Updated: Apr 25
Bronwen Owen is an elite athlete based in Leeds, having represented Britain at the World on the Track, Cross-Country and Triathlon circuit too! Bron and I met for the first time back in 2011 when we both won the London Mini-Marathon and ever since she has never quite managed to get rid of me! Having graduated from Leeds Beckett University last year with a BSc in Sport and Exercise Science, Bron has represented GB at the European Cross in Lisbon, taken a 5th place at the Armagh International Road Race and run a storming 33:30 10km! This blog is aiming to show how Bronwen fuels training for three different sports.
Nutrition is a hugely important aspect of life, whether it be for the improvement of high-level sporting performance, or for general mental and physical well-being. Therefore, having a healthy relationship with food is vital for longevity in sport, as well as more generic things, such as your day-to-day mood. For me, I see food as something to be enjoyed - it forms a big part of my social life; makes me happy (occasionally suffer from being hangry but try my best to keep it together); allows me to train, recover and compete consistently; and I like going out for food and cooking new recipes (all about that self-improvement lol).
Unfortunately, endurance sport is often associated with issues such as eating disorders. This is unsurprising as, until more recently, there has always been a high emphasis on being as lean as possible in order to succeed in these sports. Furthermore, being constantly surrounded by lean athletes in training and competition often causes body dysmorphia, even in people who wouldn't categorise themselves as having an eating disorder. I think it's important to understand that this is a normal feeling to have and is probably your brain being irrational. We're all different shapes and carry weight in different places - one person might be healthy at 10% body fat but it might be underweight for someone else - I personally don't know my body fat % and don't feel the need to (but know some people do, which is also fine).
Heavily restricting calorie intake, for example, significantly increases your chances of developing an injury or illness. This is essentially neglecting your body - it can only maintain itself on restricted calories for so long before developing issues such as muscle atrophy, damage to bone health and a weakened immune system. Consequently, training is disrupted, and the short-term improvement quickly shifts into an overall loss of fitness, motivation and potentially a negative impact on other areas of life i.e. relationships/work among other things (so best to stick to fuelling your body properly).
Different strategies work for different people, there is no 'one size fits all', as we're all individuals, possessing unique metabolisms, appetites and favourite foods. However, I generally eat three meals per day (big portions), with one or two sizeable snacks and pudding on an evening. This obviously varies depending on training volumes that day - on a Wednesday where I swim for 90 minutes in the morning, do a long ride (roughly 3.5-4 hours), and 1 hour of gym in the evening, I eat slightly more than I would on a Friday (swim and gym).
I'll use a typical Thursday as an example -
· Snack - Cereal bar
· Swim (75 minutes)
· Breakfast - Big bowl of porridge with blueberries and honey (if I'm still hungry then a slice of toast/chocolate rice cakes/cereal bar) …also going to start having banana pancakes with yogurt, honey and berries more often because I'm loving that at the moment
· Run (50 minutes)
· Lunch - 2 slices of toast, 1/2 avocado, 2 fried eggs, beetroot, rocket, satsuma (if I'm still hungry then would have another snack)
· Afternoon Snack - fruit and nut, honey, yogurt/chocolate rice cakes/flapjack/cake
· Bike session (~90 minutes)
· Recovery drink - SIS Rego (try to drink this within 30 minutes of finishing a hard session)
· Tea - (usually after a hard session, I'll cook my tea whilst snacking on some tortilla chips with hummus) Salmon, sweet potato fries, roast vegetables (i.e. red onion, pepper, broccoli, baby sweetcorn)
· Pudding - current fave is Aldi's apple strudel with yogurt/ice cream but also love it when friends bake pud (shout out to Jem's carrot cake and Tyler's cardboard brownies) when I cook them tea
· Drinks - I drink tea throughout the day (Yorkshire tea obviously) and plenty of water/squash with meals/in between/at training. I also use hydration tablets during warmer weather or if I'm feeling dehydrated.
Typically, I have a pretty relaxed approach to what I eat and just go with whatever is in the fridge that day (or a friend's fridge if I'm scrounging off them). A few of my friends like to meal plan but I'm not organised enough for that! I usually do a weekly shop though, so there is always a variety of options. I have a few things that I aim to do each day but, other than that, I wouldn't say there is a plan other than to enjoy the food I'm eating. In terms of racing, I try to stick to as normal a routine as possible so eat the same in the lead up to a race as I would in training.
· 5+ portions of fruit/veg
· 3+ portions of calcium (milk/yogurt/fish)
· A couple of sources of vitamin D (eggs/fish), C (citrus fruits/pepper/tomatoes) and iron (spinach/red meat/chick peas)**
· Remain hydrated throughout the day
· Not to get to the point where I'm hungry if I can avoid it (I'm obviously hungry following training but ideally won't be pre/during training).
· Another tip I've been given is to eat snacks on rides lasting over 2 hours (emotional times if not).
Personally, I go through phases where I'm particularly hungry compared to normal and try to eat more on an evening to recover well and to avoid getting up for food during the night (not the one). Hunger is an obvious sign that you need to eat more, however, some people don't have a huge appetite so it's useful to have ways of ensuring that you're eating enough and to be aware if you've had significant weight loss (I don't tend to weigh myself but would usually notice). Generally, I don't have a problem with this but have experienced a decreased appetite during warm weather training camps before, so I have high calorie snacks/energy bars to deal with this.
Ideally, this will provide a bit of guidance for anyone after some tips towards fuelling correctly as an endurance athlete. If not, at least it was a short distraction from lockdown!
· Vitamin D and calcium maintain bone health, energy levels and muscle function.
· Iron is necessary in the transportation of oxygen, muscle function and immune system. Low levels can lead to fatigue.
· Vitamin C helps the absorption of iron and boosts the immune system.
Top tips - consume vitamin D with calcium, as it increases absorption. Additionally, consuming vitamin C with iron helps with absorption. Try to avoid having calcium and iron at the same time, as calcium reduces iron absorption.
[Disclaimer: This info is based on what I learnt in my degree (Sport and Exercise Science), my own personal experiences as an athlete, and advice I've had over the years from a sports nutritionist - I'm not a qualified nutritionist!]