Interview: registered dietitian Holley Samuel

I have a great opportunity to get an interview with Holley Samuel RD, LDN, CPT. She provided a lot of tips and shared her free guide, so continue for reading. You can find her social media and website end of the interview.

Can you tell something about yourself and your background? Why nutrition and running? 

My name is Holley Samuel. I am a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer and am completing my masters in education and eating disorders. My virtual practice is Fit Cookie Nutrition, where I help runners learn to ditch the restrictive diet mindset so that they can fuel for performance and maintain a healthy relationship with food and their bodies for life! I actually hated running for most of my life until my early twenties when I caught the bug after running my first half marathon.

Running with a goal of improving my race time or with performance in mind helped me improve my relationship with food and my body (something that I had struggled with for most of my teens and early twenties), and also allowed for me to implement this passion into my career. I am so grateful for the opportunity to help other runners find food freedom so they can get faster and stronger and enjoy running for the long run (pun intended!).

In the nutritionist perspective, where should runners focus on maintaining good nutrition throughout the day?

So nutritionists and dietitians are actually different titles- most people do not know this, which is probably why there is so much nutrition misinformation floating around in the world from non-reputable sources. As a dietitian, you have to complete a bachelor’s degree to fulfill DPD dietetics requirements (which involves all the science classes most health care pro’s have to take), apply to and get matched to a dietetic internship post-grad (which involves 1200 hours supervised practice in community nutrition, food service, and clinical nutrition and more to which the match rate is very competitive), and then pass a boards exam and keep up with state and national licensure continuing education requirements every year.

Actually, after 2024, all dietetics students will need a masters degree to sit for the boards exam as well. In most states in the US and countries, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist- whether they have a PhD in nutrition or no education at all. In short, all dietitians are nutritionists but not all nutritionists are dietitians.

From my dietitian perspective, runners need to first have a healthy relationship with food, meaning they do not use food as a reward or exercise as punishment for eating. Second, runners should focus on having adequate food at all meals throughout the day, there I tend to see runners fall short in my practice, is the timing of food directly around their workouts or runs.

Many runners will wake up in the morning and run fasted, rush to eat something as they get out the door for work, and end up so hungry (or what I like to call, rungry) that they want to eat everything in sight by the end of the day. This can cause vicious cycles to occur that often involve self-deprecation and guilt. I help my runner clients learn to fuel before, during if relevant, and after their runs properly so that their energy and hunger levels are more stable and sustained throughout the day. So they can recover from their runs and get stronger without all that self-deprecation.

Is there a difference between rest day and days that include training? What are the main points in these days?

There are some differences depending on what type of runs you are completing during training. For example, what you may want to eat before a 3 miler vs. a 20 miler with a 10 mile tempo in the middle may differ. I often use a plate approach to help my clients visualize how to structure their meals around training. It is not always about what you are eating on a day where a certain run is happening. For example, if you run a 20 miler and have a rest day the following day, you may be very hungry on that rest day and need just as much fuel that day to recover as you did on the day of your 20 miler.

Additionally, you may want to adjust the meals the day prior to your 20 miler to support that anticipated performance even if you are only running 3 miles on that day. I will provide a link to the Instagram post I did that reflects the different levels of training plates as one of many tools I use with my clients below. All runners respond to hard training days differently, and sometimes hunger can be a delayed reaction to hard running. Link to Instagram.

What do you think are the biggest challenges and/or mistakes athletes make with nutrition?

The biggest mistake I see is an “all or nothing” approach to fueling and training combined with designating foods as “good” or “bad”. Food is not as simple as “fuel.” It is a lot more complex. Food is a part of social situations, provides us comfort and joy, and also fuels our bodies… but it fuels our minds and souls too. I often see athletes feel guilty because they are having certain foods they deem as “bad,” and research shows that the stress of having that food does far more damage than the food could ever do on its own. This is why the first component of my approach with clients is to address any discrepancies in relationship with food and body image before making any recommendations. I also love explaining the “why” behind any recommendations I make because I think most runners enjoy understanding the “why” behind it.

What are your favourite pre and post running meals/snacks?

