Interview with an elite female triathlete

2015-01-20 10:07:13

Gillian is an elite South African Olympic Triathlete who consulted with one of the dietitians in the practice. She answers some questions regarding her nutrition.

How does nutrition play a role in your training and performance?

Nutrition plays a huge role. My body is the tool of my trade & therefore what I put into it matters a lot. Almost every meal I eat is in preparation for my next training session. I try to eat lots of fruit and vegetables and unrefined carbs. For example, sweet potatoes, quinoa, wholegrain rice. For my main protein sources I eat skinless chicken, fish & lean meat and I love cheese & yoghurt too. I will eat 3 main meals a day plus smaller meals in between, all depending on my training for that day. I can train up to 5-6 hours a day so I need to ensure I am sufficiently fuelled. I'll make sure I carry a recovery drink (usually chocolate milk) for after training sessions, as the sooner I refuel, the sooner my body repairs & replenishes for the next session. 

My races usually last about 2 hours and I have found that carrying a bottle of carb & electrolyte drink as well as a bottle of water & 2 gels, ensures I can perform at peak.

Have you had any nutritional issues?

I battled with fatigue when I became a full time athlete. I had increased my training hours quite a lot but just seemed to be going slower & slower. It felt awful and I knew something was not right. My dietitian recommended I have my iron levels checked and a blood tests confirmed that I was anaemic and had depleted all my body's iron stores, thus the fatigue. I increased my red meat consumption as a result (animal iron being the best source available) & supplemented with iron*. This made a massive impact on my training & I was also able to take the new training load & improve as a result. 

What would you advise other aspiring athletes or triathletes when it comes to nutrition?

Keep it simple. Some athletes are always on the latest fad diets. Make sure you eat a balanced diet, ensuring you are eating enough for the training you are doing. After spending quite a bit of time with other Olympian athletes I can tell you that most of them eat a balanced diet and are not on a fad diet of the moment. Eat to recover as the sooner you recover & repair, the more you can do and thereby get an edge on your competition. I still enjoy treats such as cake and pizza, but the key is to do so in moderation and not every day. I wish some young female athletes could spend a week with me to see just how much I eat...the body needs to be fuelled and not starved. There are too many young girls with stress fractures which are often caused from a poor  nutrition, where simply not enough calories are being consumed. If you want to be a successful, healthy athlete food is extremely important and I'd definitely advise seeing a dietician with sports nutrition experience, to help you with your needs.

* Iron supplementation should only be taken on the advice of a doctor or registered dietitian.