How I Fuel: A Kona-Qualifying Nutritionist

Marni Sumbal’s eats for going long.

Marni Sumbal, 34

Greenville, S.C. 

Owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition, board-certified sports dietitian, triathlon coach 

As a high school and collegiate swimmer facing burnout, Marni Sumbal tried racing cross country at her college, Transylvania University. She raced a few short triathlons in the summers of 2003 and 2004 before she left for grad school in Florida, and during her time there, stayed fit with aerobic classes, spin classes and swims at the gym. She missed competition, so she raced some local triathlons and the Miami Marathon, where she qualified for Boston, not knowing what an accomplishment that was. “My swimming background left me a bit naïve with the sport of running so once I realized what I had done with my body, I was quickly obsessed with endurance sports,” she says, after her running buddies clued her in to what a big deal a BQ is. In 2006, after a short stint as an intern at Ironman HQ, she bought her first tri bike and signed up for her first long-course triathlons. Within an eight-month span, she raced her first Boston, half-Ironman and Ironman. She met her now-husband, Karel Sumbal, a Cat 1 cyclist, in 2006, and he helped her become a smarter and stronger cyclist. They now both race triathlon (Karel has raced Kona as well) and own a triathlon training company. Having accomplished a lot in the sport, Sumbal finds great value in being a coach. “I often live through the dreams and goals of my athletes,” she says. Her goals now include breaking 10 hours in Ironman, earning the top female amateur spot at races, and planning race-cations to compete on the world’s most difficult courses.

How She Fuels

“[The night before a long ride,] for dinner, I love potatoes, rice or bread and typically with that I will have eggs or tempeh for protein. I really enjoy cooked veggies in the evening (and raw veggies for lunch).”

“When I train for an Ironman, I am constantly thinking about fueling ‘enough.’ I never worry about eating ‘too much.’ My daily diet doesn’t change too much throughout the season, as I always emphasize a real-food diet. The change occurs before, during and the four hours after the longer and more intense sessions when I am more specific and focused on adapting well to training stress. I will often incorporate more energy-dense foods, like juice, granola and bars to help meet energy needs when I am not training.”

“For breakfast [before a big workout], I typically have two waffles, homemade pancakes or fresh sourdough bread with natural peanut butter, lots of maple syrup, banana slices, a very small handful of chopped almonds or walnuts and raisins and a few spoonfuls of plain 2 percent Fage Greek yogurt. I try to eat foods that will work for race day, eating similar foods before every long workout.”

“I use Infinit* custom nutrition on the bike and typically consume 240–280 calories per bottle per hour plus additional water at the aid stations on race day (or in a water bottle in training). I aim for about 28–32 ounces of fluid per hour and about 600–800 milligrams of sodium per hour. I like to change up my flavors each hour to help with taste bud fatigue and since grape is my favorite, I will do fruit punch for hour one, pink lemonade for hour two and grape for hour three. I may nibble on some solid food, which is normally a Clif* Mojo Bar peanut butter pretzel in the summer and Luna Bar chocolate peppermint stick in the winter, but otherwise, I only do liquid calories.” 

*Sumbal has ambassador relationships with both Clif Bar and Infinit Nutrition.