Ask people about food and their eyes light up. Beaming with delight, they relish the chance to discuss their culinary achievements…or failures! Elite sportsmen and women are no exception! I was lucky enough to meet some incredible sporting heroes yesterday at the LIW, Leisure Industry Week at the NEC in Birmingham and to interview the awesome and lovely sprinter, Christine Ohuruogu, MBE.
Christine Ohuruogo started out as a netball player. As an under 17 and under 19 England player, she was pretty talented, but at 16, she joined the Newnham and Essex Beagles Athletics club (no, not just your average athletics club; former members include Mo Farah and the Olympic bronze medallist high jumper Robbie Grabbarz!) and it was here that she got roped into running the 400m; no one else wanted to compete over that distance. It was a wise choice and the start of a highly successful journey, leading to her Gold medal in 2008 at Beijing and of course her Silver here at London 2012. Chrissy’s got brains as well as speed, with a degree in Linguistics from University College London!
Olympic medals….they really are heavy
And so to food…
Gofasterfood- Chrissy, tell me about how you fuel your body and how strict you have to be about diet?
ChrissyO – Once you start doing sport at an elite level you’re working towards a specific goal. You have to accept that diet is not something that you have much choice over any more. You can’t eat for pleasure. First and foremost your job is your body. You’re an elite level performer and you have to see your body as a vehicle for getting to where you need to get to. You have to see your body as a machine, unfortunately, not as something that you can pamper or treat. You have to be quite tough and basically put in what will help you get to what you need to achieve most efficiently. Once you understand this and come to terms with it, it’s a lot easier to cope with the strict nutritional requirements.
Gofasterfood – That must be quite hard sometimes?
ChrissyO - When I say that I don’t eat cakes or ‘treats’ some people find it hard to believe. They’ll say “oh my God, that’s terrible!”. But you have to shift your state of mind completely, to accept that your body is there to operate at its optimum level to do its job. Then it’s a lot easier to change your diet and stick to strict dietary habits.
Gofasterfood - What does good nutrition mean to you as an elite runner?
ChrissyO – Good nutrition for me is simply about fuelling my body to get the most out of it and then recovering efficiently so that I can train the next day. I eat the right foods to stay fit enough to cope with the demands of heavy training, to avoid injury and to recover well from the stress I put my body through. That’s the only way you can be successful, you have to understand your body and how it operates.
Gofasterfood - At what point in your career did you change from enjoying food to eating strictly to fuel your body for performance?
ChrissyO - I don’t remember having a monumental shift to eating differently, rather it’s something that I’ve learnt over time. Once you’re disciplined in your sport it’s a natural by-product…I mean it is hard, there are times you want to enjoy yourself and eat things you really like eating, you’re only human…and it does get a bit boring eating salads and stuff like that… you want to have some fun! Now and again I give myself a small window where I can just enjoy myself and then after that, it’s back to business.
Gofasterfood - Describe what you would eat on a typical training day?
ChrissyO - It’s a pretty early start, so I’ll have yoghurts for some protein, nuts, a piece of fruit for some glucose to get the system going. In the winter I might have porridge because it can be pretty cold out there on the track. My typical morning session is pretty full-on so I will eat quite lightly so that I don’t feel too heavy or bloated. I will basically just eat to satisfy the need to eat, not really for any enjoyment or because I’m trying to fill up my stomach. I’m also training my body to work on maximum energy input, to push my body to adapt.
Gofasterfood - Do you stick to natural unprocessed foods?
ChrissyO – Yes, usually it will be long day training, so I’ll always have fruits and nuts to hand to snack on throughout the training session to keep up my energy levels; grapes, bananas, mixed nuts. I kind of get peckish because I haven’t eaten enough breakfast anyway so I need to top up and also it’s really important to get the recovery going as quickly as possible, before the training session has finished. I don’t like to wait until I’m too hungry before I start eating, I try to keep topping up my sugar levels, especially if I’ve got a really long morning.
Gofasterfood - What would you typically have at lunchtime?
ChrissyO – I’ll take some protein on board immediately after the session and then have lunch at about 1 to 1.30 and this, again, will be more protein. If I’m running in the afternoon I don’t want anything too heavy, so I’ll have something like tuna, eggs, mackeral, beans, loads of salad, heaps of fresh veg, rather than the pasta and the carbs.
Gofasterfood – And in the evenings?
ChrissyO – Ah, in the evenings, that’s when I go kind of carb-crazy! But not too heavy. In the winter season when I’m trying to adapt the body to the extreme I’ll have stock up on a lot more carbs, but I like lighter carbs like couscous or quinoa. Towards the summer I’ll tailor off the amount of carbs I eat.
Gofasterfood - What’s your favourite treat?
ChrissyO - Oh Kate, I’ve so many! Cake, ice cream, fish and chips, pizza, chicken wings, KFC, loads and loads… and cakes, I love my cakes! But only once a year!
Christine was delighted to receive a signed copy of Go Faster Food. She’s going to try out a few recipes and report back, so watch this space for her comments….
Read more about Christine’s vision of the future: