The transition from junior football to the big stage (AFL)

Accredited Sports Dietitian Jessica Spendlove sat down with Jack Steele, a first year draftee at the GWS GIANTS, to ask him what his first pre-season has been like at the GIANTS and how he survived.

Name: Jack Steele
Age: 19
Junior Club: Belconnen Magpies
Draft (Academy Player): Pick 24
Position: Midfield
Favourite Food: Chocolate
Least Favourite Food: Quiche

Jack, now you have survived your first AFL pre-season can you tell me how you found the training at the GWS GIANTS compared to the Belconnen Magpies?

“Obviously training is much harder as I now train throughout the day compared to before where I just trained at night.  Previously we trained 3x per week for about 2 hours per session compared to training 4x solid days now in much hotter conditions. Training is much longer and much harder at the GIANTS”

Are you doing any different types of training to what you have done previously?

“At the magpies they expected us to do weights on our own, but I never really did anything structured so this is the first time I have done a structured weights program.  I am also doing pilates and wrestling for the first time.”

What was the hardest thing you found about being drafted and moving to Sydney?

“Definitely being away from my family and friends. Each time I go home and visit though it takes less time for me to get back into my routine in Sydney at the GIANTS which is a positive thing. I am feeling more settled in Sydney now.”

Moving out of home for the first time, how have you managed your meal planning and preparation?

“At the GIANTS the welfare managers (Craig and Melissa Lambert) have helped a lot. Each week we (first year players) make a list of groceries we would like for home including breakfast and snack options which Mel goes and buys for us. A few times per week we have lunch provided at the club, and on other days I normally buy my lunch from the GIANTS café. Dinners are provided at a few different restaurants, and I choose options, which you (Jess) have been shortlisted as good options. On the weekends, we are left to fend for ourselves a little bit. Pat (Patrick McKenna)and I have cooked a few meals including spaghetti bolognaise and some stir fries. On our day off we also cook Eggs on toast for breakfast. The cooking classes that we (the first year players) did with Tony (chef) and you helped a lot.”

Do you think nutrition had a role in helping you get through your pre-season?

“Yes, it definitely has. Especially the work we (Jack and myself) have done on improving my breakfast. I now try and fuel myself as much as possible before I come to training. At the beginning of pre-season I was struggling eat before I came to training and then getting really hungry and feeling tired during the morning session.”

What changes have you made to your breakfast across the pre-season?

“When I first arrived in Sydney I was sleeping in and only having an up & go on the way to training. I now set my alarm earlier, wake up and have a bowl of cereal (Weet-bix or sustain) and an up & go before I leave home, and then when I arrive at the club I have some toast or fruit. I feel much more fuelled, and get through training without feeling hungry and have a lot more energy.”

What struggles did you have with managing your eating and training?

“My main struggle was eating before training in the morning.  Throughout the day my intake changes depending on how hungry I am and what type of day it is.
From the work we have done together, I have been able to train my stomach to tolerate more food before training by trying different options and having some at home, and then a top up when I get into the club.”

Have you made any changes to your previous nutrition intake to help facilitate the increased training load?

“Before being drafted I didn’t eat structured, I use to eat when I was hungry but didn’t really plan my meals. I would always have breakfast and dinner, but across the day at work I would mainly snack rather than have a proper lunch meal.  Aside from having more structured meals and snacks, I also now make sure I have some good carbs and protein with each meal and snack, as I have learnt that is important for fuelling and recovery.”

What are the three most important nutrition tips you learnt which helped you get through the pre-season?

“1. The importance of having a good breakfast to fuel me for training. I use to think if I didn’t have anything in my stomach I would be lighter and run better, which I have now learnt is not correct, and I train harder for longer with a bigger breakfast.

  1. The role of nutrition in Recovery. At the GIANTS we have a recovery station so as soon training finishes we have our individual protein shake or snack and some fruit to help us start recovering. I never realised nutrition had such a big role when it came to recovery.
  2. That you have to replace more fluid than what you lose in a training session or game. I have learnt by weighing before and after training I need to replace 1.5 times what I lose during a session to make sure I am hydrated. “

How did you find the two NAB games you have played in?

“They were quick, very quick.”

How did it feel to kick two goals in the second game?

“It was unbelievable, very exciting. Mum and dad were in the crowd. I could hear mum yelling out in the second game when I kicked my first goal. It was very exciting.”

What is your favourite post game recovery meal?

“I have been enjoying the Mexican food that Tony (chef) has been cooking.  I find it easy to get down and it is very tasty.  I don’t like anything that is too heavy after a game.”


