Australian Netball Diamond Nat Medhurst shares the importance of nutrition for elite athletes and how her approach to eating has changed over the years…
As elite athletes our “jobs” rely on our body’s ability to perform day in day out and whilst training plays a vital role in this, just as importantly so too does nutrition and the way in which we fuel our bodies. Whilst I am quite fond of the occasional green smoothie, the demands of our sport of netball these days demands so much of us as athletes. Long gone are the days where netball was deemed a ‘soft’ sport with International games showing their fair share of collisions and contests to give male football codes a good run for their money.
When I first started playing on the International stage, there was a big emphasis around skinfolds and as all women (in particular) go through phases around body image, having these ‘tests’ and figures frequently put in front of you was definitely dangerous. There has been a real shift in the last 18 months around the emphasis on the type of athletes our sport needs where strong, powerful and fit women are required to keep up the demands asked of us.
Our ‘sporting diets’ are different to the everyday person in that our eating times are based around training and matches in order to make sure that we have enough fuel for the training or game and following that, we are then replenishing the lost energy sources that have been used. When on Tour with the Aussie Diamonds there will often be days where we train twice a day (consisting of a weights and court work session) and then match days. In a competition such as the World Netball Cup, we play 8 games in 10 days with some days also including a light court session. It is competitions such as this where recovery plays such a crucial role in performance at the business end!
On our World Cup Campaign we are fortunate in that we stay in serviced apartments where we’re able to cook our own meals, we also have our Team Dietician cooking us meals. “Kerry’s Kitchen” (as we have dubbed) it, makes life easy for us to refuel properly, particularly after games where we don’t arrive back to the accommodation until 11pm. In the past, food used to be quite bland when we were on Tour where it would consist of baked chicken and potatoes 3 ways (not quite that bad but you get the gist). Our sporting diets have certainly changed in recent years. Long gone are the packaged, high sugar muesli bars or tubs of lollies on the side of the court or trying to fit everyone into the same ‘hole’. There’s now fruit, natural yoghurt, homemade protein balls as recovery foods immediately post game and athletes are allowed to be accommodated for their individual tastes, preferences, food allergies/intolerances and preferred timings around meals. Now, whether we are staying at a Hotel or have the luxury of Kerry’s Kitchen, the options available to athletes are varied.
Our body needs whole foods, which are unprocessed and are packed with nutrients that are delivered and used to maximise performance. We are all well educated in what our bodies need to perform and as there are no ‘set’ diets we are free to choose from what our preferences are. Over the years, my tastes and what I know works for me have definitely changed. When it comes to protein sources I don’t eat red meat so instead consume eggs (both whole and egg whites), lean turkey, tofu and I absolutely LOVE my seafood with salmon my fish of choice.
Next stop is carbohydrates. It is fair to say that in my earlier years I definitely had “carb phobia” and with carbohydrates being the main source of energy for the body, as an athlete I was going against what my body needed and it definitely suffered and stole from muscle sources as a result. These days, I know and understand how my body works and the role carbohydrates play in performance and recovery. Complex carbohydrates such as oats, sweet potato, and quinoa are my pick of the bunch and I also make my own paleo breads at home. I steer clear of the more ‘processed’ and starchy carbohydrates in white rice, bread and pasta.
When it comes to fats I can truthfully say that every player in our team is an avocado addict! Smashed avocado and eggs for breakfast, avocado in salads at lunch and again at dinner… we certainly go through a lot. There has always been a bit of concern around fat being the bad guy, but this is not the case. There is a difference between good and bad fats and the good ones play a pivotal role in maintaining or losing bodyweight rather than actually hindering it. As well as avocados, I love raw nuts (almonds, cashews and walnuts are my favourites) and I have managed to build quite the nut butter addiction! Jars of 100% nut butters in all varieties have somehow managed to get a shelf of their own. When it comes to cooking, I cook with both Olive Oil and Coconut Oil.
The other big part of our nutrition as athletes is our hydration… and yes we have to test our urine! Always a fun task. Water also plays a huge part in our ability to recover and perform and (especially when we are traveling) is always part of our ‘nutrition’ regime. I also like to start my day with a glass of warm water with lemon for a nice morning detox to get things started!
If I rounded up my top 10 foods and cupboard/fridge staples it would look like this..
5. Nut butter
6. Coconut oil
9. Green vegies (spinach, kale and zucchini are my picks!)
Our thanks to Nat for taking the time – with just days to go before defending her World Cup title – to write this piece especially for us. We love that The Muesli is a big part of her nutrition routine. To read more from Nat about life as a professional athlete and staying healthy visit her site http://natmedhurst.com.au – you can also follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.