Today on The Kona Edge we catch up with Marni Sumbal to chat nutrition. We look into her vegetarian diet and find out how this affects her as an athlete. Eating a balanced diet and not obsessing over it, we learn how she retains the pleasure in food. She shares the prime opportunities to practice, fail and then to perfect your race day nutrition staying with similar products and similar foods for race day. Fueling in your training, especially the long workouts is so important and shouldn’t overlooked by athletes.


BRAD BROWN:  Onto yet another edition of The Kona Edge, I’m Brad Brown and we head back to South Carolina once again to touch base with Marni Sumbal. Marni, welcome, thanks for taking the time to chat to us today, it’s good to have you back on.

MARNI SUMBAL:  Thanks for having me.

BRAD BROWN:  Marni, we touched briefly on nutrition and just general nutrition in our first chat, but I wanted to delve a bit into your story and the way you approach things and you’ve got a different approach. You decided as a pre-teen that for ethical reasons you were going to stop eating meat and you’re a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, which I don’t think there are too many triathletes who would fit into that category. For you it’s probably normal now, but I’d be interested to see how you approach things.

Training as a vegetarian

MARNI SUMBAL:  Yes, since the age of 10 and I’m 34 right now, so it’s been a large portion of my life, I have been a vegetarian. I did do it to start for animal reasons and that’s why I do continue, but I haven’t been plagued with any health issues and I believe it’s a great diet for me. I don’t enforce vegetarianism on any of my nutrition athletes, my husband eats meat, my family eats meat, I make my dogs food and he eats meat, so I’m not anti-meat, but I am a big proponent of a plant strong diet, so that is something that I try to resonate in all of my food pictures and recipes and any time I talk about food, is that I do want athletes, I encourage them to eat a more real food diet.

BRAD BROWN:  That’s the key, staying away from processed rubbish is half the battle won.

MARNI SUMBAL:  Yeah, the idea of vegetarianism, to me it doesn’t matter really where you get your protein from. I would like to think that meat eaters are not against eating tofu and if somebody doesn’t eat a lot of meat, that they’re really making sure that they’re eating the plant based proteins to meet their needs. It’s not that one protein has a hierarchy of another protein, animal or plant based, but I just want to make sure that athletes are eating enough of the macro-nutrients and enough energy to help them fuel their workouts, but keep their body in good health.

BRAD BROWN:  Marni, one thing you mentioned in our first chat as well, it was almost a bit of a throwaway comment is that you’re not a big one on measuring and counting calories and that sort of thing. You obviously eat a balanced diet, but you don’t obsess about it.

Don’t take away the pleasure of eating

MARNI SUMBAL:  Not at all. I think that takes away a lot of the pleasure of eating and I’m so passionate about being the best athlete I can be, but I think if I take it one step too far and become obsessive with my diet, I really do believe that there are going to be some negative consequences and I see it in the athletes that come to me for nutrition help, that they have taken it one step too far. This drive to be the best athlete they can be and then you’ve got these food rules and these restrictions and these thoughts about food and then people they say: I don’t know how to eat anymore. I don’t want that for my athletes and I don’t want that for myself.

Food has a positive role in our life, my husband being from Europe, you better believe that there’s chocolate, there’s coffee, there’s beer, very good IPA beer for him, there’s desserts, there’s treats and croissants and pastries and nothing is ever restricted in any way, but at the same time, if you were to spend a few days with us, there are no food cravings, there’s no guilty feelings, I ate too much. It’s very balanced.

BRAD BROWN:  And that’s definitely the way it should be. As far as race day itself goes, how do you approach it? What’s your approach to race day nutrition?

Prepare for race day with healthy fats and good fibre

MARNI SUMBAL:  When it comes to this idea of being obsessive, I will say though that athletes do need to be a little bit more dedicated to their long workout nutrition because really, that’s how you prepare for race day. You can be very fit for race day, but that fitness will not help you get to the finish line if you have a nutritional limit. If there is a place to be a little bit more hyper-aware, is what are you using before your workouts and during your workouts to help you meet your needs, energy and hydration needs.

Athletes need to remember that before a race, we do modify what most people would define as healthy eating. We adjust that because a lot of the ways that we eat healthy, with healthy fats and good fibre, we really don’t want anything messing with our digestive system when we’re about to perform for a long duration, perhaps at a higher intensity, putting in more engineered foods to meet these demands and so we kind of want to go into the race feeling like our gut is clean and so we do need to adjust the diet. I do stick to more of a lower residue diet, a low fibre diet in that 48 hours before a race.

BRAD BROWN:  I love that, I asked you race day nutrition and so it should be. It doesn’t just apply to race day, race day is defined by what happens in the weeks and months before you get to race day.

MARNI SUMBAL:  Yeah and I think this is, from my experience, this is probably the biggest mistake that athletes make and I think it really goes back to that point that you’re making with athletes becoming very obsessed with the body and different methods of changing nutrition, to change physiology, you have this prime opportunity, every single weekend, which for most athletes right, your long workouts are on the weekend, you have this prime opportunity to practice, to fail, to perfect your race day nutrition and while not every workout needs to match what you’ll do on race day, it should be similar products, similar foods, whatever method you choose and there really should be no need for athletes to go to a race and say: I don’t know what I should be doing on race day. I think fueling in your training, especially these long workouts is so important and really overlooked by a lot of athletes.

Practice to get comfortable with your Ironman nutrition

BRAD BROWN:  You make an important point there too Marni, we’ve spoken about it, that you don’t get that many opportunities to race Ironman races in a year, just physiologically it’s impossible to do them every second weekend, there are people that do multiple and that’s a whole other debate, but the only time you get to practice how your body is going to react in these long races is in your long training and athletes neglect doing that, they don’t realize that that’s a dress rehearsal for race day.

MARNI SUMBAL:  Yeah and I think it also goes back to make sure that you see your workouts as that, as you are building fitness, but you also are practicing, so don’t expect that you can just do a workout and say, okay, whatever I did in this workout, it’s going to work for race day. I think sometimes you have to put yourself into those uncomfortable situations which you really never experience until race day. I mean how many people do you know, maybe yourself, that said, my nutrition has never failed me, but it all went wrong on race day. Maybe something was wrong, but at the same time, maybe you just tried to stick to your plan too well or maybe you didn’t know how to be flexible or maybe the plan wasn’t as good as you thought, for whatever reason. I think racing really helps you and so when athletes can race more often, they get more comfortable in their nutrition.

BRAD BROWN:  And also more confident because that’s also a big part too, is having the confidence to know what you’ve done is going to work and then doing it and executing on race day, I think that’s key.

Marni, as always, great to catch up, thanks for your time today here on The Kona Edge. If people want to find out more about you, the website to get to is, thank you so much for your time, much appreciated, we look forward to catching up again soon.

MARNI SUMBAL:  I look forward to it, thank you for having me.