Eating like a sports star

Richard Swinbourne, nutritionist for the Commonwealth Games gold medal winning New Zealand sevens team
Richard Swinbourne, nutritionist for the Commonwealth Games gold medal winning New Zealand sevens team

What and when you eat makes a huge difference. Witt journalism student Gill Evans gets some tips from high-performance sports nutritionist

The adrenaline's pumping, you stand elated, proud - your name is announced, the crowd roars, your arms rise in triumph, your head bows and you feel the weight of the medal as it's draped around your neck. The anthem plays, emotions overwhelm, tears fall - you're an Olympic champion - the dream is fulfilled.

To realise the dream requires years of dedicated skill development, relentless training - but also a fastidious attention to diet.

"If you want to be an Olympian you need to learn to eat like an Olympian," Richard Swinbourne, nutritionist for the Commonwealth Games gold medal winning New Zealand sevens team, says.

Eating the right foods at the right time helps an athlete become fitter, stronger and faster.

Swinbourne is teaching the women's sevens team how to eat on their four-year quest to gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Urenui resident's advice to them is similar to the message he gives high school students - a good breakfast is the key.

If you skip breakfast, the body spends the rest of the day playing catch-up and usually results in the wrong food being eaten at the wrong end of the day.

A smoothie is a great option for people not keen on eating breakfast or with limited time.

"You don't need to measure out the ingredients. I use the Jamie Oliver approach and just bung it all in and let it rip," Swinbourne says.

You could try his "Snicker Shake", which is also perfect as a pre- or post-training snack.

Pop some milk in a blender; yellow-top is best as it has about 50 per cent more protein than blue- or green-top, and has extra calcium and is very low in fat.

Add a large spoon of peanut butter - nuts are a fantastic protein food for athletes and a good source of essential oils.

Drop in a banana for extra carbohydrates and to help thicken up the smoothie.

Sprinkle in some LSA (ground linseed, sunflower and almonds) for extra fibre and a dash of flaxseed oil to increase your omega 3 intake and settle any post training inflammation.

A spoon of Milo is an optional flavour bonus. Give it a whizz - easy, tasty and filling.

If you prefer to start your day with cereal, go for porridge, it's 100 per cent wholegrain oats and slowly releases sugar to the body giving sustained energy through the day.

Most other breakfast cereals are highly processed, contain lots of sugar and break down quickly in the body.

"Eating a highly processed cereal with lots of sugar is like burning a piece of paper, while eating porridge is more like burning a piece of wood," Swinbourne explains.

For athletes doing a lot of training it is an excellent idea to add extra protein for breakfast.

"You want lots of protein for breakfast as the muscles start to break down overnight and protein is needed to reverse that process. You want to create a muscle growing environment early in the day.

"Eggs are the most powerful whole-food protein on the planet. I encourage all my athletes to have at least two eggs a day just for the quality of the protein."

Baked beans are another excellent protein-boosting choice for breakfast or a later snack.

Swinbourne says morning tea should be a carb-protein combo. A piece of fruit for your carb hit, a small handful (30g) of nuts and/or a glass of milk for the protein.

Take a packed lunch with sandwiches, roll, bun or wrap and some home baking. You could try Swinbourne's fat-free fruitcake recipe, which is a favourite with the sevens team. (See recipe).

Before a training session the nutritionist recommends a banana and a glass of milk or a shake.

"Milk is the best sports drink in the world because it is higher in electrolytes than commercial sports drinks, is 90 per cent water, has good-quality protein and is high in calcium."

When you do anything that stresses the muscles it is good to have some protein already in the body to allow for immediate repair.

"After training, there is this magic window of 30 to 45 minutes when the mouths of the muscles are wide open and will suck up all the protein and carbs you put into your body," Swinbourne explains.

"So it's really important for athletes to be organised and consume some recovery food during this window of opportunity."

The evening meal should include a quarter plate of quality lean protein, a quarter plate of carbohydrates and half a plate of vegetables. "Ideally, you should have at least three different colour vegetables. Greens used to be the thing; now it's reds and purples as they're high in antioxidants."

Another nice way to get your vegetables is through soup. A can of tomatoes contains five serves of vegetables and makes a quick and easy soup. Just whizz them up, heat and eat.

For dessert - yes you are allowed pudding - try this really easy apple crumble which Swinbourne recommends for the Ranfurly Shield holders Taranaki the night before a game.

Just cut up two or three apples into a bowl, grab a container with a lid, chuck in a handful of oats, a handful of wholemeal flour, a handful of sugar, a teaspoon of baking powder and little oil. Shake together then sprinkle over the apple. Microwave for 10 minutes, pop under the grill to brown for a minute and you have a healthy dessert in less than 15 minutes.

Swinbourne's final word of advice may be more difficult to swallow - minimise alcohol consumption. It breaks down muscle cells, which is the opposite of what an athlete wants.

Eat right, hone those skills and we'll see you in Rio.


400g to 1kg dried fruit (depending on how fruity you like your cake)

1 cup orange juice

1 cup black tea

2 cups self-raising flour

Soak fruit in the juice and tea for at least 2 hours - preferably overnight.

Add the flour and mix.

Bake at 150C in the middle of the oven for about 2 hours, or until golden brown and a knife comes out clean when you prick the cake in the middle.

Cool, slice, train and eat.

Taranaki Daily News