Of the many athletes to have garnered State Titles for the Xavier Gators' cross-country and distance program, one who stands out from a golden age of Arizona cross country is Jessica Tonn (Class of 2010). She secured two cross-country State Titles during the 2008-2009 seasons and as a Senior she ran 17:28.20 at Cave Creek Golf Course which at the time stood as a course record. She was a Foot Locker Nationals qualifier all four years of High School and ran PRs of 4:50.42 for 1600-meters and 10:24.57 for Two Miles on the track.
Jessica Tonn attended Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA where she was a 7-Time All-American for the Cardinal and graduated with both a Bachelor's and a Master's Degree in Media Studies. As a Redshirt-Senior, she placed 3rd in the 5K at the 2015 NCAA D1 Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
We caught up with Jessica Tonn for a conversation about her views on nutrition as a professional athlete.
By what principles do you structure your nutrition habits and how have they changed since high school?
I love to cook and I have my own personal connection with food -- generally, I like to keep it simple. I love to go to the Farmer's Markets in Seattle and cook with whatever is usually in season; and if I have a random hodge-podge of things in the fridge, I love trying to make a meal out it and experiment. I think being excited about cooking and loving being in the kitchen definitely helps a lot -- I'd say it's definitely a second passion of mine.
As a kid, my parents raised me to be excited about trying different foods and luckily didn't have any dietary restrictions growing up. When I was young and in my early development years in the sport I was naïve when it came to nutrition and I got away with a lot because I was playing soccer and running before I got to high school. Plus, my parents were doing all of the grocery shopping and cooking. That definitely changed when I got to college!
Leaving home for my freshman year at Stanford was definitely difficult because I lost a lot of the structure that came with family meals and eating at home. I would say that's when I started to notice my relationship with food shifting. I got injured my spring quarter of freshman year, put on a tiny bit of weight and that's when I understood that what I put in my body does matter. I worked in the kitchens on campus (first as a dish washer and eventually as a kitchen manager) all five years and worked closely with the chefs. That's when I really learned to appreciate food and how to fuel my body.
(Below: As a Senior, Jessica Tonn finished 3rd in the Women's 5K at NCAA Outdoors.-photo by Dave Kiefer)
Now as a pro athlete, I definitely dial it in fairly seriously certain times in the year, but it's not something I'm strict or stressed about all the time. I can't operate that way and for me it's not sustainable. I love to look at nutrition, especially when I'm in the championships season, as a tool in my toolbox and I use whole and healthy foods as fuel. Nutrition is a really important part of keeping my body healthy and training, so I do understand that it needs to be something on my radar, but I make sure to keep it fun!
I try not to have this mentality of restricting myself of anything because to me, that takes the joy of eating. I eat a ton of veggies and fuel with whole carbs or whole starches. I'll get creative with the starches and I don't deprive myself of mostly anything, but I eat smart and clean.
One of your coaches in high school Dr. Jeff Messer, is known for his espousal of the importance of post-exercise macronutrient intake. For many high schoolers that is applied as the consumption of chocolate milk after practice. Do you still drink chocolate milk after practice and how much?
(Right: Tonn ran 17:28.20 in the D1 Girls State Championship race at Cave Creek Golf course which at the time stood as a course record. - photo by Margot Kelly)
I wouldn't say I'm 100% lactose intolerant, but I'm not huge on dairy to start. When I was training in high school, sometimes the post-run or post-workout chocolate milk would be all I would think about during practice. During hard workouts or hot runs in the summer, I remember thinking 'I can't wait for my Horizon chocolate milk' that I would pack to drink right after we were done with the run of the day.
Now, I don't really drink milk. I mostly drink almond milk or soy milk but I love cheese, and I'll definitely indulge in ice cream every so often. As far as dairy goes, I don't consume a lot of it because I really don't absorb it well and it doesn't make me feel great. That being said, I think post-run nutrition is so important and Jeff instilled that in me so young that it became normal and I am so thankful that it has been a part of my routine since my early years as a runner. You need to refuel properly and kick start the recovery process right away and I learned that from Jeff super young!
Could you give an example of what an average day's meals look like for you?
Normal Running Day
Breakfast - Pancakes with yogurt, berries and maple syrup. Our nutritionist is really into getting in simple carbohydrates and not a lot of fiber. I'll also have a huge coffee. A lot of coffee is consumed in my life. Then I'll go on a run which on the longer end are about 60 plus minutes.
Recovery Drink - After that I'll fuel up with a whey protein shake afterward.
Lunch - We go straight to lunch. and I'll usually have a big salad with whatever lettuce is on tap for the day along with some veggies, tomatoes, onions, and brussels sprouts. I don't usually go for a simple carb. I don't need to many carbs for lunch because I refuel with that shake right afterward. I usually go for a complex carb like quinoa, or a sweet potato and then some sort of meat like chicken or steak. I also do tuna salad pretty regularly. That will tide me over until an afternoon snack.
Snack - I'll do yogurt, trail mix, or carrots and hummus. Honestly Trader Joe's is my go-to for a lot of snacks.
Dinner - I like go pretty heavy on the protein, with whole roasted chicken legs or fillet of fish with some homemade salsa on top, or even steak. I like to get creative with the vegetables so I'll sauté, roast, or grill veggies, I love sweet potatoes and I like to mix those up. Sometimes I go with sweet potato fries. I make sure to get a few more carbs for dinner than I did for lunch. If I want desert I usually make that pretty soon afterward.
No Run Day
Breakfast - Breakfast is where I mix it up a bit with eggs, either scrambled or omelet. I like to add arugula, cheese, tomatoes and onions and a cup of coffee to drink. Sometimes I'll have some yogurt and granola. It's essentially the same for the rest of the day, but I usually don't eat as much on my days off because I'm not as hungry. I try to be more mindful of what I eat on days off or on shorter run days I make sure to hit all of the major macronutrients like proteins, carbs, and fats.
What's your cheat dessert?
I LOVE chocolate and I do like ice cream. I actually love chocolate mousse. Sometimes, I'll make it several times a week, but I will control what I put in it to make it less carb or sugar heavy or add to it depending on my workouts. Some days I go all out with the heavy cream and put whip cream on top.