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How To Fuel An Athlete

As I perched on the stool in our staff kitchen and sunk my fork into a tender piece of last night’s leftover lemongrass chicken, I had to laugh at how excited I was by something so simple that I do every day… eat! One question that I am commonly asked by friends, physiotherapy clients and other people who know that I run is “Do you have to eat a special  diet?” Whilst my instinct is to answer no, I forget how much education, guidance and advice from specialists in the field of nutrition have gone into what I routinely consume on a day-‐to-‐day basis… So in actual fact, there probably is a ‘special’ aspect to an athlete’s diet, which is why I thought I would provide some insight. I have no formal qualifications in the field of nutrition, therefore everything I write here is completely from my experiences to date! DAD’S PORRIDGE BREW I have always had an interest in nutrition and probably always will. Perhaps my Dad’s passion about animal and subsequently human nutrition in his profession as a Veterinarian has rubbed off on me? As a child growing up, I always loved food and am fortunate that my parents educated myself and my two siblings to consume a predominantly healthy and balanced diet. Having lived in the country town of Naracoorte for my first sixteen years, there was always an abundance of fresh and good quality meat, fruit, vegetables and dairy products. Some may also know the South East for it’s red wine – I was too young at that stage to appreciate it! In our household, breakfast was always one of the most valued meals of the day and I still look forward to waking up to a hearty morning meal! Dad’s famous ‘porridge brew’ has been a big part of my morning routine for as long as I can remember. Every night, Dad soaks a muesli mix containing oats, pepitas, gogi berries, almonds, sultanas and other assorted goods with yoghurt, water, chia seeds, linseeds and diced apple. In the morning he cooks it on the stove and then slices some banana on top. I could write a whole essay on Dad’s method but in short, this soaking process apparently improves the digestibility of the grains due to the activity of the yoghurt’s healthy bacteria. All I know is that is tastes good and it contains a lot of energy! THE GROWING APPETITE As my training has increased over the last five years, I have found that my appetite has too. Athletes tend to share a feeling of excitement when it comes to food! I guess they associate it with increased energy levels and it also serves as a nice reward after a hard workout! Here is a summary of my daily eating pattern (keep in mind that this would vary quite a lot for different athletes):

  • A hearty breakfast after training in the morning that has a balance of carbohydrates and protein depending on the intensity and type of session beforehand.

  • Snacks  throughout  the  day  to  keep  the  hunger  at  bay  and  provide  energy for the evening training session.

  • A lunch that includes both protein and carbohydrates (slightly more carbohydrates on the days where I have a high intensity evening session).

  • Leafy greens and vegetables to compliment meals where possible in order to get in a good dose of vitamins and minerals

  • A coffee for enjoyment somewhere between morning and midday!

  • A dinner that again, contains a balance of protein and carbohydrates. The balance between carbohydrates and protein is very important, as both are required for muscle rebuilding and therefore recovery. The timing of consumption after training is also a key factor.

THE CARB LOAD When it comes to marathon race day, a whole lot of other factors come into the equation! Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel during exercise. ‘Carbohydrate loading is a strategy involving changes to training and nutrition that can maximise muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores prior to endurance competition. Anyone exercising continuously at a moderate to high intensity for 90 minutes or longer is likely to benefit from this method’ (AIS Sports Nutrition, 2009). Factors such as exercise duration, intensity, food intolerances, body weight  and  what simply works for the individual must be taken into account when determining a pre-‐race fuelling plan. I have really appreciated the support of Olivia Warnes, dietitian for the South Australian Sports Institute, over the last two years. She has helped me to devise nutrition plans for training and recovery, pre-‐ and post-‐race fuelling as well as fuelling during the marathon. Whilst the initial thought of squeezing a sachet of thick gel into my mouth when running was not all that appealing, I am now very familiar with taking a few gels and electrolyte/sports drinks throughout the 42.195km race! I collect these drinks and gels at stations located along the course for a carbohydrate and electrolyte boost. The consults I have had with Olivia have been extremely valuable and I have gained a much better understanding of the nutritional needs for maximising performance. If you are keen to find a Sport’s Dietitian in your area, I would recommend

THRIVE Another resource that has influenced my food choices is a book that I read (and finished) in 2010 - I have a habit of starting books and not finishing them so I must have enjoyed this one! The title is ‘Thrive’ and it was written by an ironman by the name of Brendan Brazier. I do not consume a vegan diet like the author – I love my meat - however a lot of the general principles in this book fit with my beliefs about nutrition. Aiming to limit my consumption of processed food and drinks helps me to feel healthy and gives me more confidence as an athlete. THERE IS NO SINGLE MAGIC RECIPE One profound thing I have discovered about diet is that it is such an individual thing. It must take into account factors like genetics, exercise intensity and volume, incidental activity, hormones and so much more. I am continuously working to find the ideal balance in my diet that will help me to achieve my running goals! I am fortunate that my partner, Matt, loves cooking and dinner for us, is a special part of the day! Matt is the type of person who will enjoy a meal at a restaurant and then feel motivated to try and re-create the dish himself. My thoughts are more along the lines of… ‘Let’s come back here again next week’ … but that gets expensive! Here are some of my favourite home-cooked meals! Salmon with maple glaze or with a honey and dukkah crust - Green curry with barramundi- Marinated kangaroo skewers and sweet potato mash - Teriyaki Chicken with Japanese mayonnaise - Slow-cooked Mexican beef brisket - Baby squid stuffed with quinoa - Mushroom risotto - Mushroom or chicken dumplings with dipping sauce - Vietnamese beef pho - Make-your-own rice paper rolls - Lemongrass chicken – Buckwheat Noodle salad - Broad bean, bean curd and cabbage stir-fry (the classic Chinese BBC) - Butter chicken - Pistachio-crusted blue fin tuna with mango, lime, chilli and papaya salsa (thought I would finish with a fancy one). ON THE TRAINING FRONT I met with Adam recently to go over the training for Glasgow and whilst it will of course involve a lot of hard work, I am really excited. Other activity within the Team Tempo running squad is the development of Adam’s new business - TempoRun Coach. I recommend visiting this new if you are looking for coaching or guidance to help you achieve your running goals! 


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