Olivia Warnes is heading to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
She’s not an elite athlete – Olivia is a Sports Dietitians Australia Accredited Sports Dietitian to our Track Sprint and Endurance cyclists.
We caught up with her whilst she was with some of the athletes in Newport Wales, ahead of their arrival in Scotland, to dig a little deeper into her role for the team and how the athletes manage their nutrition.
1/ For how long have you been working with the Commonwealth Games athletes?
I started in 2006 in a limited capacity. In the last six – 12 months I have been working with the Endurance and Sprint Track teams and their management about three days a week. By the nature of their training and competing I tend to see more of the Sprinters as they are largely based at home, whereas the Endurance athletes head overseas to race the Northern Hemisphere’s spring and summer.
2/ Track Sprint and Endurance. That’s two distinctly different types of sport, really, and two very different body types/ nutritional needs, isn’t it?
Yes. Every athlete has a bespoke nutritional plan but generally speaking, a Sprinter’s dietary requirements differ to that of an Endurance cyclist.
Sprinters carry a lot more muscle mass – their bodies need to deliver bursts of power and energy over shorter distances. So with Sprinters there is a lot of focus on the amount and timing of protein intake for muscle repair and maintenance of lean muscle mass. Endurance cyclists need carbohydrates to carry their body through long rides. In addition to fuelling, carbohydrates are also required by both types of athletes so as to maintain mental clarity and focus.
A lot of my work is looking at when the athletes are fuelling, and in what amounts.
Sprinters for example of course need carbohydrates as well, but usually not as much given their energy output is high intensity, yet short in duration. Endurance cyclists need to maintain an appropriate carbohydrate intake throughout their three, four… sometimes up to six-hour sessions, and in most cases this will be much higher than that of a Sprinter’s needs.
3/ How frequently do you see all the athletes?
It depends on their goals and where they are in relation to achieving them.
Say for example a coach needs them to lose a little weight, or get some more muscle mass. In this instance I will see them more frequently to work on those relatively short-term goals.
Generally speaking though, in the early days there will be meetings with the coaches, the strength and conditioning coaches, the physiologists, the soigneurs and myself. I will be given all athletes’ training programmes and then we overlay this with their nutrition plans. They’ll identify any stand-out block periods that might need special consideration, etc. Then moving forward the soigneurs do a great job of keeping me very up to speed. They let me know if they have any concerns, or if they have made any observations of which I should be aware.
On an informal basis – I usually know where the athletes are training! So when I can I will head down to the Velodrome and see them in person, if only just to touch base face-to-face and get a really clear idea of how things are going. There’s actually quite a lot of informal work that happens like this.
4/ Are any of the Commonwealth Games athletes on special dietary requirements?
We have some athletes who are on gluten free and lactose free nutrition plans, but this is not so much due to any coeliac disease; it’s more a personal preference that makes them feel better.
5/ How is nutrition controlled if you or the athletes aren’t the ones cooking?
Firstly – I far prefer being the dietitian rather than the chef. I think a lot of the athletes are much better cooks than me! On certain races we will usually ring ahead to the hotels and make sure they have the right options available for our athletes. We also carry supplies so we’re never caught short. When it comes to Commonwealth or Olympic Games we have absolutely nothing to worry about. I saw the menus some time ago and they have everything they could possibly want or need – there is nothing lacking. When it comes to UCI events we don’t have any control – they manage all of this. We can usually provide some guidelines for World Championships and certainly at the level of training camps our influence is a lot more pervasive.
6/ Does the fact some of these athletes are jumping into an entirely different season have any impact on their nutrition?
There are differing nutrition focuses and periodisation depending on the season and training phase. Training camps in altitude also deliver require changes to nutrition plans. For example when our athletes head to the hills then their nutrition plans have to reflect the changes this will have on their bodies. There is a naturally occurring increase in metabolic rate at altitude, so Iron intake and hydration must be increased.
7/ As we speak to you, athletes will no doubt be going into taper. How does this affect their nutrition?
They need to adjust their volume of food. This isn’t as easy as it sounds – so many athletes are so used to eating really large volumes. Suddenly having to cut this right down can be quite a challenge. It’s really important at this stage that no weight gain occurs. It’s also critical that food be nutrient rich so as to help avoid sickness during taper.
8/ What three pieces of advice would you give an amateur athlete who is concerned about their nutrition?
Firstly, I’d say they need to ensure their intake is reflective of their output.
Secondly, get the timing right. Carbohydrates before training, and protein after intense training (no protein required after a light recovery session).
Thirdly, don’t assume supplements are the answer. It’s imperative to get right the basics and the foundations of good nutrition and good choices. Go for nutrient dense, macro nutrients over supplements. We’re seeing young ones moving up the ranks who place a lot of value on supplements, and we have to re-educate them. Supplements might in some cases be beneficial, but they are not the silver bullet. Training right, eating and drinking right, and sleeping well are far more crucial.
9/ You see plenty of professional athletes, but why do amateur and age-groupers come to you?
I think because they know sports nutritionists have a scientific understanding and grounding of what nutrients are required, when, and in what volumes. We are very strategic in aligning and tailoring nutrition plans that are relevant to an athlete’s goals and the demands of their sport. Just because an athlete is not professional doesn’t mean they don’t want 100% from their performance.
Olivia consults in South Australia through Sportsmed SA. To find an accredited SDA dietitian in your area, visit Sports Dietitians Australia