My personal favorite pre running snack is a good old fashioned PB&J sandwich. For me, this always digests well, tastes good, and is uncomplicated to prepare. You want to have mostly easy to digest carbohydrates (and a little bit of protein if tolerated) pre-run and avoid anything too high in fiber or fat, which take longer to digest and can cause GI distress in runners. This is all individual, but relatively speaking that is my focus pre-run for my clients. Our bodies have to be trained to digest food pre and during running just like our leg muscles have to be trained to run, so often trial and error along with consistent effort is key to figure out what works best for you as pre and during run fuel.

Post run, I enjoy a big bowl of oats made with milk, berries, peanut butter, and chocolate chips. It is one of my favorite meals (I am super boring…), and I always look forward to it after a run, especially in the winter. Post run, you want to eat a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein (so 4g of carbs to 1g protein). This helps replenish energy stores and gets the muscle repair process going. I have a free guide on pre and post run fueling examples available for download at the link below.

If there is an athlete, who has never before considered her/his eating or nutrition and would like to pay more attention to it, where would you suggest to start? (Like what are the main steps, as nutrition can be seen as a massive and complicated field.) 

If you have never considered your nutrition habits and how they impact your performance before, I would encourage this athlete to first focus on how they currently feel. Do they feel energized on their runs? Are they recovering well from training? Do they ever experience GI distress consistently on the run or after? Based on these answers, I always encourage my clients to start with one small thing to focus on at a time until it feels like habit. I often see runners pick too many things to focus on at one time, which just causes frustration, burnout, and defeat!

If I had to pick one thing, point blank, it would be to ensure the runner is drinking at least half their body weight (lbs) in ounces of water per day to stay hydrated… I find many runners are not adequately hydrated. So if a runner weighs 160lbs, this would mean drinking 80oz of water per day at bare minimum.

How would you help an athlete with a massive sweet tooth and junk-foodaholic? Any alternatives? How would you help them to get rid of cravings after runs and avoid the food party coma?

This is so common! Running burns and requires a lot of energy. Like I said above, it is important for runners to ensure they are fueling well enough before, during if relevant, and after exercise, sometimes even when they are not super hungry, in order to keep energy levels sustained throughout the day, jump start the recovery process from the run, and keep hunger in check. If you constantly find that you are starving at 3pm, I would encourage you to explore if you are eating enough and in a balanced way around your runs and training.

Try to get most of your nutrients from whole foods first (fruits, veggies, whole grains, dairy or non-dairy alternatives, legumes, lean meats, eggs, healthy fats, etc) and be sure to add in “fun” foods enough to be satisfied as well (for example, I add chocolate chips to my morning oats most days). I call this approach the “Fit Cookie 4” approach with my clients: include lean protein, healthy unsaturated fats, complex carbs, and fiber at most meals and snacks and you’ll be golden! I teach my clients to combine Intuitive Eating principles with sports nutrition recommendations so they can learn to honor their hunger and cravings while also fueling their bodies well.

Is there anything you would like to add or say?

Remember that you run for fun- most of us are not pro elite athletes and have chosen to fit this training into our already busy lives! Nutrition for your running should support your performance, but it should also be sustainable and fun! If you feel lost in the nutrition world or have individual concerns and questions, reach out for help from an expert in the field to help personalize your nutrition plan and fueling strategy (preferably a sports dietitian, who are qualified to help you).

If you are located in the USA or Canada, I would love to chat more with you on this to see if working together would be a good fit. You can set up a free discovery call to learn more if you are interested at . If you are outside the USA and Canada or just want to learn more about nutrition to support your running from a non-restrictive approach that you can sustain for life. I am also currently offering a course that uses the structure and strategies I use with my 1:1 clients for a fraction of the price. You can learn more about that here:

Your social media, website, etc. where people can find you?

I am most active on Instagram at (@fitcookienutrition) and also Facebook

My website also hosts more information about me, working with me, client testimonials, course information, free resources and more!

I also have a free podcast Fit Cookie Nutrition Podcast available on most podcasting hosting sites. There I interview everyday runners, my clients, and those who have made an impact in my life and in the running community along with other topics related to nutrition for runners of all levels.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.