Diet of an elite runner

Marathoner Eric Gillis shares his nutrition plan

Eric Gillis, a graduate of St. Francis Xavier University, finished 10th in the Olympic marathon in 2016.

Eric Gillis, a graduate of St. Francis Xavier University, finished 10th in the Olympic marathon in 2016.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part 2 of our interview with Olympic marathoner Eric Gillis. Today, we look at the nutrition plan behind Gillis’s running success. In Part 1, Gillis offered tips on race day dos and don'ts.

— By Kia Schollar

How does an elite marathoner fuel for the big race?

Eric Gillis, a three-time Olympian, readily admits his ability to perform at the highest level is supported by a nutrition plan that allows him to “feel like (he) is eating things (he) likes,” especially when it comes to the 24 hours leading into an event.

Gillis, 37, takes a fairly simple approach to fuelling his body in the day and hours leading up to a marathon, preparing “normal meals with an extra serving to top things up.”

This extra serving is supported by a “body specific” hydration routine and his comfort foods — bread, peanut butter and Nutella.

He notes he’ll eat a loaf of bread every one to two days.

Let’s dig into some specifics, looking at an actual nutrition plan Gillis would use heading into an event.


Event time: 8 a.m.

Night before meal (between 4 and 6 pm):

Eric Gillis is a three-time Canadian 10K champion.

Eric Gillis is a three-time Canadian 10K champion.

  • Large plate of spaghetti
  • Two slices of white bread
  • A serving of cooked veggies

Night time snack:

Bread topped with nutella and banana (and whenever he gets a craving)

Morning of event meal (at least three hours before start):

  • Glass of water
  • Two slices of toast with peanut butter and jam
  • Half of a banana
  • Sip on electrolyte drink until race time

90 minutes before the race:

  • Half of a powerbar or slice of bread
  • Half of a banana
  • Start sipping on coffee

5 minutes before a marathon:

  • 125 ml of water
  • Half of a Power Gel



Gillis’s top tip for pre-race fuelling? Well, he’s usually away for events and his advice is to schedule your restaurant reservation early. It’s easy to get caught up in the preparation plans and visiting. Before you know it you are going to eat at the busiest time. Why does that matter? Typically, your food takes longer and your meal can begin to cut into your rest and relaxation time.

SEE ALSO: Nutrition tips from a national team wrestler

“A late meal can also wreak havoc on your digestive system,” says Gillis, who is returning to his hometown of Antigonish this fall to help coach the cross-country team at St. Francis Xavier University.


Gillis also shared tips on determining hydration and carbohydrate intake throughout an event. He notes the plan is “body specific” and athletes learn a great deal about their nutritional choices when they “experience the discomfort of (their) mistake.”

A late meal can also wreak havoc on your digestive system
— Eric Gillis

Gillis has worked with Dr. Trent Stellingwerff, out of the Pacific Sport Centre in Victoria, B.C. Together they’ve determined that Gillis needs 125 millilitres of fluid for every five kilometres and 50 grams of carbohydrates per hour for his body to function in its optimal performance zone.

However, he doesn’t introduce this process solely on race day.

Gillis preaches consistency and race day is not the time for trying new things

He emphasizes that you need to “train your stomach” just as you train your cardiovascular and muscular systems for the event.


Gillis says the 24-hour fuelling process leading into an event is key to ensuring optimal performance.

He says doing the work in practice allows your body to know what to expect on race day and ensures you are prepared enough to “allow time for rest; put your feet up and be more relaxed” — perhaps with a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich.