What Works for Me
Nutrition is an interesting thing for me because it changes so much. You would think that within elite sport that I was getting the best nutritional advice around but unfortunately my experience wasn’t quite that. I felt that there was a one size fits all approach to what was best however I cannot stress enough how important it is to explore and find out what is right for you. Now, at the age of 38, I’ve got a pretty good understanding about nutrition and what works for me.
When I first got nutritional advice in my early twenties, the trend was that fat was the enemy. Everything was about low fat, or fat free. When you’re training 7 hours per day that is a really really tough nutritional strategy to follow because you’re constantly hungry. You’re taking out one of the essential macro nutrients and psychologically it gives you an incredible strain around eating.
The hardest thing about my sport, diving, is that it is judged. When you’re on the diving board the judges are looking at you. So if you are carrying a nice tan, or you know, you’re totally ripped, it actually influences the judges because you’re looking good.
The thing with diving is that there’s a power to weight ratio so if there’s less of you weight wise, you can go higher and therefore you have more time to fit the rotations in. But there’s a fine line between power and weight and being too thin and losing strength.
So it was this constant dance—there was a time where I was like 6% body fat when I was competing which also put pressure on my immune system. And so athletes at the level are not the pinnacle of health that some people think they are because they are pushing their health.
And so I learned the hard way, as many athletes did in that era that making something the enemy isn’t the solution. After a while it became less about low fat and more about balancing nutrients and being aware of getting a good quality of macronutrients and micronutrients from whole foods. There’s a lot a research now around good fats, things like coconut oil, which I use regularly but back then saturated fat was the enemy and needed to be avoided at all costs.
So for me, it was really valuable in learning that there is not a one size fits all strategy to nutrition and that encouraged me to experiment during my career. I was able to work with some of the top sports nutritionists and everyone has a slightly different opinion as to what you need in terms of protein, carbohydrates and fats.
Subsequently, throughout my time as an athlete I was learning a lot and by the end of my career I had experimented widely with nutrition and that has continued with me. So now I’ve developed my personal nutrition to the point where I tried no fat, I tried low fat, I’ve tried high fat low carbs and then I’ve tried vegan. I’ve tried a combination of everything.
And the combination that I find works best for me is a whole food, plant based diet. I eat eggs regularly because I found without eggs I wasn’t quite at the energy or the strength that I needed to be. Now recently I have taken out wheat and I’ve removed gluten to a large degree but I have not replaced it with gluten substitutes, if that makes sense. I’ve been eating quinoa, buckwheat and various grains and whole food which I think is very important.
Leisan did a very important talk here about gluten free being a fad and I think we need to be careful. I share with people that I am vegetarian and people go “oh yeah, me too” and I ask people what they eat and they say vegetarian pizza…that’s just junk food vegetarianism. So it’s not about the label, it’s about the strategy within.
For me, it comes down to what I call the 80:20 rule. 80% of the time I eat a whole food, plant based diet and then 20% of the time, say when I’m at an event or on holiday I would have a bit more fish in my diet than I would normally at home. For example, if I find myself at a special event or dinner, instead of sitting there going hungry I’ll make the best choice available and that might mean having the lamb because that would be a better choice than the vegetarian pasta. So I think with that it gives me some flexibility because when you wear a label, it can be quite inflexible. So it really is that balance.
Part I – Fitness: How I Became the Best
Part II – Yoga: Recovery: Mind and Body