? Anything you're avoiding?

SF: The Olympic village cafeteria contains every food imaginable!! They literally are feeding the world. I'm most looking forward to all the fresh fruits that Rio has to offer.

I will be avoiding the tap water. Every country has different filtration systems and I may not be accustomed to Rio's. So I will be consuming lots of bottled water while I'm there.

How will you celebrate after race day in Rio?

SF: With a beer and burger and of course a doughnut (or two!) when I return to Portland.

What's your favorite food indulgence?

EK: Shalane and I bonded over beer! Most of my girl friends drink wine, but Shalane and I definitely prefer beer. A lot of runners drink Coors Light or Bud Light, which is stripped of anything nutritious. But local microbreweries—there are great ones in Oregon—make awesome nutrient-packed beers. I love drinking an IPA after a long hike—it's super refreshing and hydrating!

Where are your favorite places to eat and drink in Oregon?

SF: Since I’m away from home [in Portland] a good part of the year, I prefer to hit up the Portland Farmers Market to pick up inspiring ingredients to cook at home. Portland has incredible restaurants…too many to choose a favorite. Last time Elyse and I were together in Portland we went to Oven and Shaker, love their pizza and salads, and the owner, Chef Cathy Whims, is a fellow UNC Chapel Hill transplant (she contributed a pasta salad recipe in our cookbook!).

EK: Yes—the fennel sausage pie with caramelized onions and the kale salad at Oven and Shaker is to die for! Cathy also is the chef at Nostrana, which is incredible. I live in Bend, OR now, and I'm hooked on regular stops at Paradise Produce, a farmer's market stand that has local fruit and veggies. Next door is Primal Cuts meat market, where you can pick up local grass-fed beef. The area is really a one-stop-shop where you can get everything at once—amazing sandwiches, appetizers and of course bring a growler to fill it up with local beer!

For brunch, I love Chow, they have an amazing polenta cake topped with seasonal veggies and a fried egg. On weekends there's live music and they are dedicated to using local produce. For a date night, Ariana's is a little fancier.

One of my favorite local breweries is Crux—the beers are delicious and they have an awesome outdoor space for kids to run around.

Run Fast, Eat Slow is available August 9. Preorder here.