Food for thought
This week, let’s consider how food affects your performance while riding, running or practicing any kind of sports.
While I thought I was eating “healthy”, it turns out that my eating habits were not the best to improve my fitness and strength. I have already mentioned part of my diet here, and this week, the spotlight is on James, the sports performance nutritionist who decided to help me on my journey.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates
Here are 5 questions he answered for me and that might help you too if you are still undecided about the role of food in sports performance.
1. What certifications do you have?
I have a whole host of credentials around the sports science umbrella, but these are the major ones:
Bachelor, Sports & Exercise Science (Distinction)
ISSN Graduate Diploma in Applied Sports and Exercise Nutrition (Distinction)
Precision Nutrition Level 2
Certified Sports Nutritionist from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (CISSN)
2. Sports nutrition is your specialty, what's your approach?
I take what people would call a “client-centred” approach. By understanding the goals, needs and requirements of my client, I would then proceed to curate a personalised program for the individual. The goal on my end is to only provide what they need, when they need it.
That said, it is also important to take an evidence-based approach when planning the nutrition – execution of it is made to be easy for the client, but the brain work on my end has to go through a series of thought process that is grounded by current research knowledge in the scientific field. This allows the client to have an action plan that works to their advantage.
3. How do you select your customers? Do you sometimes reject a request?
I like to think of it as the customers selecting me rather than the other way round. Haha! After all, it’s all about serving needs.
Between the customer and myself, it is important that we are both able to bond well, so being willing to work with each other is a big must. After all, a lot of what we do in nutrition is largely based on open communication and trust. I create a safe space between myself and the customer so that they can tell me when they eat a burger and not feel judged.
Probably the next most important thing to consider is the goal – while everyone needs nutrition help at some point, not all problems can be solved by nutrition. This is where we discuss the goals to look at the feasibility of working together. Expectations are also built and adjusted at this point to ensure that we are on the same page. Ultimately, we are in a partnership, so making sure that we are mutually in agreement is important to help me help the client.
*Note that in my case, I specified from the very first meeting that I would draw a line in the sand if bread would ever become an issue!
4. Can you tell us about one of your success stories?
I have experienced great success with most of my athletes – better performance, nicer eating habits, greater understanding of nutrition for some. Many of them also became podium winners at their own respective competitions. However, one of my biggest success story would likely be Serena Teoh, my SEA Games marathon athlete.
Serena and I started working together back in August 2019 after she unofficially broke Singapore’s fastest half marathon timing, and later qualified for SEA Games Philippines 2019 with her results from her Tokyo Marathon. Unfortunately, shortly after qualifying, she was visited with a stress fracture injury and to make matters worse, was also transiting back home after living in Switzerland for 5 years.
Despite the challenges, Serena managed well. With the help of her running coach and strength and conditioning coach, I optimized Serena’s nutrition to improve her performance during training. We also started to build on her nutrition plan for the main SEA Games race, which tremendously helped her performance through long runs and subsequently the main race.
“I am usually out of gas the last 2km, but this is probably the first marathon where I felt I could still go without dropping so much.” Serena Teoh
In the midst of a challenging terrain and climate, Serena still managed to emerge 5th during the recent SEA Games marathon while managing her injury. To me, that was a huge win not only for her but also for her team.
5. What is your plan for me?
As a performance nutritionist, my job is to support the team as they put you through hellfire and brimstone (I joke, although not really). Getting you through the Mongol Derby means that we have to put a few main considerations into perspective: Your goals, training program and preferences.
Sorting out your goals will always be step one: This is to ensure that you, your trainers and I are all on the same page, which we are.
With that information, I then look into the training programs your trainers will provide for you and prep you in advance when training is tough – these come through the use of education, infographics, consultation etc to get you well prepared.
On the front of execution, we look at your food pictures. While we cannot accurately measure how many calories you are eating, we can see the quality and type of food you are eating. This gives me an idea of what to feedback to you, allowing you to have the nutrients you need both in training and out at work.
We also look at body composition measurements to ensure that you are still relatively in shape. This gives you the opportunity to enjoy alcohol (Yes, Amelie is human, she needs her wine) when you need to but also proper data to know when you might need to cut back on more sinful pleasures.
As competition comes in, we also look at race preparation and start building on foundation to ensure that whatever nutrition protocol we might test on the race day itself, we already have it tried and tested beforehand. This ensures that you are well taken care of nutritionally to last through your whole season.
So in summary, my main job is to educate you on nutrition, optimize your training gains, fuel your performance during training, keep your body composition in check, make sure you have energy to survive work and still enjoy life while going through training.
6. What do you aspire to become?
I started becoming a sports nutritionist with the aim to be the best in the country. While not there yet, it has been a humbling journey. I don’t have an ultimate end-goal at this point because I believe in a goal with endless boundaries, but at this point, the direction is to move towards improve the quality of service to help individuals like Amelie reach the maximum potential sports science can provide, and to move towards becoming an educator so that more people can tap into the resources of performance nutrition while learning the practicality of proper nutrition coaching.
Ultimately, my aspirations are based on the needs of the community, and to serve them with my service offering is a joy and a privilege.
I can attest that James has been attentive and supportive not only regarding food but also during some of my small ‘panic’ attacks. He also aims to create a community of sport enthusiasts to share our journey as well as train and eat together. A great initiative to get to meet people going through the same challenges and successes. He is a great addition to my team ensuring that while I stay focus on my goal, I can still enjoy life and specially, food.