To read more on the training diet for AFL players, see our fact sheet.

The Australian Open – Challenges for an athlete

The Australian Open is one of the country’s biggest international events. Nearly 650,000 spectators entered the gates to be part of the 2014 tournament. Not only were there spectators at the courts, but all over the world Australia was being watched.

But spare a thought for the players – the pressure to succeed is immense.


The difficulties of tennis as a sport

A professional athlete knows exactly what they need to do on match day; from the time they wake to the activities required to get the body ready before competition, to strategies to resist fatigue during the event,and recovery methods post-activity. Tennis, however, is as unpredictable as winning the lottery. Scheduled match times can change; match lengths, point duration and intensity – everything can fluctuate. And in a tournament like the Australian Open, players may have to back up successful performances with another potentially gruelling match the next day.

This uncertainty makes it difficult to plan exactly what needs to be done leading into a match. In other sports, athletes know what time they step onto the field, track or court, and how long play will proceed. Knowing what time you step onto the court and how much work will be required of your body means that preparation can be structured and timed in a predictable fashion. In tennis, this is not always possible.


Curbing the unpredictability

Due to the unpredictability of tennis, ensuring recovery is achieved after every training session and every match is vital in maximising a player’s endurance potential for the next session. To help their depleted fuel stores recover adequately, professional tennis players know it is important to consume a snack or meal containing carbohydrate and protein within the first 30-60 minutes after a training session or a match. Good food combinations that provide this can include fruit and yoghurt; crackers with toppings that contain protein such as tuna, chicken or cottage cheese; smoothies; dried fruit and nuts; and sandwiches with protein fillings.


The practicalities

If we look back at how tennis players will set up the day to perform, it’s important strategies are implemented to ensure they start matches well fuelled and well hydrated. Food choices at this time need to fulfil certain criteria: they should contain carbohydrate and protein, with small amounts of fat. This meal will typically be consumed 3-4 hours before the time set for the match. After this meal, players will continue to eat and drink small volumes of food and fluid regularly, as it is important to ensure the body is comfortable and available fuel is ready for when they finally step onto the court. When consuming foods and fluids before a match, players will never try anything new, as best practice is to stick to something familiar and trialled during training.

The body generally has around 90 minutes worth of fuel to work with, so when a match is played for longer than 60 minutes it is important players keep providing the body with extra fuel. The unpredictable length of matches makes it difficult to plan appropriate fuelling but generally, a smart plan for Australian Open competitors is to consume 20-50g of carbohydrate each hour of play (no professional tennis player will want to wait until the point where fatigue sets in!). Common food and fluid choices during long tennis matches can include sports drinks, sandwiches, pretzels, bananas, and sports gels or bars.


Summer and the Australian Open

During the 2014 Australian Open, the weather sky-rocketed to temperatures that suspended play, reinforcing how important it is that players take their hydration and cooling strategies seriously.

The type of drink selected by an athlete is dependent on their individual needs. Athletes will often consume a variety of water, sports drinks (with 5-8% carbohydrate) and/or electrolyte solutions. The amount consumed is also individually determined based on numerous factors including the player’s sweat rate, match duration and intensity, and of course, weather conditions. Players may also implement cooling strategies such as drinking ice-slushy drinks to help delay increases in core temperature, thereby delaying fatigue.


The practical side of fluid consumption

Athletes can get a gauge of how much fluid their body needs by weighing themselves before and after a session (with the body mass change being largely due to fluid loss). Professional tennis players often check in on their fluid losses in a number of different scenarios (weather conditions, duration, intensity, etc) to get an idea of how much fluid they will likely need during a match. Players will also replace match fluid losses in the important post-match recovery period to ensure they are adequately hydrated before the next match. Generally it is recommended to replace 120-150% of fluid losses over the 4-6 hours after exercise.


Getting it right

Playing hard and performing at your best is all about preparation. Knowing what to eat and drink before a match, having foods and fluids to take onto the court for fuelling during matches, and knowing what to have for recovery so the strategy can be repeated for every match, are all imperative factors to being a professional tennis player. Budding tennis players can learn more by downloading our Active Kids bookletfactsheet, or talking to an Accredited Sports Dietitian.

Marathon Nutrition – Fuel like an athlete

Most participants in any given marathon cover the second half of the race slower than the first, many slow down even more dramatically after the 32km mark, also known as “hitting the wall”.

We chat with Australian Marathon runner Jess Trengove, after her superstar effort at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games (where she walked away with a bronze medal). Jess shares with us some of her nutrition secrets, and how she believes her ability to run an even paced marathon is down to her nutrition plan!


