Interview | Milly Clark
Runner Milly Clark, hugely popular in Australia, has been a fixture of the marathon season since finishing third in her marathon debut. Clocking in at just 2:29:07 in Amsterdam in 2015, she headed off for the Rio Olympics where she came an incredible 18th.
We grabbed a few moments with the 29 year old, to find out how she fuels herself as an elite marathon runner...
Pre-race; a number of athletes that have spoken to TPK have said how important it is to eat the right sort of meal the night before a game or a race; what sorts of meals are you having the night before a race? "I am a huge believer on eating and preparing yourself in the entire day before a race. I try to keep dinner as simple as possible - it will always be rice (white or brown does not bother me) with some steamed green vegetables and a generous sprinkling of salt! I try to keep it as low on fibre as possible, just to ensure there no GI issues, cramps or nausea when it's go time!"
Pre-race, what are you eating & how early/close to competing do you eat? "Unless it is a marathon, I typically don't eat much before a race. What I like to do is have a high carbohydrate snack (rice crackers, fruit or lollies) right before I go to bed the night before the race so I don't have to stress or wake up super early to eat. Most road races have early starts - so I prefer to eat before bed and take the extra sleep.
If you eat well the whole day prior to racing, I don't worry about not having much before I race. I also get really bad reflux, so the earlier I can eat and fuel the better for me. If I have something on race morning, it would be a handful of jelly beans right before I start my warm-up - about 1 hour before the gun goes off".
What are you having after a race? Can you eat whatever you like, or do you still have to make sure you're having the right amount of protein/carbs/etc? "Post race is an entirely different story! Most of the time, I think your body ends up craving what it needs. Given that I eat more carbohydrates in the lead up to a race, I find I always crave more protein rich foods after a run. My go-to is a massive chicken schnitzel or a big piece of crispy skinned salmon - my favourites. I also find the protein helps repair the damage muscle tissue from racing. I also enjoy some watery fruit (rockmelon, kiwi or Nashi pears) right after a race as they help with rehydration and replenishing carbohydrates".
Does your diet change much between off & on-season, do you still have to worry about staying healthy & fit whilst on holiday? "For me personally, I have always eaten really fresh food, even since I was a young girl. I grew up in Tasmania on a farm, so we always ate our own home-grown vegetables and the occasional rabbit stew! I actually don't even really like chocolate or cakes - I find I always crave more savoury types of foods.
My diet really does not change much with the on/off season or over the course of a year. What does change for me would be how much carbohydrates or protein I consume from day to day - depending on what type of training I am doing. For example, on a harder training day I will eat more carbohydrates before and after then on a lighter training day, focus more on protein to assist recovery".
Do you eat much at the gym or during training, do you always have some protein powder or a bar, or some gels within easy reach? "Ha - I don't think my gym sessions would require much energy input! Us marathoners aren't exactly throwing around that many heavy weights! Sometimes for a longer tempo session and a long run when I am preparing for a marathon - I like to have gels during those runs. It serves a dual purpose - to practice eating on the run and get an energy boost when needed".
How important is hydration to an athlete at your level?
"I actually had this exact conversation with someone the other day - I think hydration should be the first priority on every athletes mind. I notice more than anything when I am not hydrated before a training session. My muscles just don't have the same bounce and my mind isn't in the game. I also think often we overlook the importance of electrolytes as a huge requirement for being considered "hydrated".
We don't just sweat out water - we also lose sodium, magnesium and calcium. This is why I always try to have my liquids as anything BUT just plain water. I always have NUUN tablets handy, I drink a lot of tea with milk (great for electrolytes) and drink bone broth for some extra calcium".
Max Lahiff (Pro rugby player here in the UK) came down to our studio and said sleep and nutrition are king for recovery, do you find the same? "I have to confess I am a HORRIBLE sleeper. I wish I slept more - so I would have to agree with Max on this one.
I do try to take naps or just close my eyes to rest when I get the chance, and always feel much better for it the next day. As I am a Dietitian by trade, I know and value the importance of food as a really great recovery tool as well. All the adaptations from training happen the moment you step off the field, court or track so I try to do what I can to maximise those adaptations".
What are the most common meals in your house? Do you have to make sure you're eating XX amount of calories per day/week? "I can say I definitely do not follow or track how many 'calories' I eat in a day or week. As I mentioned before, each day is different in terms of training intensity or my work hours, so I use my appetite as my biggest guide. Of course I have in the back of my mind the types of food I need (protein or carbs) but I don't worry about the amount - I believe everything balances out in the long run.
I think my most common meal would be a chicken schnitzel - homemade of course! Nothing better than dipping a chicken breast in some egg and breadcrumbs and serving it with roasted sweet potato and vegetables with balsamic vinegar. I also eat fish 3 times a week".
What is your 'cheat' recipe? "As I said before, I really am not a fan of cakes, chocolate or anything super sweet like that. I genuinely don't think there would be a "cheat" recipe for me - with the amount of training I do I am not really worried about that kind of thing as I don't crave sweets or anything that might sabotage my training/performance. I will admit however, my weakness is beer - I just genuinely love sitting down for a beer, a few olives and a good piece of goats cheese!"
Is there anything you actively avoid? "I actually have a really sensitive stomach. There are some foods that just don't sit right with me - which took me a couple of years to really figure out. I really believe if you have any kind of food sensitivity it is really important to figure out what is causing it. A food sensitivity can mean your whole digestive system is irritated and inflamed, which means you don't absorb those really essential nutrients properly - this can have a massive impact on performance.
I have found a whole list of foods that I can't really tolerate, the first being gluten, which is why I always opt for sweet potato or rice products. I can't eat some vegetables such as peas, mushrooms, beetroot and garlic. The other I am mindful of is too much dairy. A bit of milk in my tea is ok, some cheeses are also alright in small amounts but too much just is not great! I really love goat and sheep products - goats milk feta and yoghurt is the best!"
Final questions away from nutrition: Do you have a favourite place to compete? "I have say - I don't! I have had a mix of good/bad performances around different parts of the world. My favourite places are anywhere my family can come and watch - so whether that across the globe or down the road at a local park run - it would be a favourite."
Is there a particular race that stands out in your career so far?
Amsterdam Marathon will always hold a special place in my heart - it literally changed my life. The other race is the World Half Marathon championships in Cardiff back in 2016 - it was one of those races that I surprised myself and keeps you motivated for more.