Everybody wants to know how the highest-level athletes fuel their bodies for elite competition. What are their go-to foods? Which diets do they rely on for max performance? How do they strategically break up their day? In Eat Like a Champion, a recurring franchise, we give you the inside scoop on our professional athletes' dietary habits: what they're eating, why they're eating it, and when they're eating it. Follow their lead and fuel like a champion.
If you like credible insight on training and nutrition science, Jamie Brusa, Ph.D. is a good place to start on social media.
Brusa is a professional OCR athlete and postdoctoral scientist at the University of Washington, and she uses her Instagram to offer cogent takes on issues like overtraining, iron deficiency, optimizing sleep, and more.
Her day job includes wildlife ecology projects in Washington's Salish Sea. She and her team are currently analyzing an assortment of environmental variables (like the saltiness of the water) involved in the abundance and population density of harbor seals.
Brusa brings the same lens of objectivity to her nutrition.
A Flexible, Plant-Based Approach
“I try not to follow any popular diets, simply because I think diets work best when they are individualized,” Brusa said. “However, I tend to eat mostly plant-based, which is largely for environmental and sustainable reasons.”
The professional athlete has been eating a plant-based diet for just over a year. She hasn’t gauged a net positive or negative effect on how she feels, but — in addition to contributing to sustainability — she has logged a training uptick, possibly reflecting an athletic benefit.
“I have had one of my best years of training,” she reported, maintaining her objectivity. “This may or may not be linked to the diet.”
But one hard conclusion does exist: Brusa has had fun "learning new recipes and exploring new food items or new combinations of familiar ingredients.”
Occasional Meat, With Sustainability in Mind
Brusa doesn’t eat much meat, mostly because of her interest and efforts in sustainability.
“I think animal products in small doses are more sustainable," she says. "I usually eat an animal product about once per week.”
But she isn’t hard-edged about this.
“If I am at a social event, or friend's or family member's house where meat is served, I am happy to eat the meat that someone was kind enough to prepare for me,” she said.
Key Advice: Recovery Fuel
Although Brusa emphasizes individual variation when it comes to nutrition, she believes that all endurance athletes can benefit from post-workout recovery nutrition.
“I think one of the most important concepts to keep in mind is that the body needs fuel to perform,” she said. “I always make sure to eat enough before a hard workout or race, and follow it up with some recovery food. The timing of food intake prior to a hard effort varies across individuals, but refueling as soon as possible after the workout or race is ideal for optimal recovery.”
A look at an average day in Brusa’s current nutrition shows how she relies on simplicity and avoids overthinking things. She eats lots of vegetables and fruit and mostly eats homemade, using real ingredients over store-bought foods loaded with preservatives.
And true to her advice about sufficient fueling, Brusa actively counters the caloric-restriction trends that are hot in certain athletic circles.
Brusa's Typical Menu
- A few nuts
- A little dark chocolate
- A small orange juice
This quick breakfast is what Brusa typically has first in the morning, if she’s just heading out for a short run. If it’s a more substantial workout, she complies with a more substantial breakfast 15 to 60 minutes before the workout, with the following:
- A waffle, pancake, oatmeal, or homemade granola
- Coconut milk yogurt
- Option 1: Bagel or banana with peanut butter
Sometimes all of the above: a bagel with peanut butter and a banana on it.
- Option 2: Fruit
“If it is chilly out, I'll also make some tea,” she said.
“Leftovers from the previous night’s dinner," Brusa said. "If none are available, I’ll make a salad.”
- Option 1: Leftovers
- Option 2: Salad with a variety of vegetables, fruits (often includes avocado), dried cranberries, nuts, and seeds (plus homemade sourdough bread)
- Option 3: A vegetable wrap with spinach, radishes, bell peppers, and any additional veggies she can find, plus hummus and fruit
Afternoon Snack/Pre-Afternoon Workout
- Option 1: Pita chips
- Option 2: Granola bar
- After a hard or long training effort, dark chocolate oat milk. Also maybe a banana or cookie
- After a moderate-paced run, pita chips with hummus, tortilla chips with salsa, or homemade date balls
Usually a plant-based dinner with a lot of variety.
“My husband and I tend to eat a lot of different curries and soups, like ramen, cauliflower, black bean, or tomato,” Brusa said.
Other favorites include fried rice, different pasta dishes, grain and vegetable bowls, risotto, sautéed vegetables with a variety of potatoes, and big salads.
“And occasionally we have meals featuring elk or deer,” she said.
Five or six nights a week, Brusa has some sort of dessert, which is often homemade pie, brownies, cookies, or just some dark chocolate.