How important is nutrition in the training phases leading up to a marathon? Share with us your fuelling secrets.

There are lots of fancy products and special sports drinks that are designed to help give runners a competitive edge in training and racing. With so much choice available it can be very confusing to know which ones are going to work best for you as an individual. With the help of my Sports Dietitian (Accredited Sports Dietitian, Olivia Warnes) I trial recommended products that I plan to use in races i.e. gels and electrolyte formulas, a few times during training.

For the bulk of my training however, I focus on eating the basics; lean protein, vegetables and wholegrain carbs to fuel me through sessions and my work as a physiotherapist. I always make sure I eat a pre- and post- training snack to maximise training adaptations. Some of my favourites before training are rice crackers, cruskits with honey, a banana, muesli or Bonk Breaker bars. Post training I like to have a Musashi “Recover” whey protein recovery drink. I mix this with water for practicality, but if I am home I mix with milk because it tastes better!


How important is weight management for performance?

I have worked with Olivia to determine different nutrition strategies for light and heavy phases of training as well as for races. I have learnt that the timing of my meals is very important to both maximise my training and manage weight for performance at key races. I choose to have my larger meals for breakfast after the morning run to set me up for the day and then also after key sessions. I try to include a good amount of protein and carbohydrates in these meals. On lighter training days I will tend to have a smaller overall intake for the day. This strategy enables me to develop lean muscle mass and recover adequately from sessions without gaining non-lean mass.


What has been your biggest marathon nutrition mistake?

My biggest marathon nutrition scare was when I managed to catch a gastro bug before one of my Japan marathons, six days before my race. Thankfully I could eat normally again three days before and was very relieved to feel adequately fuelled and raring to go by race day. It showed me just how important fuelling properly during the final three days leading into the race was on my performance.

In my first two marathons I used citrus gels and found that I could only manage 1-2 during the race before feeling queasy. I now use a vanilla flavour which works better for me, and I can take on more gels if I feel the need. Most of my marathons to date have been similar in time for the first and second half which indicates that my nutrition plan has been sustaining me to the finish.


Share with us your carbohydrate loading plan

I’ve worked with Olivia for my past 3 marathons. We have stuck to a similar plan for each race since it’s been working for me. Prior to that I just upped my carbs a bit the day before but didn’t follow a set plan. With the new plan, I generally eat more of a protein-based diet with less carbs than I would usually eat in the week leading up to race day (because my training load is lower during a taper week so I need less energy than a usual training week) , and then increase my carbohydrate intake according to Olivia’s plan from 3 days out (i.e. for the Friday & Saturday for a Sunday race). I mainly try to eat carbs that are lower in fibre and keep “heavy” foods like red meat & higher fat snacks like nuts, eggs, avocado, cheese etc. to a minimum in the final days leading into a marathon.


Any tips for hydration during a marathon?

I have trialled Gatorade, Powerade, Endura and Gastrolyte in my marathons to date! I have found each to be effective but made sure that I noted the concentration of carbohydrates and electrolytes in each type/brand beforehand to determine the volume I would aim to take in every hour. I tend to take a few gulps of fluid at all or most hydration stations located every 5 kilometres throughout the marathon course. Gastrolyte was chosen in the hot summer afternoon race in Moscow (2013 World Championships) for its high concentration of electrolytes. Whatever you choose, make sure you trial it in training.


Race Nutrition, if you had one tip, what would it be?

Stick to what you know but don’t neglect the importance of carbohydrates during the race and electrolytes, particularly in the heat!


List 10 foods in your cupboard/fridge the week leading into a marathon?

– Bananas

– Sourdough bread

– Honey

– Rice crackers

– Muesli/oats

– Bonk Breaker bars

– Some sort of tomato-based pasta sauce

– Rice/rice noodles

– Yoghurt

– Some veggies & salmon (just because I love it but probably not ideal the day before the race!)


Nutrition Fast Facts:


Pre-Race: Low-fibre, carbohydrate-rich food. Eg. Two Weetbix, ½ cupcorn flakes and a banana with watered down milk + a piece of toast with honey, about 3h before my race.


Within 90min of Race start: Switch to carbohydrate-only snacks. Go for smaller amounts of food that are fibre-free and easy to digest (e.g. Gu Chomps). Never experiment with a new food on race day.


During Race: a couple of gels. Water and watered-down sports drinks (e.g. Gatorade)


Post-Race: Protein shake to help settle my stomach and get my body into recovery mode faster. Once my stomach has settled (usually by that night or the next day, whatever I have been craving in the lead up to the race (e.g. burger with sweet potato wedges just to name one!)