Olympic Bites 11th July 2012

Countdown… 16 days to go! This week, we feature one of the Olympic Team sports dietitians Professor Louise Burke, in an interview that featured in the Body and Soul liftout last weekend. See the link below for the full article.  

Louise Burke is head of the Department of Sports Nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). She has been dietitian for the Australian Olympic team since 1996.

"The dining hall at the Olympic Village is amazing. It caters for 10,000 athletes and 5000 officials and it's like the hugest tent you've ever seen. There can be 20 or more different serveries, all sorted into little pockets such as Asian, African, Indian or pasta.

"Because it overwhelms a lot of athletes, I go in early and create a guide to show them how things are set up and where they can get what they need. For athletes with special needs, there's usually a dietitian working with the dining hall and I liaise with them.

"The hall is open 24/7, so although they have breakfast, lunch and dinner scheduled you can go in at any time of day.

"What I enjoy about the Olympics is thinking on my feet and coming up with solutions to challenges. For instance, the dining hall often has delicious desserts and one time I realised people were having unofficial competitions to see how many Magnums they could eat and overdoing it a bit. I invented this unit, 'a plod', which was the distance between our residence and the hall, and then rated all the desserts according to how many 'plods' you'd have to do to burn them off!

"I'm not like the food police, but I do remind athletes to prioritise things. Once they've competed and won a gold medal, they can have a truckload of Magnums!

"In Athens I came up with the idea of portable recovery bars with big eskies on wheels so every sport had the right refuelling foods for post-training or competition. It was a great confidence booster because you think you can get back to the dining hall, but there are often traffic problems.

"Back in the 1990s, when I started the AIS sports nutrition program, we talked about athletes as if they were all the same. Now we know there are differences within sports.

"Rowers, for instance, have big energy needs. They tend to have big, lean frames and do high-intensity training. Gymnasts, however, might spend three or four hours training but do lots of standing around and stretching. They tend to be very small so have lower energy requirements.

"There are also differences within sports – a sprint swimmer's requirements are quite different to those of a distance swimmer – plus we have to consider the way they train. Swimmers have early starts, then rush off to the next activity, so they need food they can take to the pool with them. Cyclists do a lot of eating on the bike so they'll have sports gels and bars.

"Even the nutritional needs for competition can change. The experience in Beijing was different to London in terms of heat, humidity and pollution.

"While we treat athletes with food allergies and intolerances seriously, those who are simply fussy are taught they have to increase their range of foods. If they say: 'Oh, I don't like vegies,' I tell them: 'Well, suck it up. You're an elite athlete, you need to roll with the punches, both for your own nutritional requirements and those of the team.'

"We get athletes to weigh themselves before and after training so they know how much fluid to replace because we don't want them leaving hydration up to luck or thirst. If there's a change in weather or there are fluid losses it can take two or three days for your body to catch up. An athlete can't afford that.

"Another major initiative we have at the AIS is our supplement program. We divide supplements into four categories, ranging from those that have clear evidence they can be of benefit to those that are banned or carry a strong risk of contamination which will make the athlete likely to test positive for drugs.

"There's a website everyone can look at (www.ausport.gov.au/ais/nutrition/supplements) and then we have a second, secure site only available to our athletes and sports scientists, which features particular research we've conducted.

"Every athlete can get good tips from that but another tip I'd give all athletes is to eat around exercise. We teach our athletes they should have a baseline breakfast, lunch and dinner and then eat around training.

"That helps you get the best out of your sessions because you're well fuelled and you recover well. It also stops you putting on weight if you stop training or get injured. If you get used to the idea that if you're not training, you're not eating, it stops you getting into trouble."

Source: Herald Sun Body & Soul Sun July 8, 2012 http://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/body+fitness/news+features/the+experts+behind+our+olympic+champions,18581

Need more? We've just updated our recovery fact sheet to reflect the latest sports nutrition science. Click here to check it out... 

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