Welsh athlete Dai Greene is preparing for London 2012 and has learned a lot about nutrition along the path to becoming a 400m hurdles champion. Shaun Weston asks him about his personal challenges in health and nutrition.
What did you eat when you were a kid?
Dai Greene: Nothing out of the ordinary. My mum had to cook for three of us growing up, so we didn’t have anything too exciting apart from chilli con carne and Bolognese. But generally, I wasn’t introduced to too many foods as a kid, so my diet was a little restricted, but now there's nothing I don't like to eat. Oh … but growing up, I wouldn’t eat mushrooms!
Somewhere along the way, you realised that you needed to up your game in terms of what you were putting in your body in order to become an athlete. What were the first steps you took in changing your diet?
Greene: Yeah, absolutely. When I was younger, I really didn't know anything about diet and it wasn't until I started training more seriously with athletics that I realised I needed to think about what I was putting in my body. Also, I’ve had epilepsy since I was 17, and by 2006 I was worried that my medication was making me drowsy and affecting my training.
The tablets didn't actually stop me having seizures. I had them when I put stress on my body – drinking, going out late and getting up early, eating rubbish etc – so I decided to come off the medication and change my lifestyle instead. Before, I'd been living for the weekends, but the hurdles gave me a reason to change all of that.
What do you specifically need to eat and drink when you're approaching a competition? Does it vary according to the time of year or if you're recovering from injury?
Greene: Before a race, I like to eat a meal with carbs (rice or pasta), a small amount of veg and a small protein (chicken or turkey) at four hours before I’m due to race. I do this so that I don’t feel too full when I’m competing. I also take beta alanine (an amino acid) from my nutrition sponsors Myprotein.com, since it acts as a lactic acid buffering agent to help me cope with fatigue during the latter stages of the race.
My diet doesn’t vary too much, since I don’t want to have any surprises if I were to change my diet too drastically before a big event. Also, as I said before, I tend to not count calories, but I know that I eat far more than the average person during winter training periods, because I have to do so much training that I need huge volumes of food, often eating a couple of large carb-based meals during the day.
How do you stay up to date on changes in food and ingredients science?
Greene: Being based at Bath University is great since it has a great sports science department, and my coach Malcolm Arnold is, in my opinion, the best coach around. Also, my nutrition sponsors Myprotein.com continually keep me up to date with any recent developments in the world of sports science.
Who's helping you stick to a nutrition strategy in preparation for London 2012, and what are they suggesting you do?
Greene: I have my own nutritionist at the English Institute of Sport here in Bath, and Malcolm obviously has a say. My diet isn’t that different to most other people – I just need to make sure I get the calories in, since I train so much and salads alone wouldn’t work.
For example, breakfast for me is two slices of toast with peanut butter and a cup of tea, as well as a protein shake. Lunch is a pasta dish with lots of veg, dinner is usually a pasta bake or a lasagne, and then later in the evening I'll have a light meal such as eggs on toast. I have snacks throughout the day as well, but they're not as structured, so it's things such as peanut butter or Nutella on toast for a hit of carbohydrates. This is the kind of thing I would have had in my student days, but the difference is now I'll have it because I need energy as opposed to because that's the only thing in my cupboard!
Have you noticed any particular trends in sports nutrition over the past couple of years?
Greene: I think people are becoming more aware of sports nutrition and its benefits; using protein shakes to help the muscles recover and creatine to help improve max lifts in the gym. The main difference I’ve seen is the use of beta alanine (an amino acid) that has been shown to buffer lactic acid in the muscles. There seems to be some good studies on this and I know a lot of elite athletes are supplementing their diets with it.
What advice would you give to young, aspiring sportspeople who eat probably a little too much junk food?
Greene: It’s not terrible if you eat something 'bad', just make sure you don’t have too much of it and don’t make a habit of it. Also, make sure the other 95% of your meals are spot-on and healthy.
Shaun Weston is managing editor of FoodBev.com
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