Rather than drop out of the race (which is probably that anyone short of an Olympian would do), Diggins decided to solider on. “I’ve definitely experienced worse,” she says, “but it was pretty upsetting; I didn’t have the energy to go up to the venue and test my skis.”
After speaking with her sports dietitian and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, she came up with a plan that got her to the start line—and ultimately on the medal stand (she won silver, NBD). It involved a finely-tuned fueling strategy she’s been testing for years before big events and particularly tough practices.
How Jessie Diggins fuels before, during, and after long runs
On race day
Ask any distance athlete, and they’ll tell you that the number-one rule when it comes to fuel is not to eat anything new on race day. And Diggins is no different. “Usually, I’m all about trying new foods, but race morning is not the time to experiment,” she says. “After many, many years of races, I know what’s gonna stay down and stay with me the whole time.”
For her, that’s oatmeal, peanut butter, and banana, a mix of simple carbs and healthy fats, with minimal protein since it can be hard on your stomach to process. (It was the meal she ate on repeat while recovering from food poisoning.) “It’s easy to travel with a jar of peanut butter or almond butter,” Diggins says. “And that’s typically something that I don’t like to change.”
Hydration is her other priority. Two to five hours prior to a race, she’ll drink a bottle of water with a serving of Nuun Prime Mix in it (she’s an ambassador for the brand), and 90 minutes before the gun goes off, she’ll drink another one with Nuun’s Endurance Mix. “I usually have a 16-ounce water bottle, and I’ll go through two of those,” she says. “Then I’ll drink another about 32 ounces in the two hours before the race.”
While competing, Diggins only consumes small sips of water at feed stations throughout the course, as well as easy sources of simple carbs and sugars if she’s hungry. “I’m leaning toward sports gummies, something easily digestible that won’t take energy to give me energy.”
Once she crosses the finish line, within 20 minutes, she’ll drink a recovery shake containing carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. “We’re usually going through the media zone right after a race,” Diggins explains, “and so you don’t have 10 minutes to just sit down and eat something. It’s easier to take one minute and drink something.”
Unlike on race days, when Diggins is more dialed in with her fuel regimen, during practices, especially in the off season, she embraces what she calls a “flexible approach” to how she fuels for longer training sessions. “I just tend to eat a lot of everything, and nothing’s off limits,” she says. “I make sure that I’m eating a lot of different fruits and vegetables in my meals to make sure I’m getting enough nutrients so that I have a good immune system. And if I want to enjoy dessert—which I pretty much do every single day—then I’m going to do that.”
Diggins, who says she struggled with an eating disorder in her late teens, prefers to put the energy she saves from not stressing over her diet to better use by focusing on her technique and form. “I’ve spent a lot of time, with a lot of help from some amazing people, learning how to trust my body and try not to fight against my body, but to use my own strengths that I was genetically blessed with,” she says. (Something she wishes media outlets focused on more, rather than on what female athletes look like—or don’t look like.)
If she has to pack snacks for a long-distance practice, it could be anything from her favorite, homemade energy balls (recipe below!) to a candy bar. “This is also my life, you know, like I’ve been doing this for the last 12 years, and so I’m not going to stress about the day to day. I want to get it right on race day, but in the summer, if I want to bring a candy bar on a long run, ultimately, my body doesn’t know the difference. The biggest thing is to make sure I’m getting enough energy to support the high level of training that I’m doing.”
Jessie Diggins’ Go-To Chocolate Raspberry Coffee Bites
Makes 12 balls
1 1/2 cups dates
1 cup walnuts
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp finely ground coffee beans
3/4 cup frozen raspberries
1 cup rolled oats, rice crisp cereal, or chia seeds
1. Process the first eight ingredients together in a food blender.
2. Roll into little balls, then roll each ball in either oats, rice crisp cereal or chia seeds until the outside isn’t sticky anymore.
3. Chill in fridge until cold and firm.
4. Keep refrigerated until it’s time to take them on adventures!
Final food for thought
While Diggins definitely focuses on her fuel strategy, she says she’s as focused (if not more so) on her mental strength because that’s what gets you over the finish line—something she put to the test in Beijing. “For the most part, if you’re within the ballpark of what works for you, what you eat or don’t eat isn’t going to make or break your race,” she says. “Have a great mindset, a really good attitude, and be ready to go hard and be in the moment and focus on your race.”
In the end, it was a mindset tip from her mom that she credits with helping her make it onto the podium after food poisoning: “One of the things that my mom said that was really, really helpful was: ‘Don’t decide right now,’” Diggins shares. “‘You don’t need to decide 24 hours before the race how you might feel, how you might do. Right now, you’re gonna eat, you’re gonna drink, you’re gonna sleep. And then even if you decide to start the race, it doesn’t mean you have to finish.’ I didn’t already decide that it wasn’t going to work. You just don’t know what could happen.” It’s advice that’s worth its weight in gold (and silver).
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