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Interview with Elite Runner Hiruni Wijayaratne

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Hiruni Wijayaratne. Hiruni is a Sri Lankan-American athlete specialized in long distance events. She is considered the most decorated Sri Lankan distance athlete holding national record

Because I believe on the importance of experience, and what elite athletes can teach us, I was lucky enough to have Hiruni answering some of my questions related to nutrition and performance.

Always keeping in mind that nutrition is different for everybody and should always target you individual needs and goals.

Let's see what she has to tell us!

Majo: Can you tell us a little bit about your background as a runner and how you got into competitive running?

Hiruni: I began running in high school as Soccer was not a Fall sport. Quickly fell in love with the sport and found some success. Then I realized that the harder I worked the better I could run. So it began to open opportunities for me like going to College.

Majo: Have you work with a sports dietitian during your running career?

Hiruni: No I have not personally. While at the University of Kentucky the team worked with a Dietitian.

Majo: How important do you think nutrition is in terms of performance?

Hiruni: Critical. The older I get, and the more I run, I’ve realized the fuel we put into our bodies is one of the most critical aspects of longevity in the sport as well as performance.

Majo: How is a typical nutrition day for you and how do you distribute your meals around your training?

Hiruni: My day is structured around my job, which is 7:30-5pm. This means I run at 6am – wake up at 5am. As soon as I wake up I drink about 8ounces of water. Then I have a piece of toast with peanut butter, and small cup of coffee. Then after running I eat some like a banana or Greek yogurt. For lunch I almost always have a sandwich with an egg or turkey and sometimes half a soup. Then I run after work, and post run I have a small snack or a sweet treat like a couple cookies, tea, and protein shake. Finally for dinner a typical meal is salmon, side salad, rice, and a small desert.

Majo: Do you avoid or restrict any food items? If you do so, what is the reason?

Hiruni: Nope! I eat what I want until I’m full. I find that everything in moderation is a better way to live than restricted diets.

Majo: What do you eat before long trainings?

Hiruni: The same meal I plan to eat before a marathon race. Normally I eat oatmeal with peanut butter and coffee or two pieces of whole-wheat toast, PB and coffee. If it is a very long day I will also have some sort of electrolyte drink with carbs.

Majo: Do you use any specific products for nutrition and hydration?

Hiruni: No specific product or brands. I’ve found a gel and electrolyte drink that my stomach likes. So I tend to keep things the same until I have a problem.

Majo: How do you manage nutrition around your menstrual cycle?

Hiruni: This is a great question because I tend to crave more sweets when it’s that time of the month. I let myself eat a few extra pieces of chocolate or whatever I’m craving. I am mindful to take in more leafy greens, protein, and yogurt. I’ve always struggled with iron so I am extra aware of this during this time.

Majo: What are your favorite pre-race and post-race meals?

Hiruni: Pre-race I keep things simple and boring like rice, pasta, lean meat, salad. Post-race I love a good burger, fries, ice cream, and pizza. Even post big workouts I will crave some of the higher fat foods.

Majo: Do you have a nutrition race plan and if you do so, is it the same as your long trainings or it varies depending on the race?

Hiruni: Yes. The same. I drink 3-4 ounces every 5K alternating between water and an electrolyte drink. Take a gel every 10K.

Majo: Do you take any supplements?

Hiruni: I take an iron, probiotic daily and magnesium supplement weekly.

Majo: Knowing that there is such a fine line between optimal performance and body composition obsession, as well as such an important prevalence of eating disorders among female athletes, what would be one piece of advice in terms of nutrition for our female athletes?

Hiruni: This is such an important topic and I think the best way to convey the importance of proper fueling is to ask yourself, how long do I want to be doing this sport? Everyone who’s found a long and successful career as come face to face with this question, but ultimately understood the importance of nutrition over obsession.

As a take home message, nutrition is not only important for the day-to-day training sessions, or to perform at a certain race, but also to stay healthy and prevent injuries in the long term so you can continue to enjoy the sport. Learn nutrition, apply it, and enjoy the process. The human body is an incredible machine capable of doing incredible things.

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